Stopping Over-engineered GIS Applications

I was thinking the past week about a project that we will start working on soon. Simply put, it is updating a MapObjects IMS application we deployed almost 10 years ago, that is still working. When I saw that it was not only still running, but it was still a critical part of their business workflow, it started me thinking about why such an application was so successful. It obviously wasn’t the technology. Sure the back end runs on Oracle, but even the most ardent MOIMS supporter can’t claim that the Visual Basic application was cutting edge even back then. So that must mean there was something else going on that kept it running when most MOIMS sites are long gone.

Won’t someone please think of the users?

Wont someone please think of the users?

History of GIS applications tells us one story that repeats itself again and again. There is a horrible habit of pushing over-engineered applications that are not used by the target audience because no one has time to figure out complicated tools. GIS vendors have not discouraged such habits and in some cases encourage them. The GIS world is really good at writing GIS applications for GIS professionals. I think this used to work before GIS and mapping became important in our everyday lives, but now that everyone everywhere is looking at deploying spatial applications focus needs to be put on what the end users are going to be doing with the application.

So back to that old MapObjects application, it did a really good job of doing what it was supposed to do. Display information in a context that the users were comfortable working (the interface was familiar to them) with and meet their requirements (which were obviously well developed), fit within their websites, scaled well (even Visual Basic does that apparently) and wasn’t an obstacle to their workflows. With MOIMS depreciated and the need to connect to more modern ESRI servers and Oracle databases the application needs to be updated, but not because it restricts their business practices and workflows.

Foisting this application on users of a bus system was poorly thought out, but the Google Transit version released a few weeks ago hits the target users right on. The heavy GIS website might meet needs of users in the organizations internally, but externally it really highlights missed opportunities and wasted resources. I’m personally really excited to see if we can replicate the success of the earlier MOIMS application with JavaScript APIs, KML downloads and other new technology and still keep is simple. The key is listen to what the client really wants and be agile enough to deliver simple, focused, and fast products.

On the Mississippi

I’ve been quiet this week because I’ve been at the fiscal year end management meetings. The RSP Minneapolis office is located in the old Grain Belt Brewhouse which is just incredible office space.

The weather has been just so hit and miss. Flying in on Tuesday, we almost had to divert to Omaha, NE and the rain once we did get on the ground made it almost impossible to drive. But since then the weather has been very enjoyable (I suppose some might say warm, but being from Arizona I have a different definition).

Oracle enters the cloud (MySQL Enterprise too)

Oracle and Amazon today announced that Oracle would be offering some of their products inside Amazon’s EC2 cloud.

The Oracle Database 11g, Oracle Fusion Middleware, and Oracle Enterprise Manager can now be licensed to run in the cloud on Amazon EC2. Customers can even use their existing software licenses with no additional license fees.

While I see nothing specifically about Oracle Spatial, I assume is can be licensed as well on the cloud. The benefit to everyone is outside of licensing costs, the ability to launch the Oracle AMIs on EC2 and be up and running in no time. That plus the scaleability of EC2 (and thus Oracle) means that you don’t have to worry about hardware limitations with your applications. RSP Architects uses SQL Server as our database of choice, and while I would have been able to run Oracle in a virtual server, I no longer have to worry about hardware constraints to our development. Just license (which of course I realize is a problem for some people) and start loading the database. I’m anxious to see how ArcGIS connects to Oracle Spatial on EC2 and what kind of performance I can expect.

Cloudzilla could be unbeatable with Oracle in his hands

Cloudzilla carries Oracle onshore

Now for those who want to avoid Oracle, MySQL Enterprise as well in the Amazon Cloud.

Navteq out, TeleAtlas in

So Google has finally gotten around to making sure both the Google Maps API and the Google Local Search API are using the same underlying data.

Google Maps has now switched their map data provision completely over to TeleAtlas from Navteq. Now the google Maps, the Google API and the Google Maps for Mobile all use the same underlying data. This switch was only a matter of time given Nokia aquisition of Navteq

I’m curious to see if the change will affect any mapping applications out there that were using the Navteq data given that TeleAtlas and Nokia Navteq are probably different. Time for Peter Batty to revisit his Google Maps vs Google Local Search blog posts.

International Talk Like A Pirate Day 2008

Avast, me hearties!

Tis that time once again, International Talk Like A Pirate Day Tide be here. Ye better learn t’ talk like a seafarin’ hearty today or else ye`ll look like a fool. Raise yer grog mugs an’ celebrate. If Captain Jack Sparrow can take th’ time t’ get involved wi’ his local GIS Tide presentations, ye can talk like a seafarin’ hearty.

Captain Jack is teaching is crew about GIS today.

Captain Jack is teaching is crew about GIS today.

Using SVG to create interactive maps on the Apple iPhone

So you can’t have Silverlight, Java or Flash to develop interactive mapping on the iPhone and have to “resort” to using JavaScript. Well maybe not, could SVG be the way forward to creating mapping websites on the iPhone?? My 2G iPhone seems to support SVG fairly well, but many SVG sites aren’t optimized for the iPhone. Take ESRI’s abandoned (?) SVG Viewer:

ESRI’s ArcWeb SVG Viewer

ESRIs ArcWeb SVG Viewer

It loads and you can turn on and off the “widgets” with ease. But navigating it was impossible. I know zero about developing with SVG so I suppose someone else will have to comment on if it is possible to create iPhone compatible navigation for SVG apps. Heck if ESRI were to make a ArcGIS Server SVG API compatible for the iPhone, every ArcGIS Server implementation would be viewable on the iPhone.

