Readers Choose Most Influential Geospatial Person

July 24, 2009

Sharing is Caring

This month, Directions Magazine conducted a poll of our readers, asking who they believe are, and will be, the most influential people in the geospatial industry over the next five years. The choices were compiled from a list of nominees selected by our readers and our editors. We believe that the nominees represent a fair cross-section of influential people from the geospatial industry. There were over 1,000 votes and of the 22 nominees, the top 10 are listed here. The person receiving the most votes was Jack Dangermond, president of ESRI, closely followed by Steve Coast, founder of Cloudmade and OpenStreetMap, and the founders and current chief geospatial technologist from Google. Though some may question the use of polling to ascertain who is influencing our profession, it represents a snapshot of current impressions from the community. Of equal importance are the comments written by survey respondents, which provide an even deeper understanding and appreciation of the accomplishments of these individuals. A selection of those comments is provided here. We hope you enjoyed participating in the poll and if you have any comments, please write to us at

(Click for larger image)

Here are some representative comments readers left:

Steve Coast and Carl Reed because they lead efforts that will open up GIS to radical innovation with their advocacy of Open Systems. Jack Dangermond just because of the shear mass of ESRI. Jack has always had an eye for innovation, but ESRI has become more insular lately. However, the success of efforts such as OGC and OpenStreetMap will (or is beginning to) push ESRI to a more open standard. That will then push open GIS solidly out into the mainstream.

[Kipal] Sibal: As the technology leader for the largest democracy and one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Mr Sibal really "gets" geospatial. He understands it equally as an academic science and as it is implemented in practical industrial application. Geospatial professionals around the world would do well going forward to pay attention to his vision, as well as India's direction in these areas. So, while there have been more influential individuals in the past, he is a leader of today, and especially of tomorrow.

Frank [Warmerdam] is absolutely amazing. The amount of time he devotes to GDAL and OGR2OGR and its users is mind-boggling. The tools are my #1 to get my work done, and also are to a large number of professional software, including ArcGIS. And of course Jack. I had the pleasure of seeing him in action in a meeting. A tough guy who knows how the industry works, and how to move it and his company forward.

[James] Fee: He is the standard-bearer of the geospatial blogosphere, and leader of this generational revolution in the way we share information about technology. James is as equally adept with the big picture as he is with the nuts-and-bolts of how current and developing geospatial technologies work. To have advanced knowledge of both is rare. Being vendor-neutral and fair (not that he doesn't quickly and easily share his candid opinions), he attracts communities of users who all benefit from this mutual exchange of ideas. Above all, he is always "in the know", and because of this we are also.

David [DiBiase] continues to lead and shape GIS education for the next generation of GIS professionals and works to set standards and achieve acknowledgement of our field by other industries and the government. He also works to define our roles and responsibilities as GIS professionals in the greater business world. Jack will continue to be an influential icon in our field for as long as he leads ESRI.

[Steve] Coast, as OpenStreetMap and the concepts of collaborative data development are going to revolutionize how we use and manage data. Like politics, all data is local. Dangermond, as ESRI continues to embrace change and expectations of user community and has managed to maintain dominance as a GIS vendor. Fee, because voices from the trenches can have very prolific effects on development practices.

Steve Coast: I believe user sourced map content will continue to grow in importance, and Steve and OSM are in the vanguard of that movement. Jack Dangermond: ESRI is, and will be the 900lb gorilla in the geospatial field, and it will continue to have a huge influence on how much of the work in this industry is done. Sergey/Larry/Ed: Google has, and will continue to push the boundaries of mapping as part of the common man's experience and relating geospatial to search. I would have also given honourable mentions to James Fee, Paul Bissett, and Carl Reed.

Learon Dalby has effectively carried this message to decision-makers in Washington and will continue to advocate on these and other issues. He has the effective communications and management skills of a true leader, and has worked across all sectors to champion a new vision for the NSDI. His vision is clear and to the point, and he always looks for a shorter, more realistic path to achieve NSGIC’s goals.

For many years Mr. Palatiello has been one the most influential people in the geospatial industry. There is no one in my opinion that has had more influence on promoting government-funded programs that have and will create and maintain accurate and reliable geospatial data. He is currently and active member of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee and has appeared before Presidential staff and Congress many time promoting geospatial programs. He is a person that will be instrumental in supporting and promoting programs such as "The National Map".

Google has made everyone a budding GIS consumer. Dangermond is Mr. GIS. At the ESRI conferences, his love of maps is infectious. John [Palatiello] brings the community together.

You cannot talk geo without mentioning Jack Dangermond, love him or hate him you have to respect his passion, the colossus he has built and his vision. The quantum shift in awareness of location in the consumer market has been driven by Google more than any other company. Hats off to Sergey and Larry for taking a punt on geo. OSM is changing the way we think about and collect geodata. Steve Coast has turned what some (myself included) considered a wacky idea into a game changer which is influencing the mainstream players.

