Help me find a direction for my website.
December 13, 2007 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I want to build a website centered around maps, mapping, geography, GIS, etc., but I need help narrowing down my focus.

I like niche blogs like Strange Maps and Google Maps Mania, as well as more general cartography blogs like Map Room (run by MeFi's own mcwetboy). Of course, I don't want to rip off either one, or any other site, but I'm starting to feel like it's all been done before.

I want to provide something interesting and useful. I also want it to be a playground where I can create my own maps. I can create Google and Yahoo mashups, I'm good with HTML and CSS, and so-so with Javascript, but I'm not at the point where I can create flash maps or Web 2.0 stuff like Wayfaring or Mapbuilder. I'm not going to sell anything on the site and I don't anticipate it as a money-making venture.

I'm sorry for the vagueness of the question - I don't mean this to be a name-my-kitten type of AskMe. I'm just hoping you can help me over my creative block. I've owned the domain name for half a year and have done basically nothing with it. So what kind of mapping site/blog would you be interested in seeing?
posted by desjardins to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's a lot easier to carve out a niche than you think. I always tell people to just follow their passions and audience/money/whatever will follow. You love maps, which is great (I love them too and many times wanted to start a map site). My advice would be to not worry about your niche from day one, but to simply start it up, and start reading and blogging and covering stuff you like.

The rest is details you can work out later, but even if you're doing something five other bloggers are doing, your passion and personality will come out in the writing and attract people for different reasons than similar blogs.

Don't let a lack of specialized direction (which is already in a really limited genre) keep you from starting the site, start the site, blog about the mappy things you love no matter where you find them or how it may be similar to other blogs, and worry about the rest later.

With my own PVRblog, it started as a way to share all the TiVo tips I gave to friends over email. Eventually I sort of moved into covering a lot of home theater PC type stuff, and then eventually a lot about HD movies and TV. It's basically whatever strikes my fancy and I don't worry too much about sticking to a very specific topic.
posted by mathowie at 9:43 AM on December 13, 2007

You might check out Stamen, a company that does extremely cool things with maps and mapping data. It happens to also be linked to 'mefi's own': michal migurski, who's also worked on the nifty looking Modest Maps (a flash map display api) which I've been meaning to play with once i get a break from work.

At the very least I guarantee you'll find something interesting in those links.
posted by fishfucker at 10:08 AM on December 13, 2007

Seconding mathowie. Don't worry about finding a unique niche. That will come over time: I started The Map Room knowing very little about the subject, but have found over time that certain subjects kept recurring: books, blogs, cartographic projections, map thefts, boneheaded GPS driving errors. Post what seems interesting to you and see what happens. Don't overthink it. You'll enjoy yourself more.

Niches are good -- I'm insanely jealous of Strange Maps, and if, in a similar vein, you can find something that you're dead keen about that no one else is covering well then absolutely go for it -- but not necessary. There are a few map-related subjects that could be covered better, but that doesn't mean that a new player in a well-covered area wouldn't be welcome, if that new player was distinctive and interesting. That there are 20 blogs (assuming there are) that talk GIS doesn't mean there isn't room for a 21st. And blogging about a subject because it isn't already taken, rather than a subject you actually want to write about, won't work in the long run. You'll need to maintain your own interest.

And do let me know when your site finally does go live. I always post about new map blogs when I find out about them.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:40 AM on December 13, 2007

I think a really useful site (that I've yet to find) would be blogging about different strategies used in the mapping/GIS world. I get the sense that different disciplines (business, ecology, archaeology, etc.) that use GIS use it in very different ways. But those ways might be complementary -- picking up on threads where those methods are the same/different would be helpful and interesting to a lot of people. But also fairly wonky.
posted by one_bean at 10:45 AM on December 13, 2007

I deal with maps a lot from a wilderness/outdoors viewpoint and I surf all those blogs you mentioned in your post. One thing that I get annoyed with nowadays is that pretty much all the mapping blogs/sites are either Google/Yahoo maps oriented (where they center around mashups or apis or whatever) or they are historically driven...talking about old antique maps. I would suggest doing everything else. One thing I would like to see is a layperson discussion on datums and projections, coordinate systems, and how all the technical stuff works. I'd also like to see information on how people can create basic maps of their own. I've toyed with the idea of creating my own maps for trail guides around my region but I think someone with more of a professional background could have some great ideas on where to start with doing that. Another thing that never really gets mentioned on the mapping sites is the artistry of mapmaking - color choice, illustration, typography. I think that would make a great unique topic as well.
posted by rlef98 at 10:53 AM on December 13, 2007

I will agree with one_bean -- when I was starting my current job, I asked our super-connected GIS consultant what I could read online to absorb more GIS via osmosis, and he didn't have much to point me to beyond ESRI. (Maybe something's come up since then?) So, new tech skills or tools or something.... On the other hand, that sounds so boring.

Another idea might be "big cool new mapping projects." Try to get informants to give you hints about mapping projects different government agencies, etc, have going on (I'll send you some from the Bay Area ;) ) -- anything likely to become public sometime. Like gossip from the mapping world?

Hmm, but both of those are nowhere near as fun as the mapping blogs you cite. I guess what I'm wondering is whether you could find something in the intersection of mapping and the social justice stuff that interests you...Maybe it would just evolve, as others have suggested?
posted by salvia at 1:54 PM on December 13, 2007

Planet Geospatial is an aggregation of geo-related blogs that will give you a somewhat decent sense of things going on out there besides ESRI.

/me nths mcwetboy that no matter how many geo blogs there are, there's always room for one more with unique perspective, frequent content, and a strong voice.
posted by hobu at 6:29 PM on December 13, 2007

Like you, I was into a subject (a hobbyist electronics niche), and had a lot of bookmarks for all sorts of things related to that broad category of stuff.

One evening, I sat down, assimilated all the different kinds of information I had accumulated and devised a logical hierarchy to break it all down into nested categories that would make sense to other people. Then uploaded it. It became a "map" of that hobby online. As far as I know, years later, while the sites are all different, my classification system still forms the heart of the map of what's online.

Basically I'm suggesting you design a map of all the diverse mapping resources on your site, or of the mapping resources online.
(Hey, this IS meta! :-))
To map the web, the map would want to be like a wiki, for others to help with, else would quickly get out of date. But I like the idea of mapping your own blog content once there is enough diverse stuff that linearly reading it = crap way to find anything.

In fact, a lot of blogs would be better with a map, instead of as well as just tags. Maybe make some blog-mapping thing that people can use for their own sites.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:25 PM on December 13, 2007

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