The Long Tail of GIS Consulting

The Long Tail has been used to describe how small niche writers can become successful through the internet. Amazon is often mentioned, but I think eBay is an even better example. Joe Francica has discussed its relevance for geospatial data. I find it relevant to GIS Consulting.

Let’s say ESRI comes out with a new ArcObjects release. According to Kirk’s Law: Writing code is always more fun than documenting it, so documentation will always lag. This lag presents a business opportunity. Let’s say there’s some cool new functionality offered by ISomeObscureInterface. If you’re like me you search EDN, then Google. If you’re like some people, if you don’t find anything you whine about how evil ESRI seeks to impurify the precious bodily fluids of the geospatial community by releasing poorly documented ArcObjects libraries.

Or, instead, you could choose to exploit this opportunity. Dig in, figure out the interface and post code showing how to use it. There’s a good chance a prospective customer will find you. I once worked for a company that spent more money advertising than developing the skill-sets needed to deliver what the ads promote. It brings to mind the movie, “How to get ahead at advertising”.

For a business plan, instead of spending money on silly advertisements, it makes more sense to write sample code for poorly documented aspects of ArcObjects.

It is tempting to keep this strategy secret for competitive advantage. However, I think the more consultants that start doing this, the more successful the strategy. So, I encourage others to do as I have done. If you prefer a less mercenary view, think of this as nurturing an ecosystem where distributed cognition can thrive, maybe even resulting in hippy poetry.

Breadth vs Depth

It is just not possible to master all libraries of ArcObjects. The total area of understanding (breadth x depth) is limited by number of hours in a day. So the issue is how much time to spend mastering ISomeObscureInterface in depth instead of broadening into ISomeOtherObscureInterface. More specifically, is the long tail just for specialists? Solutions to complex geography problems require skilled generalists. I am hopeful that blogs will provide a marketplace where generalists may thrive as well. So maybe we will see an evolution of synoptic GIS planning discussions.

It all boils down to disintermediation: skilled consultants finding work directly for clients without funding an army of suits.

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