In the GIS world, Google (er, Keyhole with Google’s resources rather) has changed the game. If you’re a long-time GIS’er though, you might not think so. In this post I describe stuff that any Open Source developer has experienced - mindshare, hackability, and momentum - and why these are important to both ESRI and Google in the race to be the dominant developer platform for GIS in the near future.
OK, I made up gPhenomenon, but we all know what Howard is talking about. The new server side GIS is now expected to be “hackable” because of Google Maps and their API. I suspect as Howard does that ESRI will open up some sort of ArcWeb Services tools at the User Conference, but the question is how will they be received by the programming community. Howard thinks that the same programmers that are drawn to Google Maps API will be turned off of the “complex GIS” backend of ArcWeb Services and he might be right. I think it is a shame that ESRI will wait until the User Conference to announce such a move, but it shows that they are still in the “old world” mentality of magazines, email newsletters and press releases. The time between the release of Google Maps API and an open ArcWeb Services might be too great to catch up. The example I before was the gMap Workout Tracker and how far it has come in just about two weeks. Another two weeks and who knows what they will accomplish (not to mention who wants to change a backend that late in the game)?
Howard then takes ESRI to task for not understanding the open source community. I’m not really involved (yet) with it, but I’m not sure that it really is that important to their business model (beyond interoperability and perception). Google sure doesn’t really care about open source as most of their tools are not, but business reality forces them to work with the community and the perception is that they do it very well. Howard uses the Directions Magazine open source article from a about a month ago to illustrate his point of ESRI not understanding their users or community. I don’t think ESRI could have played that article any worse as the first response was poorly thought out and then to retract it only made it worse. I’ve talked at great lengths on this blog about how blogging can help companies talk better with their users and it would appear that ESRI needs to take that to heart. ESRI doesn’t have to fear open source anymore than Microsoft fears Open Office. ESRI employees are going to make “bad posts” in the future for sure, but removing them will only draw attention to them. The best thing about putting your foot in your mouth is that you can easily remove it. Better yet, blog about it.