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Microsoft and GeoTango

Monday, January 16th 2006
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Summary:

Microsoft closed the acquisition of Toronto-based GeoTango the day before Christmas Eve, 2005, meaning the story and the potential of technology might have gone unnoticed. Adena Schutzberg thought it was too important to get lost in the shuffle and asked Microsoft’s Stephen Lawler, General Manager for Windows Live Local/MSN, to provide some insight into the announcement.

_Microsoft closed the acquisition of Toronto-based GeoTango the day before Christmas Eve, 2005, meaning the story and the potential of technology might have gone unnoticed. I thought it was too important to get lost in the shuffle and I asked Microsoft's Stephen Lawler, General Manager for Windows Live Local/MSN, to provide some insight into the announcement.

Despite my conspiracy theories, Lawler confirms there was no evil plan regarding the lack of press release or the removal of the full GeoTango website from the Internet. The bottom line - it was the day before the holiday and there was no big announcement to make. Microsoft's choice to compress the website to a single page served simply to notify existing users whom to contact regarding service and support.

Since I had no access to the website, Lawler walked me through the three products GeoTango offers. He described GlobeView as an "immersive viewer" with the ability to access data from a number of sources including servers supporting the Web Map Service Specification (WMS) from the Open Geospatial Consortium and Microsoft's own TerraServer. That technology, Lawler explained, fit perfectly into Microsoft's vision of Windows Live Local, one based on immersive technology, but more on that later.

SilverEye, he explained, allows the rapid creation of 3D urban models from a single image. The "regular way" of creating such a model involves a pair of images that are just slightly different (stereo pairs). He highlighted how easy the GeoTango one image process is, "simple enough for the layman," was how he put it. (That was my sense as well, when I saw the product in use, a few years ago.) Lawler could not say at this point whether the tool will be used exclusively within Microsoft or if we end-users might see an offering for our use. But, based on his discussion of the third product, Smart Digitizer, I have an inkling we end-users might get to play with it, in time.

Smart Digitizer is essentially a stand-alone tool for building GIS features: roads, rivers, hydrants, etc. They might be digitized from existing aerial imagery, or built on GPS points, etc. but instead of "dumb lines" or "dumb points" this product creates GIS ready points. PCI integrates it into its software offerings and has a PDF datasheet available.

SilverEye and Smart Digitizer are particularly interesting because they allow "everyone to be a data creator," as Lawler put it. They allow the public to contribute "local knowledge" for the greater good. Of course for Microsoft that means contributing, in time, both opinion (a restaurant review) and location information (where the restaurant is, or where that new street is) to Windows Live Local. That can be expanded further, potentially with SilverEye, I'd suggest. How about we, the public, contribute a 3D model of City Hall or the local church? Lawler said the vision of Windows Live Local is "global access to local knowledge" which I believe fits with my speculation in this paragraph. Microsoft is not sharing the road map for the technology at this time.

Lawler summarized the vision of Windows Live Local with a statement that "it's the 3rd wave of the Internet." My apologies if you've heard this before; I hadn't. The argument is essentially this:

The first wave of the Internet revolved around the use of portals to find content of interest. Yahoo and MSN and others provided lists of topics (directories) as starting points.

The second wave was search. Now, with a few keystrokes a search engine would provide a whole list of starting points.

The third wave, says Lawler, is visual and immersive. Instead of using these artificial constructs (directories and search engines) to get at the information of interest, soon, we'll use the same intuition, the same skills we "already know" (and use) in real life.

That's where Windows Live Local is heading and the tools acquired from GeoTango will help it get there. That said, Lawler would not speak to the potential use of these tools in other areas at Microsoft. I'll suggest that they could be most valuable in gaming. We'll just have to wait and see.


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