The Top Ten GIS Stories of 2011

By Adena Schutzberg

Each year I pick out 10 events, ideas, themes, products, etc. that stood out over the preceding 12 months. This year I found just nine. So, in no particular order, here's this year's list.

Lesser Acquisitions

2011 was a year of “lesser acquisitions.” By that I mean we had almost no well-known geospatial companies acquiring other well-known geospatial companies. In fact, among the many acquisitions, I’d wager most geospatial practitioners have heard of either the acquirer or the acquired, but not both.

My hunch is this state of affairs reflects both the poor economy and the maturation of geospatial. The situation could also be explained this way: There’s “nothing new under the sun,” but there is always room for investment in a niche area or specialized expertise.

Here are some examples, with “(?)” indicating companies that are not well-known in the geospatial marketplace.

Acquirer

 Acquired

 $ (if known or estimated)

 Comment

 Source

Urban Airship (?)

 SimpleGeo

 $3.5M

 x

APB

Blue Marble

 Global Mapper(?)

 x

 x

press release

Apple

 C3(?)

 x

 confirmed this year but acquired last year

APB

Esri

 SpotOn Systems (?)

 x

 x

press release

Founder International

 Easymap

 x

 China

press release

Cloudmade

 OneStepAhead (?)

 x

 x

press release

Ubisense

 Realworld OO Systems (?)

 $3.7M

 APB

press release

Ubisense

 InMaps

$700,000

 

press release

Pictometry

 GeoEstimator (?)

 x

 x

press release

eBay

 Where

 $135 million

 x

APB

avisen (?)

 1Spatial

 x

x

APB

TransVoyant LLC (?)

 ObjectFX

 x

 private equity acquisition

press release

1Spatial

 Lagen Spatial pty Limited

 x

 x

press release

Poynt Corporation

 Go2 Media Inc.‘s Local Advertising Assets

$450,000

 not whole company

press release

Bentley

 PointTools Ltd

 x

 x

press release

Woolpert

 Geomatics Data Solutions

 x

 x

press release

GeoDigital International Corp. (?)

 Airborne 1

 x

 x

DM

Zillow

 Postlets (?)

 x

 x

press release

Rolta

 ACLS Systems FZC (?)

x

 x

press release

Manatron

 ILS (?)

 x

 ILS developed MrSid viewer

press release

TripAdvisor

 EveryTrail

 x

 x

press release

Versata Enterprises (?)

 geoVue

 x

 x

press release

Thompson Reuters

 Manatron

 x

 x

press release

Garmin

 Navigon

 x

 x

press release

Big Companies Clam Up or Lose Their Way

When I began writing about this industry in 2000, I covered five key companies: Esri, Autodesk, Intergraph, MapInfo (now part of Pitney Bowes Business Insights or PBBI) and Oracle. Of those, the latter four have slowly slipped further and further off the radar.

Autodesk barely speaks about geospatial anymore. Even as I write this list, in late November, Autodesk University is beginning in Las Vegas. It appears the geospatial press is in limited attendance and sessions addressing geotech can be counted on a Mickey Mouse (three-fingered) hand. The most talked about session is titled The Great BIM Versus GIS Debate. The title reads like an update of the old CAD vs. GIS sessions of the 1990s.

Intergraph, now part of Hexagon, continues to tread softly. An interview (Very Spatial podcast) with the thoughtful and straightforward Mladen Stojic about the integration of Intergraph and ERDAS pointed only to promises. A presentation by Intergraph’s vice president, Joel Campbell, at the Rocket City Geospatial Conference discussed only vision. The news from Hexagon of late: “Stay tuned for Hexagon 2012!” How long can we (and investors) wait?

PBBI’s Data as a Service (DaaS) offering, GeoSK, was tossed around in May 2010 (APB), but the super-soft-launch came more than a year later in late November (APB). Maybe it will turn into something, but for now, both WeoGeo, whose tech powers GeoSK, and PBBI seem to be following the tail of, not leading, the data in the cloud vision. That said, the PBBI’s annual “what’s new” road show I attended in Boston was packed (APB), which I can’t fully explain.

While Oracle continues to include spatial data storage and query in the genes of its products, I can’t point to any customer successes or new launches or even whether such support distinguishes its products anymore. The same observation, I should note, applies to Microsoft’s SQL Server. I retain some hope that the “big data” analysis trend will reinvigorate the spatial data storage/access platform market.

VGI/Crowdsourcing: Reality Sinks In

This year marked an explosion of clever, helpful and interesting implementations of geospatial crowdsourcing, also known as volunteered geographic information, or VGI.

All Points Blog cited and sourced efforts to map:

  • ghost bikes
  • zebras
  • breastfeeding locations
  • radiation levels after the Japanese earthquake/nuclear incident
  • lunchtime eating choices
  • tree species
  • the sea bottom
  • dangerous playgrounds
  • new bike routes
  • U.S broadband

and many more

For the most part, the efforts above were tied to specific organizations and the details of what would be done with the data were made clear.

We seem to be at a point in time where if you want to crowdsource geographic information, you need only some open source code, a Twitter account and bandwidth. I’d call out the U.S. National Broadband Map as one of the great examples of crowdsourcing. No, it was not perfect (DM) - from its data collection to its (challenged) launch - but it has set the bar high.

On the flipside were efforts tied to life or death situations that did not meet my expectations. A map of issues in Vermont related to Hurricane Irene did not include who was behind the map, nor what would be done with the data (APB). The purpose of an “unofficial” map, gathering information about a missing GIS analyst and bike event volunteer Mark Bosworth, was unclear.

