GIS and The Golden Doorstop

07-20-2018 01:44 PM
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Please bear with me as I set the context for this allegory, I promise there is a meaningful connection with GIS…

You have probably never heard of John Reed.  He was a Hessian mercenary, then known as Johannes Ried, working for the British during the American Revolutionary War.  In 1782, he deserted his post in Savannah, GA, and later settled in Cabarrus County, in Central North Carolina, to make his living as a farmer.  In 1799, John’s twelve-year old son, Conrad, found a sixteen-pound, yellow rock in Little Meadow Creek on the family farm.  The Reeds used it as a doorstop.

In 1802, a jeweler from Fayetteville, North Carolina, identified the rock as a gold nugget, and offered to buy it from Mr. Reed.  John sold it to him for $3.50, or a week’s worth of wages.  The value of the nugget at the time was approximately $3,600.  This is the first documented commercial gold find in the United States.

Shortly after this event, John started a mining operation.  John Reed ended up a wealthy man.  The mining operations ceased in 1912.  The Reed Gold Mine is designated as a National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  It makes for a great visit, especially with children, so they can learn this important bit of American History, as well as on a hot day, as the mine provides some welcome, natural air conditioning.  You can even pan for gold yourself.  I have found gold flakes each time I have visited.

So, what does this have to do with GIS?  Too often I see organizations that have implemented GIS and use only a small number of its capabilities:

  • They focus only on mapping,
  • use is restricted to trained GIS professionals,
  • there is little use of spatial analysis capabilities, and
  • non-GIS users think of the GIS group only as mapmakers.

This is extremely frustrating since there is so much additional potential in the use of a web-enabled location platform powered by GIS.  For most of these organizations, they have this powerful tool right there, but do not take advantage of the true value of the platform they own.  Most of the time, it is because they are either averse to change, or they do not know how to take advantage of it.

So, what can GIS professionals learn from John Reed?  Think of your GIS as John’s golden doorstop.  Here is this incredibly valuable resource just sitting there, not being valued to its full potential.  Sure it might prop the door open to simple mapping, but think about how it can contribute to making your community a better place, how it can help with real problems we are struggling with, like homelessness, the opioid epidemic, mosquito-borne diseases…  As an ArcGIS user, you have access to free, configurable, supported solutions for real problems like these, and many others.  These solutions can be deployed, sometimes in minutes, without writing any code.  They are open source, supported and will continue to evolve along with ArcGIS.

Now think about how John realized the true value of the doorstop, and not only profited from the gold he found on his property, but how he changed from farmer to miner, to better take advantage of his situation.  Today’s next-generation, web-powered GIS requires a different mindset than the traditional mapmaking-centric GIS of the past.  Your job as a GIS professional has changed from performing GIS work for others, to enabling others to leverage GIS capabilities with easy-to-use, focused apps, that work on any device.  The real power of GIS is in spatial analysis - your job is to share that with others, so that they can understand that GIS is for more than making maps. 

Take a look at what may be holding your door open. A golden doorstop? Mine it for all its worth.

Want an example of how easy ArcGIS app deployment can be?  Check out this story: Accelerating Small-Town Services on a Small-Town Budget | ArcNews 

Want help? Esri and our business partners are here to help you every step of the way.  You can also start with this Esri Training course: 

Thanks to Andy Huntington and Brian Baldwin for peer review of this post.


Wikipedia, Reed Gold Mine:

North Carolina Historic Sites, Reed Gold Mine:

About the Author
GIS practitioner for over 30 years. Grew up in Florida. I'm the Public Works Industry Specialist. Been at Esri since 2008. BA in Geography and MA in Urban & Regional Planning from University of Florida. Formerly GIS instructor and Planner. Varied background includes applying GIS and related spatial technologies to complex, award-winning projects across the globe in the realms of planning, transportation and environmental sciences. Experience includes the public sector, business and academia. I have achieved certification as an Urban Planner (AICP) and GIS Professional (GISP).