Networking in GIS: Peer-to-Peer Support in the GIS Community

Caitlin Dempsey


GIS is a diverse field, requiring expertise in a range of areas ranging from cartography, systems administration, relational database management, programming, and of course, spatial analysis. Even the well-versed GIS professional will come across many difficult tasks that require guidance from others in the field.

Unfortunately, GIS professionals tend to work solo or in small groups, making it difficult to consult with coworkers for direction and feedback. Luckily, there is a strong support community readily accessible both via the Internet and in-person through focused user group meetings.

Outlined below are peer-to-peer resources that GIS professionals can utilize to help guide them through their technical questions, and connect with other GIS professionals.

Social Media

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin are important sites to connect with other GIS professionals.  To find groups, lists, and fan pages, visit each social media site and do a search for GIS.  

Discussion Groups

Discussion groups have dropped in popularity among GIS professionals.  There are two types: email lists and forums.

Email discussion lists require you to subscribe to a Listserver. All communications to the discussion list are sent via email to a common address. The Listserver then copies that email to every one subscribed.

Moderate versus unmoderated GIS discussion lists

These lists can either be moderated or unmoderated.

A moderated list means that all emails are first scrutinized for appropriate content before being passed on to the list. Moderation helps keep the subject matter of each email true to the philosophy of the discussion list.

Unmoderated lists allow all emails through, regardless of content. This can be troubling as such lists are often the targets of spam – unwanted junk emails soliciting services as well as being an easy vehicle for spreading viruses.

A good discussion list will have some level of either computer or human monitored activity.

GIS forums

Forums are online options where registered users can browse email posts and on some sites, post replies and start new threads. These sites are also searchable which is useful when you are looking for a particular subject.

Forums are online resources where registered users can post messages. The function is very similar to email discussion lists. Forums are almost always moderated.  

GIS User Groups

User groups are small, regionally concentrated associations that are tied by a common agenda. User group meetings can range in size from a handful of attendees to over a hundred.

GIS User Groups tend to meet for one day only for a hours, making it easier to attend such meetings. User groups usually to meet on a regular schedule either monthly or quarterly. They are an excellent forum to exchange ideas and troubleshoot with other professionals most related to your line of work.

As mentioned above, user groups are tied by a common agenda.

In some cases User Groups are related by Industry. For example, the Southern California Government GIS Users’ Group is a group of individuals working for local cities and governmental agencies in Los Angeles and Orange County.

Other User Group meetings are tied by software type.

Esri organizes user group meetings once a quarter regionally on both a county and a state level. Agenda items for discussion always revolve around various software packages on offer from Esri and the meetings serve to keep their geospatial users informed about changes and to answer questions relating to their software.

Likewise, many of the other GIS software makers such as Intergraph offer the same type of User Groups.

GIS Conferences

Like User Groups, GIS conferences offer and opportunity to meet face to face with other GIS professionals.

Unlike User Groups, GIS related conferences tend to meet only once a year and are held on a larger scale. In addition, most of the conferences charge a fee for admission to cover the cost of the event. Conferences tend to be held over a couple of days.

Not only are conferences a chance to see presentations by others, conferences usually offer the opportunity to interact directly with vendors. All of the larger GIS conferences have a exhibition area where vendors set up booths. This offers you a chance to see demonstrations of their products, receive take-home demos and ask any questions you may have.

Visit the GIS Conferences section which lists GIS and Remote related conferences occurring worldwide can be browsed by month.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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1 thought on “Networking in GIS: Peer-to-Peer Support in the GIS Community”

  1. Hello,
    I am looking for women who use GIS in their careers for a feature on our Facebook Page called Women’s Wednesdays. I would like to feature women who have geospatial careers, and all it requires is a photo and answers to 5 or 6 career related questions.

    Can you please advise me as to how I can reach some of the women in your network?

    Thank you

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