GlobeXplorer - Entering the Search Wars?

By Joe Francica

I briefly interviewed Rob Shanks, president and CEO of GlobeXplorer, about how his company is approaching the fray to offer maps and imagery to a consumer market.For those not following this closely, Google and Microsoft have announced enhancements to their existing offerings that include imagery; there is no word yet from Yahoo, MapQuest or others on their plans to include imagery.GlobeXplorer was an early player in this space as the supplier of imagery to MapQuest's website.That feature was popular, prompting GlobeXplorer to switch to a subscription model for delivery, instead of the "free to all comers" model originally offered.Since the original agreement with MapQuest, GlobeXplorer was acquired by Stewart Information Services Corporation and operates as a business unit of the Stewart Real Estate Information group.

Primary user interface of GlobeXplorer showing map overlay window.Source: GlobeXplorer.(Click for larger image)

What's GlobeXplorer's take on the latest salvos from the major search engine players? "The search engines are reacting to each other," said Shanks."We provided a consumer service for three years with MapQuest and, at the end of that contract, we chose a business model where consumers were asked to subscribe (pay) if they wanted to see detailed content." For almost two years since, GlobeXplorer has operated a very popular consumer portal for this purpose.This site currently serves up to two million maps and images per day, and is growing rapidly.

GlobeXplorer had previously offered business to business web services, and during the same period of time that GlobeXplorer was building its consumer business based on a subscription service, Keyhole debuted its own product.With GlobeXplorer engaged at Stewart, Google subsequently acquired Keyhole and its imagery delivery technology now powers the "Satellite" button in Google Maps.

Shanks described what he calls a "patchwork of content" offered by the current search engines. "The content that you are seeing is very limited, but it is going to get better," he said.

Even though GlobeXplorer does not proclaim any relationship with Google or Microsoft, Shanks is encouraged by market conditions."Google has raised awareness," he noted, and "subscriptions to GlobeXplorer products have increased robustly since the Google announcement."

GlobeXplorer sees that it has four competitive advantages.
  1. It has experience providing imagery and map data at very high volumes on the Internet, with expertise in both 2D and 3D applications.
  2. It serves as the largest an aggregator of commercial imagery data, as well as other remotely sensed data sources and ancillary map data overlays onto images (e.g.flood zones, land information dataparcel data, etc.) See image above - note the integration of MapQuest street map and DigitalGlobe image data onto a single map view.
  3. GlobeXplorer developed an API as a key part of its original offering. The API toolkit facilitates a multi-layer, multi-source development process (e.g.MapQuest was based on the GlobeXplorer API; the GlobeXplorer API also supports WMS).GlobeXplorer's fundamental offering is an application; a programmer's interface, such that businesses can dynamically access GlobeXplorer image, map overlay and database information directly inside their own Internet-enabled applications, devices and workflows.This core API is offered in three versions - HTTP, SOAP and WMS.This allows businesses to develop products within their own environments and workflows, enabling faster and more robust business and consumer products to be produced.
  4. GlobeXplorer's experience and market leadership in the business to business space (real estate, insurance, engineering, telecom/utilities, etc.) creates a compelling case to use their broad product offering.As the large search portals devise ways of making money off geographic or "local" searching, this experience and product range is valuable.
So, Shanks believes the company is well positioned in this market and already knows how to make money at it, something the big search engines are working diligently to figure out.And he believes the company's strength as an aggregator and data distributor will offer significant benefits over other players.Another attractive part of the GlobeXplorer package is a robust metering system for tracking content that automates the billing process and pays royalties accordingly to usage of each supplier's content.

Top image shows a parcel map from the San Francisco Property Analyst website.Bottom image shows an assessed property map from the same website.Source: GlobeXplorer.(Click either for larger image)

With GlobeXplorer so well positioned, why haven't we seen any announcements about deals with the major search companies? Shanks would not comment on relationships with any of the aforementioned companies except to say "please stay tuned."

Published Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

Written by Joe Francica

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