I’m confident those behind these crowdsourcing efforts had only the best of intentions in response to tragic events. It’s time to move the discussion of best practices related to these types of maps forward, especially those launched during emergency situations. I’m hopeful all crowdsourced maps will include information on who is collecting the data, for what purpose, what is being done with the data collected, and when and if any action will be taken. I think we need to ask another important question regarding the creation of such maps: When might a crowdsourced map do more harm than good?

Biggest Non-Story

The tech press got hold of the “Google will soon charge for use of its Maps API” story with a vengeance (APB). The geospatial press showed less interest, and I was surprised to see almost no responses from organizations with “free” APIs (Esri for one), though at least MapQuest and Chitika chimed in (APB).

The key follow-up information from Google seemed to go unnoticed. In particular, Google made clear (APB):

  • Big spikes in traffic will not immediately “turn on” payment requirements. 
  • Apps in the public interest may not require a fee (like newspapers).
  • Only the top 0.35% of sites will be impacted.

This change in policy by Google, as it’s currently understood in the cold light of day, impacts very few API users. However, it does mark a line in the sand for the free API space. Will there be other changes to Google (and other companies’) Map (and other) API fees in 2012?

Biggest Education Story

No, it was not the 10,000 Letters Challenge (APB) aimed at sending letters to Congress regarding The Geography is Fundamental Act, though that effort was successful. No, it was not the completion of the Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM) or its curriculum assessment guide, though those are both useful documents.

Esri’s Home Use license was the biggest GIS education story of the year. The $100 license for ArcGIS (for one year, including extensions for non-commercial use) opens the door for students to learn on their own. Moreover, it allows students and professionals to serve their communities after hours and bulk up their resumes.

LBS: A Year of Stagnancy

While the numbers of users of LBS apps are seemingly up, the value, buzz and excitement seem to have plateaued.

Some numbers:

Ninety percent of marketing professionals are either using or plan to use mapping and geospatial technology as part of their marketing strategy, according to a survey carried out by Vanson Bourne on behalf of Google.

- APB

Foursquare passed 15 million users this year.

- Mashable

Only about 5% of U.S. online adults said they use location apps at least once a month, according to a new Forrester survey of more than 37,000 respondents. That's only up [from] 4% from last year, even though the overall audience of online adults familiar with these services increased to 30% this year, vs. 16% in 2010.

- APB

Some launches, crashes and pivots:

Booyah pivots to MyTown 2.

- APB

Color pivots to silent video check-in app.

- APB

Gowalla sold to Facebook, even after a “pivot” to travel resource app.

- APB

Facebook Places does a face plant.

- DM Podcast

- APB

mqVibe, MapQuest’s social network launches and is pretty much never heard from again.

- APB

Schemer, Google’s event recommendation/check off service, launches quietly on December 8.

- APB

The one location-based app that I fell for and that had a social conscience is still fighting the good fight.

- DM

The one bright spot may be the potential of better indoor navigation (DM Podcast). Google’s recent entry into this space with maps of malls and airports (APB) has moved this much talked about technology from a nice idea to a potentially compelling, widely used, and profitable venture.

The Biggest U.S./U.S Government Stories

LightSquared’s continuing battle with the FCC, Congress and the Coalition to Save Our GPS is far from over. There’s an almost daily barrage of comments, accusations, press releases and advertisements as the players try to find a solution to balance the push for the 4G network, continued safe use of GPS and vagaries of the federal government process (including lobbying).

- APB

In November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against requiring a warrant for the use of GPS tracking. A decision is expected before the spring.

- APB

The federal government rolled out the much anticipated GeoPlatform.gov... and it was Esri’s Portal for ArcGIS, that is, a skinned ArcGIS Online.

- APB

Worst (Then Best) Story of the Year

Geospatial community member, Directions Magazine contributor, and all around good guy Atanas Entchev and his son were released from detention and threat of deportation after 65 days (APB). Let’s all remember their pain and our horror, renewed with relief and happiness during this season. We all look forward to having them back home in New Jersey and in our lives once again in 2012 and beyond.

Product of the Year

Looking at demand, supply, market share, buzz and cloud-love, you’d think Google’s Google Earth Builder (DM webinar) and Esri ArcGIS Online for Organizations (DM webinar) would be the products of the year. As we head toward the new year, the details on what exactly these are, their pricing and how they will be used are still leaking out.

I cannot identify a product of the year for geospatial at this point. I can identify the product of the year for the consumer. And from that product, we in geospatial have much to learn. Stay with me.

The product of the year is the Amazon Kindle Fire. And, no, it’s not because it’s a flashy piece of inexpensive hardware. It’s because it’s the gateway to content we all want, nay - need, to access. What content? E-content such as music, movies, TV shows, books, magazines... and real content such as running shoes, tissues, power tools, furniture, clarinet mouthpieces (I kid you not!)... 

In many ways the Kindle Fire houses the vision I’ve been hearing about for geospatial for years. It’s the one where you have access for free or fee to the geospatial data and services you need. You don’t have to worry about who makes the data or if those data are “good” (there are reviews to help guide you). It all gets delivered at a great price and lightning fast. It’s like magic.

Amazon has built the infrastructure - electronic and human (all those relationships!!) - to make this happen. And, now it’s delivered via the Fire. The Fire is the key to its kingdom. No company, government or non-profit has done this for geospatial resources. But, if they had, they’d be awarded geospatial product of the year.


Published Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Written by Adena Schutzberg


Published in

Education

Government


If you liked this article subscribe to our newsletter...stay informed on the latest geospatial technology

© 2016 Directions Media. All Rights Reserved.