Industry Reactions: Dimitri Rotow

By Directions Staff

Directions has been discussing MapPoint with people throughout the mapping industry.Most of the people who have reacted so far believe that Microsoft's entry will threaten some products but will expand the base of mapping customers.Here are some observations from the people involved:

Jurassic Awakening

Dimitri Rotow of Manifold says that desktop mappers should learn a lesson from MapPoint and begin focusing on delivering value, ease of use and standardization.

These are interesting times in the mapping industry.

Let's start with MapPoint ...I somewhat disagree with the spin applied to the "seismic" nature of MapPoint.Sure, MapPoint is "central" news, but the degree to which it is perceived as seismic is more an indicator of the traditional GIS market's detachment from the technological/economic mainstream than it is of the relative merit of MapPoint.

GIS people are amazed at the bundling of what is essentially public domain data within MapPoint, as though they are unaware that one can walk into Fry's electronics in Sunnyvale and buy a $5 CD with 88 million telephone numbers plus demographic data.In mass markets, the price of the data provided with MapPoint is about $5.It is only evidence of the Jurassic nature of GIS markets that GIS people think it's OK to pay thousands of dollars for such data in proprietary formats.

Likewise, there are plenty of cool mapping products available for less than $100 that do essentially what MapPoint does.DeLorme, for example, provides a really wonderful set of products at a super price.True, they are not Microsoft and so do not inspire fear in the hearts of ESRI.They might not also have the finish and ease of use one expects in Office products.But they are certainly comparable within the PC frame of reference.

Compared to Excel or Word, there's nothing about MapPoint from a capability or value perspective that is new in the PC world, although it may seem startling in the traditional GIS world.Really, to provide a super cool viewer plus US data plus introductory analytics for about $100 is not a new thing.That won't stop those of us who know how to leverage a new Microsoft initiative from using it to break trail for us on the road to fun and profit. But, this is a matter of routine in the PC world, a way of life.

In contrast, in GIS the market ecology is still one of overpriced dinosaurs and weak analytics.Vendors react to aftermarket enhancement products as threats, instead of encouraging them.They create private standards, such as their own languages, rather than using languages used by the rest of the world, such as Visual Basic or Visual C.If Excel were introduced by the traditional GIS industry, it would cost $1500 for the base product with an extra $500 required to add and subtract.

It's a great idea to provide novice GIS users and business mappers with a choice of simple, easy to use products they can use to create fine maps.However, as big as this market is, it is a somewhat of a passive-use market where people are receiving maps and data created elsewhere.It requires providers of extensions and enhancements to service the entire GIS realm, and few companies are as good as Microsoft at making it easy for ISVs to provide extensions and enhancements.

A key target for extension, a really big market, is the creation of new data through fundamental analysis and serious extraction of relationships through computation.This is an active usage market serving people who create data and analyze it in a living way.By the word "analyze" here, I don't mean the usage popular in some GIS circles, where coloring a map by thematic association is considered "analysis." That's no more "analysis" than typography is literature.On a personal note, I think the mis-association of words such as "analysis" with simple thematic formatting is a good example of the dumbing down of America in mathematics and scientific terms.People poorly educated in true analytics will often confuse the style of presentation with the substance of the content.

Our customers are interested in creating data and finding relationships through real computation.They'd like that computation to be made easy, of course, but they are creators more than they are viewers.They are a minority, but there are more than enough of them for us to enjoy a really good, growing market.If anything, one hallmark of the explosion of PC technology is that it has freed people from being mere viewers and has enabled more and more to become creators.That's because the software and hardware technology required to be a creator, a publisher, is now within reach of anyone who can afford a PC.

My own view is that there is a "fusion" market emerging for data visualization and management that is genuinely the Next Big Thing.I don't know why the traditional GIS community thinks GIS packages are something different than visualizers for CAD coordinates.It's the same thing.I don't know why people think GIS is any different than a general purpose visualization of data in "any" database.It's the same thing.Likewise, when you drill down into the new OLAP thing, you'll see it's really the same thing too.People are drowning in data and they need visual means to comprehend it, to manage it, to analyze it, to verify it, to report it, and more.

If anything, the artificial estrangement of the GIS market from both database analytic markets as well as from the value expected in PC markets plays to the advantage of new entrants.For value-priced, technology companies it is easier to enter this market where they get compared to $1,500 and $15,000 products than it would be to distinguish themselves in the database market, where there are many products spread from freeware on up.Surprisingly, it is also easier to enter this market for major players as well, when they deliver values and user friendliness they've learned in PC markets.

Published Tuesday, November 17th, 1998

Written by Directions Staff

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