The Point of No-Geo Return

I have a theory. It came to me at an event yesterday which was hosted by Ordnance Survey, Britain’s national mapping agency. OS were recently ‘incentivised’ by the UK government to give away mid- and small-scale mapping for free. In return they were going to get a government subsidy. Two months later, that government has gone and so, it seems, has the subsidy. So they have a problem. The horse has bolted and to make up for lost revenue, they hope to sell more mapping and geodata across all industries – including “unknown markets”. Hell of a marketing strategy.

Having worked in a number of industries, the value of domain expertise is crystal clear to me. There’s no point creating beautiful cartography or elaborate spatial databases if you don’t now how they’re going to get used. And using geodata is a very different skill to creating it. GIS analysts might know how to generate beautiful 3D models for architects but that does not qualify them to erect buildings. Mash-up artists might be able to create dazzling visualisations of population demographics but that doesn’t turn them into policy experts.

Many fellow geo-professionals still believe that everything that can be shown on a map, should be shown on a map. Similarly they also believe that the higher the geo-content of a knowledge product, the more valuable it is – and that it should be charged for accordingly. To me, that’s akin to astronomers saying I should pay them money every time I look at the moon.

So my theory is this. It is naturally true that geo-content adds value to solutions across all industries. But the value of the product is not proportional to the geo-content. Quite the reverse actually. A straightforward topographic map is 100% geo but you will never make millions from it (unless it’s a very BIG map). It is better to have some geo-content than none, but somewhere there is a point where geo-content becomes self-indulgent and counterproductive. That point of No-Geo Return™, as my highly authoritative graph shows, is at 21.5%:


 Selling products made up solely of geo-content is not likely to generate massive revenue. Much better to team up with partners and build up an ecosystem that can deliver the 78.5% domain expertise for maximum revenue.


15 thoughts on “The Point of No-Geo Return

  1. Thierry, best wishes with the blog. I imagine it’s good to have more than 140 characters to play with. What I took away from yesterday, was that, the Free our Data campaigners found a great channel for influencing decision makers via Tim Berners-Lee that ultimately led to OS OpenData and it would appear that even the usually well connected were surprised at the speed at which that decision moved. This got me thinking about how we as an industry, collectively find a channel and a message that ‘sticky’ enough around the value of GI that will have as much of an impact during these times of economic justification and austerity. One for the AGI I suspect but we ain’t going to win this one with academic justification or logic. As we all know logic is not persuasive.

  2. This could be competition for the Gartner curve, which seems to have the same scientific basis! Still I agree the value of Geo has been long oversold, yes it’s really useful for putting data in context, but then so is time, and on most computer systems that comes for free…

    Welcome to the blogosphere I look forward to your future posts !

  3. Thanks all, I really appreciate it.

    @Steve, no not just for effect. Although OS didn’t spell it out explicitly, Vanessa Lawrence dropped clear hints during her keynote. She had “a phonecall” from Downing Street apparently.

  4. Pingback: Unlike LOST, the derived data saga continues |

  5. A meeting is due to take place next week with the Minister responsible for Ordnance Survey to make her aware of OS OpenData and the proposals for the Public Sector Mapping Agreement. Hoping the original pot of cash is still there.

  6. Nice post. Here’s hoping there is some resolution on the money front for OS. Don’t want to go back to days of validating basic geo data sources again. Keep us posted. I’ll be watching this space. Thanks

  7. Very witty! Amazing that some people would take the graph seriously!
    I am delighted at the OS discomfort having their cosy monopoly shaken up.

    Still a monopoly though, all the detail data is still closed. At least flood maps will be able to be posted on the web without being sued by a government department. Its not such a big deal 1:1M scale is not a large concession. What about the 1:1250 series?

    The NZ equivalent was broken up and sold off, all the topographic data and survey data (1:100 scale) was released with no royalties.

  8. Thierry,

    Congratulatons. Around post 192 you will find the slow down effect. Don’t worry, then we will tell you the ‘geo-secret’ . It works in 7D!

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