The View from Here - October 27, 2005

By Adena Schutzberg

Purity and Simplicity
Maybe, just maybe we need to get back to basics.Consider that 4 million people in Korea have signed up for SK Telecom's friend finder that locates handsets.Consider how many people are excited about the simple process of locating something (a post to craigslist, the route of the New York Marathon, gas prices) on a Google Map.

In the former, application users pay 11 cents to locate someone.It's very simple: there are no fancy services that predict when that person will be home, no fancy communications service that sends them a goofy message, nor the ability to send them a note to pick up bread at the store nearby.

In the latter (the mashups) there's nothing more complicated going on than geocoding an "event" and plunking down a symbol on a map.I do not mean to be insulting, but this is the "lowest level" of geographic analysis; it's basic mapping.

The reaction to these core services suggests that we are still coming to grips with the value (or danger, from a personal or business perspective) of them.Overseas revenues from tracking are taking off, suggesting a level of acceptance.GPS (and cell tower locating) is not new, cell phones are not new, but combining them in a tracking solution is.It's one step above the use of a GPS receiver, which tells the holder of the device the coordinates of "here." Tracking is simply sending those coordinates to someone else.From a technology perspective, it's very simple.From a societal one, it's far more complicated, making its use far rarer in some parts of the world.

The reaction to simple mapping mashups, as we've noted in Directions, may have prompted an inappropriate amount of hype in the media.On the other hand, I'm more and more convinced that what we take for granted as basic geocoding/mapping, is "indistinguishable from magic" for many.That, in turn, draws many people to it like bees to flowers. Hence, the hype and the widespread need to touch and use and "ogle" each new application.It's my sense that for those who "understand the magic,"that is GIS professionals, it's not that exciting.They have to get back to their real work, which is nearly always further up the geographic analysis food chain.

My point here is to highlight that these technologies are very basic. Somehow, the "magic" aspects have created a demand and curiosity that perhaps scares us in the geospatial professions.Little of what we've done before excited so many to act, either as developers or users, or discussants of their implications.We always hoped our technology would make the big splash.I recall when and Visa were the first big users of ESRI's online GIS technology.While this change was abrupt and exciting in the geospatial community, it was subtle and quiet outside our world.There was nothing like the fervor of today.

What's even more disconcerting to many, I fear, is that we traditional geospatial professionals are not at the center of this discussion.We are on the edges with our heads down solving day to day problems in a variety of fields, keeping cities up and running, water supplies clean, buses routed, and supporting policy decisions around the world.Let's not leave our posts just yet.

Coming Together to Fund Development
I only vaguely understand the mechanics of investing in new companies. I know about rounds of funding that start ups need to perpetually "beg" for new development money.I also know that after the dotcom bust that process was even tougher.So, I'm really glad to see other models of funding development popping up and being successful.

Ralph Grabowski summarized the latest IntelliCAD Technical Consortium Meeting."The IntelliCAD Technology Consortium is an independent organization of commercial software developers that has been established specifically for the purpose of licensing and coordinating broad development of CAD technologies."He notes that the group is doing well and that president Arnold van der Weide "boosted the annual membership fee from $5,000 to $25,000 -- and gained more members, now totaling 40." There's a road map, plans to completely wrestle the code from its base, once owned by Microsoft, and a healthy developer community.

Over in our world, the folks at Refraction's Research (they are behind open source posts, which works atop the open source PostreSQL database) report on their efforts to fund development in PostgreSQL.The work would be an enhancement for other users of the database, as well as make other key functions available for use in PostGIS.Row locking was one big need.So, after Refractions kicked in money and asked for donations, Refractions, Cadcorp, GlobeXplorer, Mobile Meridian, WebBased, Intevation, RealGo, Mercator GeoSystems and many individuals ponied up funds.Refractions performed quality assurance and validated the improvements before paying for the enhancements.The new goodies are available now to enhance the existing PostgreSQL version.They will be included with the upcoming 8.1 release.

So, you can put in your requests with large vendors (spending your theoretical $10 or $100 on features you want) and hope for the best, invest in companies that may or may not bring you wealth, or earmark funds for very specific development purposes in the products you use.

I get down on magazine awards now and again since online voting for the "best" of anything is inherently flawed.Still, it's nice when those behind such votes at least try to make them more valuable.ESRI, for the second year in a row, was voted "the Best" in the GIS category of CMP Media's Intelligent Enterprise Reader's Choice Awards.Ho hum.But this year, the voting required respondents to indicate how many products in the category they'd used in the past two years.Only those who indicated "2 or more" were included in the voting.Ok.So, here's my challenge to Intelligent Enterprise for next year: report the number of votes in each category and the number filtered out due to lack of comparison options. I bet they will not publish that information!

Why Don't We Care About USGS?
I've been surprised at the deafening silence about the reorganization at USGS.This silence has extended from its first inklings last year, through the choice of a location for the NGTOC, through last week's abrupt halt to the consolidation and A-76 process.The most vocal responses have been from USGS employees, either proudly stating their names or sharing their thoughts anonymously.On their side, especially since the announcement that Denver would host the new NGTOC, is Janese Heavin, editor of the Rolla Daily News.For her and her city this was a local issue and she and her staff took it on aggressively.

But what of the geospatial community in the U.S.? Do we not care about this reorganization? Do we not care if much of the work currently done by federal employees shifts to the private sector? Are we perhaps convinced that USGS is outdated and that its work should revert to the private sector? Or do we feel that work is already in the hands of the private sector, what with the blurred lines between says Geospatial One-Stop and vendor ESRI? Or maybe we are too distracted with Google Maps and Virtual Earth to think about it?

Published Friday, October 28th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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