As with all open source projects, estimating the number of users and the size of the community is difficult. QGIS as a project has grown significantly during the past decade, but just how big QGIS really is and how many people use it? This is a question that pops up regularly with colleagues and customers, but answering it is surprisingly difficult.
This article on the topic is already 10 years old. At that time it came to the conclusion that at the very minimum there are 35 000 QGIS users and may easily exceed 100 000. So we can assume that as the baseline. Open source graphics software Blender has estimated that they have between 1 to 3 million users worldwide. Blender is a good comparison in the sense that it is also a multi-platform desktop application with an active user base and a plugin ecosystem. So maybe QGIS could be around those figures or even bigger?
This blog post aims to look at different indicators which might give a clue on how many QGIS users there are globally. Let’s go!
How many QGIS developers are there?
This is the easiest question to answer, because the development is open and transparent like it should be. While writing this blog post, there are in total 433 core contributors on GitHub. During the last month (April 2021), there have been 46 active developers who have pushed 396 commits to the master branch. So that is more than 10 commits per day!
To put that in perspective, we can view a few other major open source projects:
- Django project has a whopping 2040 contributors, but only 30 of them have been active during last month
- Blender has 193 people contributors on their repository and from these 65 have committed in April 2021.
- Mongo has 500 contributors out of which 107 have been active during last month
These projects are very different in nature, but still QGIS does have a pretty solid developer base. The massive input from Nyall Dawson can’t go unmentioned: he has contributed almost a whopping 15 000 commits to QGIS core.
How many QGIS users are there?
One could think that the number of downloads would be the best source of users. However this has a few caveats:
- People are using different operating systems and through multiple installation methods (OSGeo4w, conda, homebrew…)
- Some of the biggest organisations using QGIS do not allow – for obvious reasons – users to install anything to themselves. Instead they have a centralized way for installations.
According to the official website logs, a total views for the download page has been to date in 2021 2.7 million. Large number of these might be website crawlers or automatic clicks and of course not all visits end up downloading the software. On the other hand, that number is only for the English site. Other languages account for yet another million views.
Another point of view can be gained by analysing the number of downloaded plugins. There are roughly 10 plugins which have more than half a million downloads and the most downloaded plugin in the repository has been downloaded 3 million times. However this aspect has at least three problems:
- There are some heavy users which have multiple profiles and multiple installations of QGIS. I think I account for 10+ downloads for qgis2web. So this is a minor problem, but gives a bit too high number of plugin users.
- When a new version of a plugin is released and users update their versions, that is counted as a new download. For instance for OpenLayers plugin “only” around 300 000 downloads out of the almost 3 million total have been done for the latest version.
- Many users don’t use plugins at all and as there are different people using different plugins, it can only provide an estimate. Or some organisations centrally share plugins with profiles.
It is also important to note that there are 35 official QGIS user groups listed on the QGIS website. User groups are local organizations who share knowledge, organise events and sometimes also sponsor QGIS development. Bigger groups can have thousands of members and smaller just a few.
Support, training & social media numbers
Where do people go when they have technical questions? To StackExchange of course. There are currently 7 500 unanswered questions regarding QGIS and the tag “qgis” has 1.1k watchers. When comparing the tags between different software components, we can see that QGIS has clearly the most questions with 50% more than then next, which is “arcgis-desktop”. Some might say that this is because QGIS is the most problematic software to use, but still this is in an indicator among others.
High number of questions is partly due to the fact that there is no single source of support for QGIS compared to commercial licensed alternatives (commercial break: we at Gispo are among companies offering commercial support for QGIS). This means that places like StackExchange are the logical places for many to seek help.
People tend to start their professional journey with new software by taking a course where they learn how to do that. We at Gispo have given training to more than 1000 individuals in Finland only and the online courses on Udemy and Coursera on QGIS have had more than 10 000 registered participants. Then there is the whole world of universities and educational institutions. Many universities teach QGIS on their GIS courses and thus they account for thousands of new QGIS users every year.
But how do most people learn new skills nowadays? Same way as they learn how to fix a broken pipe or bake a cake: with Youtube.
The Youtube video QGIS 3 for absolute beginners has almost 500 000 views. I think that is a quite good indicator: if you are not about to use QGIS you probably have no reason to watch the long tutorial and also it is highly unlikely that you end up watching it multiple times. If you add the views from the older version of the same video by Klas Karlsson, that results to more than 1.2 million views in total. However to put this in context: this Blender tutorial has more than 8 million views.
Let’s take a look at the numbers on social media besides Youtube. There are multiple QGIS user groups on Facebook, QGIS Users Group has nearly 20 000 members and a group called QGIS community has 47 000 members. On Linkedin the QGIS group has 27 000 users. On Reddit the r/QGIS subreddit has a bit 9 400 members. The official QGIS Twitter account has around 50 000 followers.
How does QGIS compare to the big E
The analysis is hard to conduct fully without mentioning ESRI and their products. ESRI was the industry standard with Arc* products for a few decades, so a comparison to them can give a good idea of the total size of the market. Although for licensed software it is easy to track the number of users, it is hard to find that information openly. This blog post from five years ago suggests that there are 4.4 million ArcGIS Online users. So claiming that there would be millions of QGIS users wouldn’t be such a stretch. After all, many ArcGIS Online is just one ESRI product and many ArcGIS users might also be using QGIS.
Google Trends has been used in many cases to compare the popularity between QGIS and ESRI products in different countries. Google Trends analyzes the popularity of top search queries in Google Search across various regions and languages. If given two queries and a time frame, Google Trends can show the popularity between those two. I did a comparison between QGIS and ArcGIS in the last 6 years and QGIS has surpassed ArcGIS in many countries.
On Reddit an annual survey for GIS experts has been conducted, which is also an interesting point of view to the topic. Although the survey is very limited and US-centric, still it gives an interesting indication: 88% of respondents use ArcGIS and 48% use QGIS . As a primary primary GIS tool: 78% use ArcGIS and 16% use QGIS. Just like with the data from Google Trends suggests, the regional variation is big: in the United States 88 % use ArcGIS and only .6% use QGIS whereas in Europe the tables have turned: ArcGIS 46% and QGIS 49 %.
In the past ten years QGIS has grown to mature and well-established open source projects to which many organizations rely on. It has been recognized as a critical piece of the whole open source ecosystem. According to sloccount, QGIS project is currently worth 54 million USD. This is only looking at the source lines of code, but still quite a number!
Before going to the final figures, I should point out caveats and loopholes in the analysis. But as the whole analysis is an estimate, I’ll just skip that part. Thank you for all the tips and comments to my tweet about the topic. These are mostly my personal views, but would be great to hear if someone has a more scientific approach to the analysis.
My own educated guesses based on everything written earlier:
- There are around 2 000 people who are involved in the development of QGIS, write issues, give training courses, write tutorials and much more. These people use QGIS on a daily basis and much of their work relies on the software. Out of these only around 20 to 50 people are actively involved in core development.
- Approximately 200 000 active users who use QGIS on a weekly basis. These are members in user groups, social media groups. They are active end-users who use QGIS for cartographic work, data analysis and much more.
- Over 2 million irregular users worldwide. Definitely in the range of “millions of users”. These are the people who might be still running QGIS 2.18. Or the people who once installed QGIS but haven’t used it much.
Awesome figures, but the good news is that there is definitely room for more people! Do you agree with the analysis? Remember: everyone is welcome to join the open and free QGIS community!