Top Ten of 2005

By Adena Schutzberg

Each year for the last five I've put together the top ten "things" of the past year.Some are events, some are non-events, some are products, some are people.It's my opportunity to look back and highlight some topics worthy of attention as we head into the New Year.These are in no particular order.

Event with the most potential impact on our industry: The creation of the MapServer Foundation.
_While there was some valid consternation regarding the process by which it was formed, most members of the MapServer community are cautiously welcoming Autodesk as a member, and finding their roles in the organization.I was criticized for suggesting that "this pairing [Autodesk and the MapServer community] and the formation of the Foundation are perhaps the most important events in the geospatial arena in 20 years." I stand by that statement.The Foundation has the potential to change GIS forever.Note that I said GIS, not consumer mapping or search engines, etc.but the technology we know as GIS.

Natural disasters where our technology and people shone: South East Asia Tsunami and Katrina
_The geospatial community deserves quite a lot of credit for its work on site and at home in support of rescue, relief and recovery efforts.GIS Corps, Mercy Corps and the Katrina Imagery Server team epitomize what's possible.Newspapers are still recounting tales of the value of maps in these efforts.It's also worth noting how "mashups" of technology from Google and other online services, produced not by us geospatial people, but concerned programmers, popped up to track those missing and to help find housing for those who were displaced.I'm hopeful, though not confident, that we've learned something from these efforts regarding preparation of data, processes, services, interoperability and staff to work on future disasters.

Second time may not be the charm: GOS II
_After a delayed RFP, ESRI won the Geospatial One-Stop (GOS) II contract and gave a demo at its Federal User Conference in February of 2005.The site went live in July and GOS I was officially off line some months later.The addition of Google's search appliance, portlets that could be turned on or off, and enhanced developer access were all welcome additions.Further, "the Geospatial One-Stop (GOS) Project, an E-gov initiative under the direction of the USGS, is a finalist in the 2005 President's Quality Award Program."

Still, the portal seems a backwater of the geospatial community.Be honest, have you used it for real work? Are hackers developing against it like they are Google and Yahoo tools? Is it time to throw in the towel and try something else? Or get Google or another commercial player to put something together?

Doing the mapping, setting the standard: Google
_Oh, we had MapQuest and MapPoint and some other online mapping options but once Google Maps' aura spread via a soft launch back in February, everything changed.Everyone wanted the real-time panning and the simple interface in their mapping products.Then came the satellite imagery, then the hybrid view, then Google Earth.Let's face it, everything that came before and after, from professional GIS to consumer websites to APIs, is now compared to Google's offerings. Bottom line: Google obliterated the once difficult task of integrating remotely sensed with terrain data in a flashy, easily searchable portal.Leave it to a non-GIS company to make geography sexy.

USGS reorg/search for new mapping center

_I don't expect too many people know or care about the internal reorganization of the United State Geological Survey (USGS).But, people do know that the National Geospatial Technical Operations Center (NGTOC) was to be created in Denver, which beat out Rolla, Missouri and Reston, Virginia for the title back in September.Now investigations are underway to explore how that decision was made and if it will stick.Equally important, the government has begun an A-76 process where it compares the cost of government employees doing USGS work with that of the private sector doing the same work.If the private sector "wins," even more federal jobs will be lost than those expected from the consolidation to Denver (or wherever).USGS didn't come out looking so good in this process.Acting director Patrick Leahy had just stepped in the door as the decision was made by Karen Siderelis.I for one hope USGS can gain back its credibility.

Acquisitions and spinoffs: a trend in data
This year no single acquisition/merger stood out as earth shattering. To review: We had ORBIMAGE acquire one part of Space Imaging and Sanborn the other.Hexagon, after a protracted and hostile takeover bid, finally got Leica Geosystems.Oracle grabbed Siebel, which is important to the location intelligence arena.GlobeXplorer ate up AirphotoUSA, after Intermap decided not to pursue its intent to purchase the company.Layton GeoScience spun out of Layton Graphics, will focus on its PDF for geo products.Yahoo acquired Whereonearth to pump up its local search offering.And, in another aerial imagery deal, EarthData acquired a part of Emerge that had been with LJT & Associates.

_The trend is for those who need the data to begin acquiring the companies who make it.And, if they cannot do the acquiring, they enter into long term contracts for the data.Consider Microsoft's deals with ORBIMAGE, Pictometry, EarthData and Harris to power Virtual Earth/Live Local, and Google's deals with DigitalGlobe and others.After perhaps too many years thinking about the technology in terms of using geodata, these new players are getting back to basics: data as the backend engine or the fuel to power the apps.That may well be what pushes the new players over the top in competing with traditional GIS companies.I grant a special commendation to GlobeXplorer for its emphasis on serving imagery to the professional community directly in a preferred environment (AutoCAD, ArcGIS, WMS, etc.).

Can an individual make a difference? Intergraph reorganization
_Yes, every other year one of the big private companies reorganizes and I have to learn the new names of the divisions.This year it was Intergraph's turn and I had to learn to say SG&I for Security, Government & Infrastructure and PP&M for Process, Power & Marine.However, give credit where credit is due.Halsey Wise has made the right moves to please stockholders, accelerating the stock price from around $27 per share to near $50.In addition, he's hired one of the most respected geospatial visionaries in Peter Batty, now on board as CTO.Will he be able to lead technically and coerce the changes in marketing that can bring the company out of its own user base to new customers? I think he's got a good shot at it.

Product buzz for 2006: ArcGIS Explorer
_What's the buzz for 2006 that started in 2005? ArcGIS Explorer.The rather clunky name refers to what has been called ESRI's "Google Earth killer" among other things.While it has some similarity with that free download, it also connects to ESRI powered 3D data via ArcGIS Server, ArcIMS, ArcWeb Services as well as OGC WMS servers.ESRI has been taking a page from Google's playbook and doing a "soft launch," talking about the product and showing it only sparingly.The public beta is expected in the first quarter of next year.

New place for maps: the media frenzy
_The popular media (that is, non-academic or industry publications) began to cover mapping technology with far more vigor than any previous year.The big flashy apps from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft certainly helped.So too did the variety of mashups from the old standards Craigslist and ChicagoCrime to new ones highlighting the New York Marathon or where Xbox 360s are available.

Not only did the media outlets report on the technology, the open APIs and the websites, but they invested in it.The Washington Post hired Adrian Holovaty, the fellow behind, to be its "editor, editorial innovations." See some mashups from its RSS feeds here.The Toronto Star and others, are using the technology to enhance their websites.That paper offers a traffic camera mashup, one related to report on homicides and another related to a missing persons case.ESRI tried to get the press excited about maps with MapStudio, but these new offerings clearly jumped to the head of the line.

MIA: MapQuest
_Whither MapQuest? In an interview earlier this year the company told us there were many new things to come, but of course we've not yet seen them.As Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and even A9 struggle to keep their names in our heads as players in the new geography and AOL ponders its future, MapQuest seems to stand still.That said, it continues to command the largest share of those who visit mapping sites.I confess to being a huge MapQuest fan in the early days (perhaps due to its roots not far from Penn State) but have been lured away by Google Local.And, frankly, it will be hard to win me back!

Published Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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