Top Ten of 2006

By Adena Schutzberg

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

Intergraph Acquisition
I can speak only for myself, but the thought that Intergraph would be taken private in 2006 never crossed my mind. With long time geospatial leader Preetha Pulusani gone and well-respected Peter Batty now in as CTO for the company, I was primed for a "third chapter" in the Intergraph story in 2006, just not this one! Intergraph has been quiet as the year finished out and the acquisition was completed. I expect continued quiet into early 2007. Recall that without the FCC statements and public relations outreach required of a public company, Intergraph can go as dark as needed. The future? I wonder if going private will allow Intergraph to further explore open source?

OpenLayers
While there's been much made of this new open source library for mapping in the open source community, I'm not sure OpenLayers' significance has reached beyond that community. MetaCarta (the folks who geocode documents using natural language expertise) wrote the initial version and turned it over to the open source community for further development and use. The fact that OpenLayers is free and has many of the goodies that folks love from the Google Maps interface, like AJAX for "slippy" maps, makes it a compelling tool for those looking for modern Web mapping. OpenLayers is making its way into some key mash-ups including Tim Schaub's directory/preview site for WMS sites called WMS-sites.com. I applaud MetaCarta for creating it and turning it loose, and the community for jumping right on and pushing the envelope. (I know I could speak to many open source projects this year; consider this one a representative.)

The Next Level of Mash-up
Putting dots on a map is so 2005! In 2006 analysis/visualization and solid business cases were in vogue. Consider FortiusOne's GeoiQ, which enables heat maps using Web mapping tools. Zillow put a "number crunching machine" behind the maps to predict house prices and every head turned. Now more features, such as "make me move," which allows homeowners to set the price they'll take to vacate the property, keep the site exciting. Other tools to make maps easier and more fun to create and use for non-technical, non-mappers, were hot, too – including MapKit and Fanueil Media's Atlas.

GeoRSS
There was, and continues to be, some confusion about this "standard." It was created by a group outside the Open Geospatial Consortium and has been released on the GeoRSS website. OGC has since endorsed this geo-enabled version of RSS as a White Paper (PDF). No matter its official status in the standards world, the addition of location to RSS feeds is exciting, and more and more software clients are available to use it (ArcGIS Explorer for one). Moreover, GeoRSS is simple, extensible and entered the scene very fast. That may be the future of many of geospatial (and other) official or unofficial standards.

ArcGIS Explorer and Other Enhanced Mapping Clients
I've been looking forward to the release of ArcGIS Explorer (AGE) since I saw an early version two summers ago. I still don't have a copy as ESRI has not yet made it available to everyone. (I'm ok with that; I understand the complexity of rolling out and supporting ArcGIS 9.2, of which AGE is just a small bit. I also understand that supporting free products does not directly generate revenue. I also understand it's not supposed to compete with Google Earth.)

What I do observe is something that's becoming perhaps all too common in our "too many Web mapping choices" world. Those who did receive AGE in the last months of the year, so far as I can tell, played with it for a few minutes/hours, posted their impressions to their blogs and went back to their "real work." I think the same thing happened with the latest (3D) version of Live Local. If a mapping client offering does not provide immediate relief from pain or something so compelling you must come back often, it's unlikely to take off in its existing form. We have so many online mapping options for end users and developers now that if the "new kid on the block" doesn't at least match our current favorite, geo-geeks and the rest of the planet won't take the time to explore it further.

Declan Butler
Butler is a journalist who, among other things, helped put the new mapping (Google Earth) on the cover of Nature, where he is a senior reporter. He then kept using globes to illustrate and track public health issues, bird flu and more on his blog. Don't get me wrong, journalists have been embracing mapping and GIS for some time, but Butler seems to have it in his blood. And, unlike some bloggers (myself included!), he grabs onto issues he's passionate about and follows them over time, instead of bopping to other topics. I'm hopeful we'll have more science, social science, political and other journalists keeping geography (and its technologies) in the public eye.

The Near-end of Paper Pubs
Here in the United States we have but one monthly paper magazine about geospatial technology. (It also has an electronic version.) There are two other paper geopubs, both on remote sensing, with less frequent delivery. The move from paper to electrons is happening in news/opinion and research publications the world over. Everything from newspapers to magazines to research journals to church bulletins is going electronic, sometimes with print counterparts, sometimes alone. Publishers are cutting costs and speeding distribution. Readers are appreciating the immediacy, easy disposal and ability to forward intriguing bits. (Some readers, of course, print out the content, but on their "own dimes.") While form is important, it's what's inside that distinguishes journalism of any kind. Content will continue to be king, whether it's in online magazines, newspapers, blogs, forums, podcasts, videos or other new media!

A New Role for CAD?
CAD-based GIS seems to be quieting down. Two main products are still offered, Autodesk's Autodesk Map 3D and Bentley's MicroStation Geographics, but those seem mature and lack the buzz of their early days. The "new" insight in this arena in 2006 was a series of levels Autodesk users go through in migrating up the GIS/enterprise food chain. Even with mature products (Autodesk has been in GIS for 10 years as of 2006) "50% of … users may be skewed in the range between levels one to three [up to attributing CAD data]," according to Chris Bradshaw, vice president of Autodesk’s Infrastructure Division. Is data creation/editing in CAD dead? No, but it's not the huge user base once expected. The excitement, and maybe the money, is in getting the CAD created objects into solutions like Google Earth. Both Autodesk and Bentley have solutions for that, and of course, so does Google in its SketchUp product.

INSPIRE
It's not all that easy here in the States to imagine setting up a new spatial infrastructure for a new governing body such as the European Union. And, yet, after two years of discussion, the Infrastructure for SPatial InfoRmation in Europe (INSPIRE) was approved by the European Parliament and Council in November. There were conflicts on the way about data distribution, access and the like, but in the end, there was agreement. The rest of the world should watch carefully as the transition begins to this new vision early next year. It's all supposed to be up and running by 2009.

Still not Here!
I continue to wait, not all that patiently I must say, for a tool to search the Internet for geospatial data. I still use a generic search engine, Google, as I have for a few years. I know of many directories and am aware of specialty search pages from private citizens and the federal government. I think there are standards to allow this to be built. I think those standards are implemented in software packages (or can be). I think there's a need for such a search tool. What's missing? Is such a solution not “monetizable” enough for a company to put it together? Are there political reasons why a government, NGO or non-profit won't do it? Has it been tried? Did I miss it?

Published Friday, January 5th, 2007

Written by Adena Schutzberg



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