We’ve had very busy week!

For everyone who keeps telling me that this “geospatial space” is boring these days, you have obviously not been paying attention. Loads of great stuff has been been posted:

  • Thanks to everyone who sent this link in (Bill, Dan, John, Barry, Alan, APB). ESRI has compiled essays from their publications into a GIS Best Practices whitepaper. Good for all those who like to pile your ArcNews in the corner of your office to show how important you are.
  • Dave Peter’s great whitepaper on System Design Strategies has been updated and on its 25th edition. Many were relieved to hear that he is going to continue updating the paper even after his new book (which I have an plan to start reading next week while traveling).
  • Peter Batty continues to write about Netezza’s new spatial product. He blogged about why this performance is important and where it is going to be used. Of course I doubt I’ll be seeing it replace our SQL Server 2008 anytime soon but this could be the direction we are all moving toward. He also posted a video interview with Rich Zimmerman who was the lead developer on Netezza’s spatial extension. Well worth watching if you want to hear how someone could take PostgreSQL and turn it into a monster.
  • Jithen blogged about updating the ArcGIS 9.3 SP1 announcement and how many more bugs they’ve fixed. It really is amazing how their new crash reporting tools allows them to find and fix bugs faster than before. I suspect we’ll see later service packs much smaller than they were at 9.2 given that they are able to trap the errors much easier. I’m still on 9.2 (this will be resolved very soon) so I have to watch the fun from afar.
  • Sean Gorman, bless his heart, has followed up his GeoWeb blog ranking list post. I think Technorati isn’t work the time it takes me to type it, but the idea that he wants to develop a blog list is interesting to me and if he/we can come up with a good ranking scheme, it could be very useful to seeing changes with blogs over time.
  • Lastly, Microsoft is going to have a couple webcasts about Virtual Earth. Mark Brown posted information about a Virtual Earth 6.2 Technical Webcast October 3rd at 10am PDT and Chris Pendleton has one called Momentum Webcast: See More and Do More with Microsoft Virtual Earth October 2 at 9AM PDT.

Even Mark Twain is interested in reading Dave Peters new book

Even Mark Twain is interested in reading Dave Peters new book

GIS on the law enforcement front lines

GIS Analysts are usually in the back room performing support rolls with most law enforcement operations, but recently a GIS Analyst was part of a marijuana eradication raid in California.

A GIS specialist went in with the raid teams for the first time in NPS history to perform an immediate on the ground evaluation of the impacts to the natural resource during the raid.

Just think how much better some law enforcement situations might have gone if GIS had been part of the raid.

GIS on the front lines of law enforcement

Redwood National and State Parks (CA)
Major Interagency Raid Conducted On Marijuana Plantation_

On September 10th, Redwood National and State Parks conducted a marijuana eradication raid, utilizing an interagency anti-drug task force. The focus of the effort was a marijuana plantation in Redwood Creek that contained 9,564 plants and covered approximately five acres on steep terrain. This marijuana site is within six miles of the world’s tallest tree in a park that is also a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. Rangers detained five Mexican nationals for questioning about a mile from the marijuana growing operation. Three of them had prior deportations and were transferred to United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). One who is on felony probation for marijuana was held on that violation and will be deported later. The fifth was charged with providing false information to an officer. A GIS specialist went in with the raid teams for the first time in NPS history to perform an immediate on the ground evaluation of the impacts to the natural resource during the raid. This documentation will be very beneficial for the restoration process. Significant resource damage has resulted from this illegal activity and an initial cleanup operation using California National Guard soldiers and helicopter is planned for October. This raid included almost 60 law enforcement and support staff. The National Park Service wishes to acknowledge and thank the support provided by Humboldt County Sheriff Office, Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), North State Marijuana Investigation Team, California Department of Justice, California Fish and Game, California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, Green Diamond Resources Company, United States Coast Guard, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Marshall Service, California State Park Rangers, National Park Service SETT II team and ISB Pacific West special agents.

[Submitted by Rick Nolan, Chief of Interpretation and Education]

Google and GeoEye. Argle-bargle or Fufurah?

And I, for one, welcome our new geospatial overlords

And I, for one, welcome our new geospatial overlords

I didn’t bother to blog about the Google and GeoEye announcement (Google launches satellite?? Are you kidding me Information Week?) from a couple weeks ago (or was it a couple days ago?) because I really didn’t see what was so newsworthy about it. It isn’t like this is the first announcement we’ve seen from Google and a satellite company. Plus Microsoft even went out and bought Vexcel (hmm didn’t blog about that acquisition either).

I just don’t care too much about these deals as they don’t affect me in any way. I still aquire my imagery the way I did before and I still use the free services the way I did before. The only thing this confirms to me is that you can’t make money from selling sattelite imagery on an open market, you need a sugar daddy to pay the bills. I guess that is what is the most telling thing out of this announcement, GeoEye’s and Digital Globe’s business models are broken.