GIS on Land and Water

By Atanas Entchev

_Last month I participated in a four-day ocean sailing race from Annapolis, MD, to Newport, RI.The race course first took us down the Chesapeake Bay and then up north, offshore, to Newport.I was fascinated to see, for the first time ever, GIS/GPS technology being implemented to track each competing boat in real time and display the boats' positions and tracks on the Web.The endeavor was advertised as a safety feature first and foremost.It also enabled "spectators" to follow the race from their armchairs.

In 2003, a similar project was tried for the America's Cup - the most prestigious sailing competition in the world - but it didn't quite work.Evidently, two years later, Web-based GIS has matured sufficiently to be used for races (and racers) of less stellar rank.

The cost of this service was born by the race organizers.In addition, each racing boat had to put down a $500 deposit for the GPS transponder, refundable upon return of the unit.As someone who makes a living in the Web mapping arena, I was excited at the spreading penetration of the technology.I was also a bit envious of the folks who had managed to make a successful business case out of their Web mapping product.

Free Web Services for All
The recent big news is, of course, that Google Maps opened up their Application Programming Interface (API) to all interested Web developers.Free Web mapping services for all.

For some time now, Web developers have been hacking into Google Maps, to come up with a marriage of Craigslist and Google Maps (as reported 1, 2 in the All Points Blog).Apparently Google decided that it is not worth fighting the tide.And why fight it? Legalizing the use of the Google mapping service on other Web sites can only expand the reach and recognition of the world's most recognizable brand.And possibly also the coolest.

This technique is not new - Web sites like the photo-sharing site Flickr have had open APIs for a while, actively encouraging developers to make use of the free service, and to come up with new uses for the service.That is the key, in my opinion - finding new and cool uses for your service.Free is not enough any more.This approach gives birth to the likes of, which uses a geocoding process of sorts to display Flickr photos on a map.

How Cool is Your GIS?
What both Google Maps and Flickr/Mappr have in common is that they are innovative, fast-moving and cool.Google has achieved the seemingly impossible status of being huge, profitable and cool.I am not going to surprise anyone by saying that for a consumer product or service to be successful it has to be cool.Google fits the bill.

A lot of corporate giants are trying to reinvent themselves as cool. Oldsmobile tried to appeal to a younger generation, before GM discontinued the brand.Microsoft is trying to shake off its stodgy image and put on a youthful face with its latest ad campaign.I don't think it's working, but at least they are trying.It probably won't hurt some GIS heavyweights to look at their coolness factor as well...

So, how cool is your GIS?

Published Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

Written by Atanas Entchev

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