Neo, Geo, GIS and Innovation

So every couple weeks, we get the neo is moving on up post. My good friend Peter Batty wrote one titled, “How “neogeography” is rapidly moving into the “GIS” space”.

At several conferences I have attended recently – Where 2.0, WhereCamp and State of the Map (SOTM) – I have been struck by the amount of activity and innovation in areas that would have previously been regarded as firmly in the domain of “traditional GIS”. I’ll mention three: cartography, data creation and analysis.

So after reading his post, Peter and I shared some tweets back and forth and it became clear 140 characters is not enough. Good thing I still blog.

So lets look at the basis of what Peter and many others are saying about “Neo”. Peter is right in calling out Stamen Design as an innovator in our space (and many others). But I disagree with his assessment that they are doing anything that is particularly neo. What Stamen does is just incredible and really changes how web graphics are presented. But I don’t think it really matters if they are Neo or not. Their work stands on its own without having to put labels on it. Oh sure they use OSM, Mapnik and many other Web 2.0 technologies, but that doesn’t make them Neo. I also don’t buy the argument some make that if you are innovative, you must be neo. Innovation is something that transcends a label.

Am I neo because I run Mapnik at the same time I’m paleo because I run ArcGIS Desktop? Stamen, OSM and GeoCommons are all important because they innovate, not because they put a label on their shirts. In the end what is important is companies that innovate should be rewarded. But I don’t think just because you use one piece of software or another should you be limited in your ability to take part in the revolution.

Peter’s underlying message is that you can be innovative without spending money tens of thousands of dollars. That is a huge point to make about this “revolution”. Being able to pick and choose platforms to develop on is a huge departure from the silos and stacks that we’ve been dealing with for years. Heck, I wouldn’t have joined WeoGeo unless I didn’t believe things were changing for the better.

Viva la Revolución

Viva La Revoluci??n

WeoGeo at the 2009 ESRI User Conference

Well my first day at WeoGeo actually was the first day of the ESRI UC. Nothing like starting out at the most important GIS conference of the year. My first day at WeoGeo also corresponded with WeoGeo’s first time at the ESRI UC itself.

There has been much written up about the conference, but I thought I’d hit on some of the things that came up at the booth listening to people talk about problems they are having with content management.

First off, clearly everyone knows they can do better with content management. Asking people if they could use help organizing their data is like asking them if they’d like a million dollars. OF COURSE! Sharing data is great and a goal everyone has, but if you can’t get your data organized and figure out which datasets are the latest (or even figure out what was “the latest” last year) you can’t share anything. In fact, I think sharing is the easy part of the equation compared to the management of the spatial data. Of course not everyone can or wants to put their data in the cloud so WeoGeo also offers an appliance that allows you to stick the WeoGeo Library behind your firewalls and keep sensitive data safe.

The other interesting topic that came up was how do you share data in formats that people can consume. Sure, uploading your parcel database is great. Sharing it is great. But allowing people to use the data in software that they are comfortable using is where you really start seeing cost savings. With Safe FME built into the WeoGeo Library and Marketplace, users can transform any dataset into a couple hundred formats. An ESRI ArcGIS user can’t consume GeoJSON without converting it to a Geodatabase first, nor can a AutoCAD user read MapInfo files without converting them to DWG. With the WeoGeo Library, users can request to download those same spatial datasets (Raster or Vector) in any formats you choose to enable.

On top of organizing and sharing data, you also need to set up access to these datasets. Do you want to publish to the world (and maybe monetize them) or do you want to lock them down behind users and groups? Sure you’d love to share data with everyone, but you don’t always own the rights to do so. Being able to grant user access and then take it away when a project is over helps keep that under control.

Of course once your data is loaded into the WeoGeo Library, you can still work with it in many different ways. There is a great RESTful API to allow you to programmatically update users, their groups and their access to datasets as well as work with them while they are there. Everything is scriptable with Python so you can transfer your skills over very quickly to get results from organizing and sharing your data.

So where next? Well if you’d like to try out the Library (which is in private beta), fill out the contact form and we’ll get an invite sent out to you. Browse the wiki to see some of the great features of the Library and Market. Get your data loaded into the Library using the WeoApp or if you are using ArcMap, email me and I’ll add you to our ArcGIS Toolbar beta loader test.

If you are in the Bay Area tonight, come by the WebMapSocial Meetup in Mountain View to see Paul Bissett present the WeoGeo Library and Market and I’ll be presenting at the GeoWeb 2009 conference next week. It was great seeing everyone who had an opportunity to come by the booth and see the demonstration of the WeoGeo Library.

Lastly I just wanted to make sure I posted this video of my son dancing at the Thursday Night celebration. I can only hope YouTube is still around when he brings his prom date home.

ESRI RESTful API 9.4

I didn’t get as much time to talk with ESRI about the RESTful API, but I did two things answered that were bothering me.

  • You will be able edit with the RESTful API. Opens up the ability to edit ESRI Geodatabases with just about any client you can imagine.
  • You will be able to query and work with other tables in the geodatabase (tables don’t need to be joined to query them). I always seem to have lots of related tables in my projects so this should lessen the need to roll my own ASP.NET connector to work with tables.

Bonus news is that the ESRI JavaScript API will support HTML 5 for some really slick web applications. Of course this is all based on ArcGIS 9.4 which should roll into our hands the first half of 2010.

Restful

ESRI’s MapIt vs MapDotNet vs IDV Solutions

A couple people asked me at the ESRI UC what I thought about the ESRI MapIt announcement and how it related to MapDotNet and IDV Solutions products. Both MapDotNet and IDV Solutions have great products and really impressive support teams so don’t expect either to just disappear anytime soon (if at all). One thing is for sure though, MapIt is like no other ESRI product before it on how it is sold, supported and how agile the development team is. I suspect we’ll be seeing more ESRI MapIt type products from ESRI (smaller more nimble development teams like ArcGIS Explorer and the API teams) in the coming year.

From a user standpoint, Microsoft seems to favor ESRI’s product (though one could say they were at the ESRI UC so we’ll have to see how Microsoft plays MapIt moving forward). Enterprise customers seem to prefer ESRI, but MapIt isn’t aimed at them (I can’t tell you how many times I heard ESRI say that I didn’t need MapIt because I already had everything I needed; ArcGIS Server). Thus this is a play for the market outside their traditional space and one that is possibly very disruptive if they can pull it off. At the very least, MapDotNet says bring it on!
So we are starting to see the Microsoft stack get very spatial.

SQL Server 2008 Spatial + SharePoint + Silverlight = GIS

The only thing this can result in is better development tools for programmers and thus better tools for users.