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
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
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 Realtor.com 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
Over in our world, the folks at Refraction's Research (they are behind
open source posts, which works atop the open source PostreSQL database)
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
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?