Is there an academic paper or conference contribution, where someone estimated how many GIS projects actually deal with only a very basic usage of GIS data? Something equivalent to the infamous "80% of all data is spatial" quote. such as

"X% of all use-cases of GIS data are concerned with plotting simple point data on maps"

There was a short rant about this question in one of the weekly podcasts from Directions magazine, but I don't remember which podcast, and it was only a qualitative statement. If I remember correctly, someone said "here we are in 2012 and most of us in the GIS community are still mainly putting data on a map.'

I am interested in getting a quantitative answer to this. If this is possible. The answer does not have to be academic. A back-of-the-envelope calculation will do as well.

Edit (w.r.t. comment): I don't intend to trivialize typical GIS programming tasks here, but I cannot really draw a line where "serious" work starts. I 'd like to emphasize that putting even just a single point on a map accurately can indeed be quite complex. (Understand coordinates and determine coordinates of a location, choose a map projection, perform a coordinate transform, then add many more points on map when first is right, classify etc). But most projects even don't work with "line" data type, or let alone polygon data types.

That is not just typical for the GIS community. There are equivalent studies from the relational-database community. Market researchers have found out that surprisingly high number of database-backed applications contain only a single table.

  • 4
    Does "show my shop's location on a map" count as a GIS use case? (I don't think so but) if yes, then 99 % of GIS use cases are trivial.
    – underdark
    Jan 23 '13 at 10:54
  • Good question @Underdark. I agree that this is not GIS any more than doing the occasional doddle in the margin of your notebook makes you an Artist. The phrase 'GIS Community' suggests habitual users rather than casual users. Jan 23 '13 at 11:04
  • Most GIS Projects either end up as Maps (both printed and Web Maps) or as data. But saying that it's just putting markerts on a map is Trivilising it. A lot of work is required before you can actually plot those points on the map. Jan 23 '13 at 11:37
  • @underdark Yes I am looking for an article containing serious attempts to estimate numbers like this; 99% seems a little high to me but it is possible.
    – knb
    Jan 23 '13 at 12:28

My personal experience is that 99% of the GIS projects I do involve some form of calculation. I can't remember ever having "simply put points on a map", though I'm sure I must have, even if only as a training exercise when learning a new GIS.

Expanding this to a biased back-of-an-envelope survey to include all the GIS practitioners I know and have worked with (approximately 30 - 40 people), I would say that the same would apply to them too.

My experience is completely biased because I only know GIS practitioners who's jobs exist because the companies of research institutes they work for employ them to get answers and the cartography is merely a communication tool for those answers. But that's the whole point of GIS after all.

If the person writing the rant only comes into contact with a small cadre of people who merely use GIS to put data on a map, then his/her perception will be as biased as mine is in the opposite direction.

Moving beyond people I know to a wider community (this forum), my perception is that 75% (a complete guestimate) of questions involve calculations or how-tos on data manipulation. Of the remaining 25%, most questions about how to put a point on a map result from people being new to the software so it is difficult to use that as a guide to how many of those projects are solely about points on a map, but I would bet most of them are the result of having done a calculation first.

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