Why Build Products For Non-Geo Experts

Geospatial is a different kind of beast. The landscape of enthusiasts, companies, and academics is incredibly rich, diverse, and confusing. Hell, just defining the term Geospatial still spurs debate amongst the community (see Matt Forest’s post: Geospatial needs to be defined).

Here’s how I usually go about defining geospatial. The dictionary definition does not provide much context:

Geospatial (adj. [Geography]):

Relating to or denoting data that is associated with a particular location

In the community of practice, geospatial is not an adjective, it is a noun:

Geospatial (noun [Geography]):

A subdomain of Information Technology (IT) focused on information containing a spatial component.

How can you know if you are a geospatial professional? You probably still have to explain what it is you do to your loved ones on a regular basis and they still don’t understand unless you give 5–10 different examples of applied problems solved with geospatial.

The reason we need to provide so many examples is that geospatial cannot define the problems we are solving on its own. The verticals define the problem. Sometimes geospatial provides valuable concepts and tools to solve them.

Notice that this is not new or relevant only to geospatial. Information technology follows the same paradigm: it is applied to a given context to solve a specific problem. Software development teams have always been required to understand customer needs and build an adapted solution.

There have been many out-spoken geospatial professionals that have commentated on the state of the geospatial market landscape. I have recently been more inspired by some of the discussions from within the Earth Observation sector.

Diagram showing the relations between different actors within the Geospatial Sector
Image by Zachary Deziel. Inspired by Kim Parington’s graphic in https://geocento.com/how_healthy_is_the_market_for_vhr_eo

The geospatial industry has been focused on providing tools that serve geospatial professionals. The landscape of tools designed specifically for non-geospatial industry professionals is not nearly discussed enough. The call of geospatial leaders has been to educate non-geospatial professionals on how to use specialized tools for their own workflows.

We still need to empower individuals to gain technical skills and knowledge of geographic concepts… but we must recognize that education is insufficient for geospatial to broaden its reach. Domain specialists, people experienced in a vertical, have plenty to learn and worry about without having to learn the ins and outs of geospatial. Domain experts should not have to learn and adapt to geospatial tools; our tools should learn and adapt to domain experts.

An abstract diagram representing the space occupied by horizontal and vertical geospatial applications within the universe of all possible features
Plenty of room for small focused geospatial solutions when applied to a specific problem. Image by Zachary Deziel.

We cannot create a one-size-fits-all verticals tool and preserve the user experience of exceptional products that customers fall in love with. Every vertical has a different vocabulary, context, and problems that a product must adapt to.

The most important building blocks are already in place and accessible whether those blocks be commercial or open-source. We, geospatial professionals, have to be empathetic and curious enough to understand our users and build the tools they deserve.

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Product Manager @ Anagraph. Geogeek and outdoor enthousiast. Twitter @zacdezgeo

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Zachary Déziel

Zachary Déziel

Product Manager @ Anagraph. Geogeek and outdoor enthousiast. Twitter @zacdezgeo

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