Guardian Tech : The end of paper

Yesterday marked the end of a era for many people interested in technology in the UK, as it was the last publication of the Guardian’s Thursday Technology supplement.


For many years I used to buy the Newspaper on a Thursday just for the tech section and it’s news from the IT industry and it’s IT and science job listings. Over the last few years the job listings disappeared replaced by online job sites, and of course we now get much of our news from blogs and the twitter.
It was the lack of advertising that killed the printed version, the Guardian still remains one of the best source of technology reporting online and out of all of the UK news publishers the Guardian is the most innovative in using new media, as demonstrated by the release this week of their excellent iPhone app.

Lets hope that the Guardian can continue its great work online, and I would recommend the weekly Guardian Tech podcast to anyone wanting to go beyond the 140 character version of tech news. Lets also hope that the campaigning element of the Guardian work continues, the victory of the Free our Data campaign in the UK, will have I hope a major impact on the UK Tech industry and the Geospatial Industry in particular.

Does this mean all printed media is ultimately doomed, of course not, however it does bring into stark  focus the business models of business that in the past have been based on the scarcity of information. When I started reading the Tech section, or Guardian Online as it was in the late 1980’s it was about the most up to date source of news, as it was published not monthly like most magazines but weekly ! Now via Twitter, I can learn of a new product announcement within minutes, and then read more in depth opinion of the news over the following hours and days via blogs.

While there was no alternative to printing on paper and having a distribution model of trucks and corner shops the inherent latency in the system was not a problem. Now of course that distribution mechanism has been replaced by the web, and as users we expect to see information delivered more quickly and a lower or no cost because the information is no longer scarce.

I expect we will see a similar shift in the provision of geospatial information to people over the next few years, the same web based distribution mechanism is already reducing the importance of paper maps and thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Guardian Geospatial infomation itself we become much less scarce early next year.

I hope to see by the middle of next year a whole range of alternative mapping products delivered online and in particular to mobile devices based on free OS mapping but showing real innovation, after all walking maps for use on my iPhone don’t have to look like the Landranger maps designed for paper 50 years ago.

So perhaps the end of paper for the mapping industry in the UK will actually mark the beginning of a creative renaissance in cartography, as with newspapers its ultimately not the medium of paper that is important,  but content.

Written and submitted from my home (51.425N, 0.331W)

3 replies on “Guardian Tech : The end of paper”

Thanks for that, Ed. Whatever your opinion of the Guardian – and there are a lot of opinions – it’s hard to imagine any other paper giving over so much space to an apparently obscure topic like free data. Credit to Charles Arthur, an editor in a million for his vision and persistence.

Ed, nice post.

As an additional prediction I would say that the digitial evolution you describe, coupled with free mid-scale OS data, will also fuel a rennaissance in creative paper mapping.

There are niche markets for paper mapping that have a dedicated following despite other alternatives, look e.g. at Harveys Maps for their unrivalled mountain navigation maps, or ITO World with their innovative bus stop posters – all creative paper products designed from digital base data.

As you say not every map needs to look like Landranger so, with such base mapping liberated, it will be interesting to see what other paper-based creativity (or even art?) will come out of this.


How long before google can get OS data into its mapping: at least the contours, field boundaries and water feature data, I’m sure the final product can improve on Explorer (or Landranger) as you say. The Nasa SRTM contours (currently used on terrain view) are woefully inaccurate in comparison.

Make Google maps usable for rural walking!

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