New Media reach a larger audience with information on GIS and geospatial technologies.
Editor's note: The authors are hosts of A VerySpatial Podcast, a weekly Web audio program about geography and geospatial technologies. The program highlights how geography and geospatial technologies affect the lives of listeners.
The rapidly evolving world of geospatial technologies encompasses a broad, interdisciplinary breadth of hardware, software, and data. This breadth makes providing current information on all of the directions and projects in this world difficult at best and, at worst, resigns much of this information to gray literature [i.e., publications produced by government, academia, business, and industry organizations that are not primarily in the business of publishing] and the recesses of the Internet. However, since early 2005, a new method of distributing information from many areas related to geospatial technologies has emerged to support the dissemination of current information through a group of technologies referred to as New Media. New Media encompass many technologies that have been available for some time in formats such as weblogs (blogs) and forums and newer distribution methods such as podcasts.
What Are the New Media?
In many ways, New Media aren't new at all. Blogs, podcasts, and videoblogs are still text, audio, and video, respectively. What has changed is that the Internet now allows and encourages grassroots media. Anyone with access to a computer and the desire to create a blog or podcast can easily do so. These New Media have been embraced by a number of communities on the Web, especially in technology-related industries and among younger people for whom digital social networking is almost second nature.
The New Media are part of the idea of a Web community in which users determine the content and create networks of information. Tim O'Reilly, on his O'Reilly radar blog, offered this definition: "Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; … delivering software as a continually updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an 'architecture of participation'." This means that information is added and updated often but remains unfiltered because there is no overarching editorial mechanism. In essence, it is a media of the masses.
Although the New Media can take a number of forms, the most well-known are probably blogs and podcasts. A blog is essentially a Web site where information is posted on a regular basis, in the form of entries, and displayed in reverse chronological order. Like other media, blogs often focus on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news, and typically combine text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and resources related to the topic.
Since it first appeared on the Internet in 1995, blogging has seen an amazing growth in popularity. The leading tracking site, PubSub.com, currently tracks more than 23,000,000 blogs. Although the sheer number of blogs can seem overwhelming, numerous tools are available to help users find blogs on topics of interest to them.
A good example of how blogging has quickly emerged as an accepted form of knowledge transmission can be seen in official blogs of many companies. Employees are encouraged to post on topics related to the company's products or services. Another example are blogs maintained by mainstream media outlets like CNN.com. Particular reporters regularly contribute to blogs related to current stories such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In many ways, podcasting can be seen as audio blogging. A podcast is simply a digital audio file, usually in MP3 format, that is served over the Internet via direct download or a subscription feed. The style of many podcasts resembles a traditional talk show format but can take any audio form from reading works of fiction aloud to sampling music. What is unique about podcasting is that the subscription feed delivers the podcast file directly to your computer for transfer to any MP3-compatible device. This gives users the freedom to listen to the podcast whenever and wherever they desire. The podcasting medium differs from traditional media in that radio broadcasts a program at a set time. The audience has to be available at that time to hear the program, while podcasts are narrowcasts and can be targeted to specific audiences who can download the programs of interest to them.
The introduction of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) has fueled an explosive growth in New Media like blogs and podcasts. RSS is an XML definition that allows users to subscribe to New Media to receive updated information through subscription feeds using software and Web aggregators. Through the use of software and Web-based aggregators, users can create personalized information resources by selecting the blogs and podcasts for which they would like to receive updates.
Geography, Geospatial Technologies, and the New Media
What does this New Media offer geography and geospatial technologies? The answer is simple: a great deal. Although still fairly small when compared to other topic areas, there is a growing number of news and personal blogs, podcasts, and videocasts on a number of topics related to geography, GIS, and geospatial technologies. Our site, VerySpatial.com, hosts our weekly podcast and a regularly updated blog that focuses on news and information about geography and geospatial technologies. The Web site also features a blogroll of other geography/GIS-themed blogs including aggregator sites such as slashgeo and planet geospatial. While there are still very few geospatial technology podcasts besides A VerySpatial Podcast, podcasts such as Where It's At have begun to offer some great Australia-oriented geospatial content.
The New Media are becoming effective tools for reaching a number of audiences within and outside the geography, GIS, and geospatial communities. For members of the general public who are just interested in learning more about geography-related topics, blogs and podcasts can offer useful information and get people interested in learning more. Professionals are already using blogs to disseminate up-to-date information and discuss events and trends relevant to geospatial technologies. Finally, there is great potential for the New Media as educational tools, especially podcasts and videocasts, as they can target a focused audience and are easy to create and distribute.
For more information, contact the authors, Susan Bergeron, L. Jesse Rouse, and Frank LaFone at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit the VerySpatial Web site (veryspatial.com) to access links to blogs and podcasts related to geospatial technologies.
About the Authors
Susan Bergeron is a Ph.D. student in geography at West Virginia University and cohost of A VerySpatial Podcast. She has a master's degree in history from Syracuse University and a master's degree in geography from West Virginia University. Her previous work in GIScience includes projects related to GIS and archaeology, historical aerial photography, and spatial decision support systems. Her current research interests include historical GIS, geovisualization, and developing applications to extend ArcGIS functionality using VB.NET and ArcObjects.
L. Jesse Rouse is a geography Ph.D. candidate and the geospatial technology coordinator of the Laboratory of Geographic Information Science at West Virginia University. He is also the cohost and producer of A VerySpatial Podcast. Although he has worked on a broad range of topics from geovisualization to plant modeling, his research often returns to the use of GIS in the humanities, particularly for archaeology.
Frank LaFone is a Ph.D. student in political science at West Virginia University and a cohost of A VerySpatial Podcast. LaFone has a background that ranges from political science to computer science to GIS. He has been working for the West Virginia State GIS Technical Center for the last five years primarily doing Web-based GIS work using ArcIMS and ArcSDE for data distribution. His current research is focused on community development through IT infrastructure improvements, especially municipal broadband Wi-Fi.