2004 - The Year Web Services Go Mainstream

By Joe Francica

Editor's Note: In my editorial of February 11, I omitted several items, brought to my attention by suppliers of web map services that I feel warrant mention in this revised version.

Microsoft Releases MapPoint Web Services 3.5; Intergraph & MapInfo add Web Services to desktop products; ESRI continues to build the Geography Network & ArcExplorer; and MapQuest continues to build mindshare while pushing deeper into the enterprise.

If the last few years could be characterized as the maturation period for spatial databases, 2004 may well be recognized as the year that web services, supported by the underlying spatial databases, caught fire.Several software solution companies have been cautiously and sometimes quietly building web services into their products.The result of this added functionality will open the doors to more spatial data access without the headache of purchasing, formatting, georeferencing, and integrating data with existing or locally acquired data.

Figure 1
Yesterday, Microsoft released its most recent version of MapPoint Web Services, version 3.5.This release is targeted at more than just your typical "store finder" application, such as the one provided by SpatialPoint LLC (see Figure 1 at right), which uses MapPoint Web Services.The application programming interfaces (APIs) can be used for mobile, web, desktop, or small format map-rendering (SmartPhone) applications.Internationalization is also a major feature supporting address-lookup and parsing, reverse geocoding and routing for twenty-one European countries in addition to North America.The entire web service (streets, points of interest, and functionality) will be sold as a subscription with entry-level pricing set at $8000 for an initial block of 500,000 server transactions or on a per user basis."If their application is higher volume and they need more transactions, they can purchase them starting at about a penny per transaction; ramping down to about one-half penny per transaction," said Steve Lombardi of Microsoft.The web service supports standard SOAP and XML interfaces.

Web Services are obviously not new.And the rush to improve functionality among GIS providers may be a result of success that MapQuest, a company with a base of approximately 1400 web services customers, has fostered among large corporations looking to enhance their customer interface with "store finder" applications.MapQuest now enjoys a popularity that will be a springboard for them to go deeper within the organization to offer web services for other enterprise solutions such as their Enterprise Server.

Other software providers are incorporating some very robust Web Map Services (WMS) within their solutions.Intergraph, for example states that, "Any GeoMedia product (including GeoMedia Viewer) can currently access an Open GIS Consortium (OGC) Web Feature Service (WFS) site/server via the WFS GDO data server that is available as a free download from (http://imgs.intergraph.com/interop/extensions.asp). Similarly, a Web Map Service (WMS) data server will be available from this same website in the first quarter of 2004 that will enable any GeoMedia product the capability of accessing data from an OGC WMS site/server.

Figure 2

Figure 3

MapInfo directly incorporates a WMS into their MapInfo Professional 7.5 version (see Figures 2 & 3) that allows a connection to several web map services to download imagery, international streets, boundaries, and points of interest data into a map window.The dialog box shows the different web map services that are available and allows the user to select specific map features to import into the map window.This feature makes it extremely easy to access information that might otherwise take away valuable time searching data suppliers, especially international data.

Figure 4

Just this week, ER Mapper, IONIC and Manifold announced web services initiatives and others including SRC, CubeWerx, GeoMicro, and Blue Marble Geographics have publicized product developments in the past. ESRI's Geography Network has an extensive list of links to data suppliers and, using ArcExplorer (See Figure 4), anyone can better visualize the quality and types of information available for each data supplier.The company's ArcWeb Services solutions are targeted at organizations that are implementing ESRI technology to build web mapping applications and want the ability to augment the service with data from various providers of spatial data that include remotely sensed and demographic data, for example.  Those providers include companies such as GlobeXplorer, Titan Systems, Navigation Technology, GDT, Tele Atlas, Spot Image, Space Imaging, DigitalGlobe, and many others including local and state governments.Last year, the Geospatial One-Stop, a U.S.government initiative, was introduced last year and is the largest web service dedicated to understanding the availability of data from the many agencies that collect geospatial resources.

So, quite clearly, there is now an array of web service software solutions, the data that can be fed to them, and the programming standard (XML and SOAP) that supports building them.The price point of these services make them a bargain compared to the time and effort that it would take to amass the myriad data sources necessary to provide a viable web service.This year is shaping up to be a milestone year in the adoption of web services.

Published Friday, February 13th, 2004

Written by Joe Francica

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