The Wessex Effect—Part 2

By Joe Francica

In the mid 1990's Scott Elliott, founder of this publication, started Wessex, a company offering nationwide street network data for the entire U.S.for a fraction of the price than what was currently being charged by the more "mainstream" data vendors.It changed the landscape of how data was priced and the ripple affects are still being felt.Scott's vision was that everyone should be able to afford to use GIS technology and the only way to do that was to start with inexpensive data.

I have to wonder if we are not experiencing the second wave of "The Wessex Effect" today or will very soon.I keep coming back to Microsoft's entry into GIS because, frankly, they are hard to ignore.WordStar and WordPerfect ignored them for too long and look what happened to them.MapPoint reminds me of Word 2.0.The words "cool" and "neat" jump to mind when I think back to first seeing a Windows-based word processor.MapPoint, in similar fashion, shows terrain views and has the ability to update road construction data for routing.Two "neat" features.

But let's face it.It is not the rocket science we have come to love, embrace, caress, cajole, curse, and whimper about.It's just a simple piece of software, with some data...lots of data...probably more to come...for free.

In speaking with Claritas President and CEO Bob Nascenzi, he argues, "Microsoft's .NET strategy basically is that, they tell me, all they want to do is develop tools so that people can build applications.They're going to make all their money, they say, on the tools.They don't care about the data, but they basically want to give the data away to everybody for free or if they charge for it, they want the money!"

What!? Don't care about the data? How dare they try to undermine the foundation of GIS and take away 80% of the cost of ownership.It's a scary thought.What if they hired 20 demographers and massaged the census data till the cows come home (or the cappuccino machine runs out at the coffee bar); bundle it with MapPoint 2003, add Block Groups, stick in a gravity model, link to 1 meter satellite data as a backdrop and charge, $250, $195, or $99?

This is all pure conjecture.I don't have inside knowledge that this will occur.But I know that Microsoft has the capital and is yanking around some geodemographic companies to see who will tap dance to their song.The end result may be the "Microsoft Effect."

Published Friday, May 31st, 2002

Written by Joe Francica

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