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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Little birdies go tweet, tweet, tweet

July 20th, 2009 by Susan Smith

Setting: the ESRI UC newsroom.
Guy comes into the room. “Is this a place I can check my email?” he asks.
I reply, “No, it’s the Press Room. You can check your email down the hall.”
“What does ‘press’ mean?” he asks.
“In this case, people who are journalists, writing specifically about the GIS industry,” I answer.
“What do they write?” he asks.
“Magazine articles and newsletters, primarily,” I say.
He touches his GeoTweet button. “What about tweeting? Does tweeting count?”
“No,” I reply, a bit incredulous. “Anyone can tweet.”
“Anyone can write an article,” was his response.
“Maybe these days, that’s true,” I say, well aware that I’m living in the age of bloggers, tweeters and anyone else who feels they have the right to speak authoritatively (or not) on any given topic.

Of course, many more salient retorts came to me after I had left the room. Just imagine how crowded the Press room would be if filled with tweeters at the conference!

I became a writer during a period of history when it was relatively challenging to become published. To find a publisher for your books was not something that just “anyone” could do. Many good writers were turned away because their work “didn’t meet editorial needs.” Does anyone remember what a “rejection slip” is?

Now there are courses on how to publish for yourself, and anyone can set themselves up with a blog. Twitter is even easier – just write one line about anything, and you can see your name, or user name, in print.

Although we have created these easier to use venues for people to express themselves freely, I think it’s important to not lose sight of the difference between a tweet, a blog, a magazine article, a book, and a newsletter.

Generally, writers are paid to write magazine articles, books and newsletters. Those writers have gained a certain credibility by writing, earned either in their field of study or in journalism.

One vendor at ESRI noted that the “NextGen” generation of people don’t care if the information they disseminate is accurate, they just feel that they should disseminate information. Twitter gives them the opportunity to do this in short bytes. A blog can also contain anything from how they are feeling that day to actual useful information about technology, weather, location, etc. It’s up to the reader to determine if any of this information is relevant. For vendors, tweeting may contain some crowd-sourcing information.

So this commentary is not just about writing: if you look at what most vendors are generating these days: easier-to-use, quicker, accurate – they are looking to appeal to a wide audience, not just those who are GIS professionals. This doesn’t negate the need for full blown GIS – GIS is the underpinning for each of these easy-to-use technologies as well.

There is still also the need for GIS for the GIS professional.

You might say we are looking at the difference between the “Google Earth gen” and the “full blown GIS gen.”

It would be interesting to know how many GISCafe readers read blogs, post tweets and read Twitter and how often they do this compared to reading an article or newsletter?

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