The Long Tail of Mapping Redux

Adena Schutzberg’s column on the “long tail” and its applicability to mapping is interesting in that it mentions the long tail coming up in discussion, but not necessarily where; it might be seen as a response to Joe Francica’s column last month, which, as I pointed out last week, kind of missed the point. (A big thanks to the commenters, by the way, who really added to the discussion.) Adena addresses this in her column, and makes the argument that there is no long tail of mapping — at least not yet: it’s essentially not applicable. While there are niches, there is no central index of geospatial data for sale — no Amazon or iTunes of mapping, meaning no established marketplace that can sell to the niche markets.

I think the problem of applying the “long tail” to mapping is not that we don’t know what the “long tail” is, it’s that we don’t know what we mean by mapping. For Adena, it’s geospatial datasets, but mapping is bigger than the geospatial industry — what about the consumer side? And if it is geospatial data, in what format? Is it a physical product, like a sheet map or an atlas, or just the data — for example, could the “long tail” be applied to GIS data printing out, on a plotter, topo maps that would otherwise be too expensive to produce in a traditional print run? Does it have to be a commercial product, or is it about freely available niche information?

Is the language of the “long tail” of mapping the Google Maps API — niche data applied to a generalized dataset?

The “long tail” is an argument about the economics of distribution, but we can’t do much with it unless we know what we’re distributing. It’s a descriptive paradigm; we need something to describe.

See previous entry: The Long Tail of Mapping?