Surveying is a specialized profession, requiring a set of skills and knowledge that the general public doesn’t usually have. But surveyors need help sometimes, too, and when they do, it can be a struggle to find intelligent, unbiased information and advice that doesn’t inevitably come with a sales pitch.
The Internet and social media promised to change all that, and while change has indeed come, so far the results are mixed.
The problem is that much of the surveying information available on the Internet is designed to sell a product or service, and the advice given can be biased or even outright inaccurate. But for those who search carefully, there are Web forums, Youtube how-to videos, Facebook groups and surveying-specific chat rooms that enable productive cooperation and facilitate expert peer-to-peer advice.
In 1996, Mark Deal founded the first major online community for land surveyors: The RPLS Network, which has since developed into the largest free surveyors’ network on the Web. With a discussion forum, interactive events calendar, and insider blog written by experts, RPLS has grown into a position of dominance among surveying and geospatial sites online.
RPLS’ former editor, Michael Anderson, who left his post in February, but remains with the parent company BNP Media, says he learned more about the surveying and geospatial professions in his 15 months as editor than he did in his entire career before that. One conclusion he drew is that surveyors aren’t the lone wolves they are sometimes made out to be.
“Surveyors are in actuality a rather amiable and cooperative lot,” Anderson wrote. “The reality that even the most solo of surveyors is more than happy to work with professional colleagues has been a recurring theme in our pages in recent months.”
The sentiment is heart-warming, but enabling such cooperation isn’t always easy. Wendell Harness runs SurveyorConnect, which has extensive geospatial forums and a SPAM-free marketplace for equipment and services. He has also started up a multi-author blogging platform called RPLS Today, which shares news and information with land surveyors and geomatics professionals, and which, he says is free from advertiser influence.
Though he struggles at times to raise the approximately $800 a month it takes to pay expenses for SurveyorConnect, Harness believes it is better to run the site on a shoestring than to turn it into yet another avenue for advertisers’ and equipment dealers’ profits.
“The intent behind RPLS Today is to get away from advertiser-influenced articles that we typically find in industry magazines,” Harness wrote. “We want to report news and helpful information by our peers without paid influence.”
In terms of social media, it seems some platforms are more useful for surveyors than others. Vine, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are all but useless for geospatial professionals, due to their audiences and subject matter content. Twitter use is expanding rapidly among surveyors, who search with popular hashtags such as #surveying, #surveyor, #landsurvey, #surveylife, and #realsurveying. Teen-centric platforms such as Snapchat are not as relevant to the surveying profession as are more professional networks, such as LinkedIn.
Many surveyors also use Facebook, specifically the public groups Surveyors and Land Surveyors United. The latter has boomed to 9,000 members, plus 15,000 followers on Facebook and 6,000 on LinkedIn, even as younger surveyors flee Facebook for newer social networks. Another highly relevant and useful site for surveyors is the governmental Facebook page for the U.S. Geological Survey.
Of course, not everyone in the surveying profession believes the Internet offers them all that much in terms of opportunity.
“I don’t really use the Web for anything,” said Stuart Jones, a partially retired sole-proprietor surveyor in southeastern North Carolina. “I’m kind of from the old school, and I don’t know much about high-tech stuff.”
Jones keeps himself informed about recent developments in surveying by reading Point of Beginning trade magazine and taking part in discussions and educational classes with the Southeastern Chapter of the North Carolina Society of Surveyors. But he mostly gets business from a network of friends and professionals in related fields who already know him from many years of cooperation.
“They just call me up,” he said. “Or if I need something, I give them a call.”