Adena Schutzberg Interview – Directions Magazine & GIS Consultant

Adena Schutzberg is executive editor of Directions Magazine and has worked in the GIS industry for many years.  She is currently working as a GIS consultant and is Principal of the ABS Consulting Group.  They are a GIS consulting company that offers services to clients including GIS software, data, and imagery companies. GPS Bites had the pleasure of interviewing Adena this week where she tells us about her views on location based services and innovative developments in GIS.

1. Hello Adena, thanks for giving us the opportunity to interview you.  As executive editor of Directions Magazine could you tell the readers of GPS Bites what your typical working day involves? 

Since I’m the chief editor of our All Points Blog, my first task is finding the news of the day. I do a variety of searches and use social media to tease out news that’s not in press releases or vendor created content. Once the blog is up-to-date, I review the daily newsletter, check on and respond to comments on our sites and field e-mails. Only then do I get to focus on stories or editorials I’m writing. Many people don’t realize it, but my role at Directions is just part-time.

Directions Magazine Logo - All Things Location

2. How was Directions Magazine originally conceived, and are there any plans for the future that you can share with us today?

Directions was founded in 1998 by Scott Elliott, the fellow behind Wessex, one of the early GIS data providers. He had the insight to get online very early and chose a clever magazine title that serves us very well today. His vision was a news and opinion website for those in the industry and needless to say, he found a solid niche.The future plans at Directions revolve around serving international markets. We launched Directions Magazine India at the end of October and will hold our first international Location Intelligence Conference in Brazil next year.

3. We read in a previous interview from 2001 that your goal is to do all the GIS work you consider fun, and to see if you can make a living from that.  Now ten years later are you still fulfilling on those goals?  What are your current projects and roles outside of Directions Magazine?

Yes, I did say that, didn’t I? It’s still true and I’m happy to report that I have been making a living! During much of the past ten years I spent about half my time working on a publication (first GIS Monitor and later Directions) and half of it doing consulting or teaching.

These days I’m spending a good deal of my non-Directions time trying to understand the challenges of education in general and geography/GIS education in particular. I write about it on my personal blog (Ignite Education) and am looking for the “right” teaching opportunity (face to face or online) to test out some of my latest teaching ideas.

4. We noticed that you are serving as a content adviser to the Geospatial Revolution video project at Penn State University.  We enjoyed the recent episode “Mapping Power to the People” and thought the videos were excellent.  How does your input and role work within the series of films? 

Working on the Geospatial Revolution was a real treat. The content advisers helped the producer and director figure out what the main ideas would be and what stories to tell. I was thoroughly impressed with how they turned our seemingly random (and sometimes contradictory) thoughts into these four slick episodes. My favorite part, I have to admit, was when we got to review the “rough” episodes. Our job was to look for errors and make sure the stories made sense.

The project is “done” in its first iteration – there are four episodes. That last I heard there was an effort to knit them together into an hour documentary.

5. Recently the Directions Magazine website has featured some editorial on the new Apple Maps launch and negative news this received.  Despite this negative publicity, many industry analysts still seem to be of the opinion that smartphone-based GPS and mapping applications are going to present a real threat to the future of more traditional hardware based portable navigation manufacturers. 

How do you see the future of companies such as TomTom and Garmin developing and do you still think they can survive in the consumer GPS market? 

TomTom and Garmin (and others) are at that point in their corporate lives that they need to “kill their cash cows” (those portable navigation devices) and find the “next” big thing. TomTom is working with many automotive manufacturers as the connected car becomes reality. Garmin has a big stake in the sports market; I’m a runner and we literally call our GPS watches our “Garmins.”

That said, these types of companies are in a tough spot: there are more sources of worldwide data (Google, OpenStreetMap to name just two) and hardware is no longer the moneymaker it once was. I’m as curious as everyone else about how well they will pivot to the next set of offerings and find the next set of key partners.

6. During your time working in GIS, what have been the most exciting and innovative developments that have occurred?  Whether from consumer, business, or military perspectives. 

The most exciting innovation, the one that still gets me excited, relates to interoperability. I remember the first time I understood the impact of it. It was in 1992 and I was in a bar with a real visionary, Dennis Boston, who last I knew worked at Georgia Power. He explained how in the near future any GIS would be able to “pull in” data from any other. Remember that back then we didn’t have FME (Safe Software’s Feature Manipulation Engine) or Spatial Data Objects (FDO, Autodesk’s platform for data interchange, now an Open Source Geospatial Foundation open source project) or the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC).

Boston was of course correct; we now can read and manipulate file based data and web-served data in virtually an format, on virtually any platform, using virtually any software. Not only that, we can even use geoprocessing services from other vendors from a variety of software on the desktop, table or mobile phone. In retrospect, perhaps it was inevitable that I’d spend five years consulting to the OGC!

7. Do you have any predictions for the next couple of years of how the location based services and GPS industries are going to progress with new initiatives and developments?  As an example, we recently interviewed Mike Dobson of Telemapics who predicted that in a few years mapping, routing, navigation, and other similar functionalities will be provided as infrastructure from the cloud to be rented out to companies that want to provide products based on these services. 

It’s a good bet to listen to Mike Dobson when he predicts things! I’m not a great predictor, so I’ll cheat and share a vision from my colleague, Joe Francica, the editor in chief of Directions. He argues that it won’t be long before all these “specialty” LBS apps are merged into a few “super apps.” Right now a smartphone user might have Gas Buddy loaded to find cheap gas, foursquare loaded to check in and do social things, WeatherBug loaded to warn about the next downpour (or hurricane) and maybe five six more.

Apps for iPhone and Android Could Become One

Apps for iPhone and Android Could Become One

That’s a lot of apps to acquire, install and manage! Can’t we just have one app that does all these things plus others? Things are already heading that way. The implementation of “by default” location based search via Google or Apple’s Siri is a start. Google Now not only shows local information, but actively pushes out weather, Amber and other alerts. When such unified platforms mature, I’ll consider using location-based services; I do not do so today.

8. Do you think that indoor location positioning will actually take off from a consumer perspective?  Dr Bruce Krulwich had some interesting views on this when we interviewed him recently about the future of indoor location services.

This is a very interesting topic – and it has many use cases. One is simply the shopping scenario: “Take me to the marinated mushrooms!” Others are tours: “Guide me through the museum’s Monet exhibit,” while still others are very much like outdoor navigation: “Route me to patient room 15B-331 in the Mayo Clinic.” I think we are still a ways off from widespread use of indoor location services. Why? Every vendor has its own way to broadcast signals and its own way to receive them.

Until things shake out or there are standards, there will be many “one off” solutions and those are hard to monetize. In contrast, outdoors we pretty much have two ways to locate our devices: GPS and Wi-FI. It’s much simpler!

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