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Friday, March 22, 2024

Industry Loses Scott Elliott

This article was originally published at Directions Magazine on January 20, 2001.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on the GIS Monitor from TenLinks.com.

Scott Elliott died January 10, 2001, losing a long battle with lung cancer. Scott’s involvement in GIS had a profound impact on the current state of the industry. His data company, Wessex, revolutionized GIS delivery in 1992 when it offered nationwide coverage for about $1,000 - a tiny fraction of what other vendors were charging at the time. The so-called "Wessex effect" not only inspired several other companies to follow suit but more importantly, it allowed the adoption of desktop GIS by many organizations that would otherwise have been shut out of the market.

John Haynes, of Geodata Consultants, recalls the rollout of Wessex data (from a post to MapInfo-L): "I was in Troy in 1992 when Scott unveiled his $995 Wessex product that was every bit as good as the $100,000 U.S. Streets being sold by MapInfo. Because he happened to do it at the MapInfo Reseller conference, his ejection from the group was as dramatic as the boys from Troy could make it. Kind of like those old Western movies where the offending officer was stripped of his buttons with a sword and marched out the gate of the fort to Indian territory."

After Wessex was purchased (first by BLR, then by GDT) Scott moved into publishing. He founded Directions Magazine in 1998, the first online GIS publication of any size. Articles by experts and quick access to breaking news established the site as a required daily stop for the geospatial community.

I first met Scott when I worked at ESRI. We knew him as the "Wessex guy." I’m not sure I realized the impact of his data on desktop GIS in the early 1990s. Scott himself recalled his first MapInfo (DOS) demo in 1989: "I've been enthralled ever since." Desktop GIS was just coming of age in the early 1990s - ArcView and MapInfo were stabilizing and users were realizing its possibilities. Without data, of course, GIS is nothing. And, until Wessex, data - any data - was thousands of dollars. Because Wessex was an ESRI partner, all of the US offices, including mine in Boston, used the data extensively for demonstrations.

The real contribution of Scott and Wessex, however, was awareness. The introduction of low priced data invited users, for the first time, to evaluate their data needs. How much data did they need? How much detail was required? More and more questions about accuracy and availability came to light and made better data consumers of us all. Specialized data providers began to distinguish themselves and find niche markets to call their own. That process continues today.

I was intrigued when Directions Magazine came online. I liked the idea that a GIS insider was writing and serving GIS information. Scott’s first breaking story - the announcement of Microsoft’s mapping/GIS product MapPoint - brought much of the GIS community to his site. Scott even started a companion publication to cover MapPoint, MP2K.

Bill Davenhall, of ESRI, one of Scott’s first customers and longtime friend, puts it this way: "It’s difficult for me to think about a world without the penetrating ideas of Scott. He seemed to have a never-ending supply of ideas that challenged every part of the business geographics community. I am quite sure that I will never forget the day he introduced the world to his Wessex street files. Back then I called his move "like dropping a depth charge into snake infested waters." Now -- almost eight years later -- I realize that Scott launched a whole new generation of GIS practitioners, and frankly, that was what Scott was about: breaking down barriers that kept the masses out. I will certainly miss Scott and his unquenchable enthusiasm for challenging the status quo of our industry and always pushing the envelope of where this exciting technology could lead."

I was a daily visitor to Directions during my tenure at ESRI. Today a great many links at TenLinks are to articles at Directions. The future will reveal the full extent of Scott Elliott’s impact on our industry.

Funeral services were held January 13, 2001, in Winnetka, IL. Scott was 52 years old. He is survived by his wife, Jane, and his son, Johnny.