Spatial context is a part of our decision making but spatial information technology may not.

The recent announcement by YourStreet.com that they were discontinuing the use of maps in their hyperlocal news service is a reminder that there is nothing sacred about the application of spatial information tools in a business context.  That is sometimes hard for us to imagine – at least those of us living with spatial data and technology day in and day out.

The reason cited by Directions Magazine was a financial one – maintaining the service was too costly.  Assuming that is true, what does one make of it?

  • Technology used to communicate spatial context has a value associated with it
  • At some point the value of spatial information technology may not justify the cost
  • If that point is reached, the technology in question will be dropped or will atrophy

Should that surprise us? Not really since it pretty much is the way life goes.

In the case of Yourstreet has the importance of spatial information disappeared? I would argue that it has not given that they premise for their business revolves around local (read spatially relevant) news.  Instead, YourStreet has simply determined they will not use online mapping tools as a spatial reference system to help their users.  They have deemed that a descriptive spatial reference system (ie, a user defines the spatial context for news of a particular location in his or her request) is adequate for their user’s needs.

We need to be clear that spatial context is not the same as spatial information technology.  The former can be achieved in a variety of ways.  Technology may aid in providing spatial context but it needs to be evaluated within a cost/benefit framework appropriate to the business or organization in question.