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
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.