Kipal Sibal is one of the leaders coming from the east. India has made a great leap in geospatial technology recently. The newer cheaper GIS software, advancement in the education programs are few to name whose credit goes to Kipal Sibal, directly or indirectly.

Jack Dangermond will remain influential as the the ESRI will be leading at least for another 5-10 years. However, after a decade, new open sources and cheaper and better versions of similar products will hit the market. There is nothing that can compare the research and developments that ESRI is doing at the movement, but it is limiting its horizon because of its price (very expensive for ordinary users). Jack Dangermond will remain one of the most influential leaders for decades if ESRI is taken to an affordable directions with the upkeep of recent development. And yes, at some point, integration of Google products instead of Microsoft (current initiative) with ESRI might become vital.

Dale [Lutz] & Don [Murray] (Safe Software) because they provide the ultimate "pain-killer" for the world's geospatial interoperability needs on the desktop, server and in the cloud! ...and having fun doing it :-) What a fantastic value proposition. The guys at Google because they continue to make the "nerdy" world of geospatial very tangible, compelling and pervasive for the masses!

Learon Dalby will have you think he's a simple guy from Arkansas, but many of us know the real truth. Learon is bright, well-spoken advocate for the geospatial community with an energy level that is unmatched. I am continually impressed by Learon's ability to build relationships, and quickly get to the core of GIS coordination problems we've faced for years.

#1 Frank Warmerdam is my choice for #1 because his hard work over many years developing GDAL and OGR (the "swiss army knives" of open GIS data format translation) and his recent efforts in leading OSGEO have started to tear down the vendor stack traps of proprietary commercial GIS software and will continue to expand the democratization of GIS software globally. #2 Steve Coast is my choice for #2 because Open Street Map has been and will continue to be such a huge success on the right side of ensuring that critical GIS base data layers can remain free and open, and owned/contributed to by all. They've got a good start on breaking the vendor strangle-hold on road network data that, up until now, have been locked up by Navteq and TeleAtlas and were unaffordable to so many applications and users. #3 James Fee does the GIS community a great service by maintaining one of the best GIS blogs and news feeds in the world. We all get an opportunity to learn about very interesting and relevant projects that would have otherwise remained off our radar screens. He also does pretty good job of stirring up community debate, and publicly prodding the commercial behemoths on their software failings and lack of openness.

Number 1 - Frank Warmerdam. GDAL & OGR enable so many pieces of software, and getting the job done so much easier. Outstanding leadership at OSGEO, as well as valuable contributions to so many other non-FOSS software, under the hood. Number 2 - Steve Coast. Freedom from the tyranny of GDT/TeleAtlas/Navteq - finally! Enabling the entire world to take back ownership of one of the most important foundation spatial datasets there is. Number 3 - James Fee. Planet Geospatial is one of the prime hubs of the geo-social networking world. James makes us think, brings us all kinds of news about stuff we'd otherwise not have time to find, and provides such a challenging and useful forum for discussion, and a lot of fun too.

My vote for Learon [Dalby] is expressing influence in the short term. I don't know that he will be influential 5 years from now, but he has been at the helm of NSGIC while it has grown to be a very effective voice for statewide geospatial activities and concerns across the country. If NSGIC continues on this path, it will be a very influential organization in the government sector, and its president 5 years from now may be on this list. However, Learon did lay an excellent foundation for NSGIC's effectiveness. I don't know the Google people, but Google will continue to drive the geospatial world in terms of display of information. As everyone knows, they have brought geospatial information and technologies beyond the "priesthood." This is what we've wanted as GIS professionals for a long time. As long as the potential users of geospatial information continues to grow, geospatial technologies will grow in unforseen ways. I think this list is missing a couple of people. No reps from Microsoft? I think Vivek Kundra will be very influential.

Steve Coast - OpenStreetMap is the most significant democratizing event in the Geo Industry.

Frank [Warmerdam] is the incarnation of a new business model based on merit, competence and thoroughly realized Open Source methodology. Carl [Reed] integrates all and that really means all views on geospatial without losing sight of openness in standards processes. Ed Parsons brings tons of experience and real expertise into the shallow waters of Mass Market geospatial and (hopefully) boils the perceived unlimited powers of Google down to a bearable level.

Read the rest of the comments.

Sharing is Caring

Geospatial Newsletters

Keep up to date with the latest geospatial trends!

Sign up

Search DM

Get Directions Magazine delivered to you
Please enter a valid email address
Please let us know that you're not a robot by using reCAPTCHA.
Sorry, there was a problem submitting your sign up request. Please try again or email

Thank You! We'll email you to verify your address.

In order to complete the subscription process, simply check your inbox and click on the link in the email we have just sent you. If it is not there, please check your junk mail folder.

Thank you!

It looks like you're already subscribed.

If you still experience difficulties subscribing to our newsletters, please contact us at