Ed Katibah has a great post on something that should get geo-developers excited. Microsoft announced that they will be adding support for spatial data in SQL Azure very soon. Says Ed,
I’ve been using SQL Azure with spatial support for a couple of weeks now and it works just like the spatial data support in SQL Server 2008 same spatial data types, spatial methods and spatial indexes. It works in SQL Server Management Studio just like you would expect.
Ed notes two issues with using SQL Azure over SQL Server for your data: 1. You need to have a clustered index on the table you are inserting data into. 2. You may need to break your data loads up into chunks to prevent the connection to SQL Azure from timing out. (welcome to the cloud) The good news is that SQL Azure seems to be a drop in replacement with all our tools. Says Dale Lutz at Safe, “it just works”. I’m looking forward to talking with the Microsoft folks at the DevSummit to see how we can leverage it.
Here comes the spatial database into the cloud. Get your ducks in a row!
Apparently ESRI sent out a memo to employees where they are now telling staff to refer to E-S-R-I as ez-ree now. No longer will you have to listen to them struggle to get out the letters, but can say it the way the rest of us do. No word on if the memo also told them how to pronounce GIS.
I talked a little bit on the WeoGeo blog last week about how we were very focused on content management. Yea, very sexy stuff… But what I think it highlights is the way that we can share our data with each other. Getting your data “into the Cloud”, whatever that means these days, and then using it as much as possible gives you the best return on your investment. One thing that did come up at the FedUC in February was the huge adoption of ESRI’s ArcGIS Online Map Services among users. Using these great free services as backdrops to your mapping content gives you a great starting point. But how you can integrate your geo-content into them is critical. Making it as easy and simple to do is how you’ll be able to leverage your data.
The “Map Sandwich”
ESRI’s cartography blog of all places has the key to showing where data vendors (and just all around geo-Joes) can leverage their datasets in this new ecosystem of free web services. Now the blog post focuses on the cartography aspects of this mashup, but the huge takeaway here is that you can easily integrate your data into these free services in ways that your users/customers can leverage easily. What users want is to quickly integrate your data into their ecosystem. This means they want to consume them on their terms, not yours. Companies that successfully integrate with the Google, the Microsoft and large GIS vendors such as the ESRI, will see great consumption of their data. Those that create their own private data sharing sites or web services will see their fortunes decline, like Paul says.
A Window into the Future
I’ll tell you right now who I see fitting perfectly into this “Map Sandwich” world, Brian Flood’s Arc2Earth. Take a look at his demo app, “Tax Parcel Search – Westfield, NJ”. What is really cool about this demo app is that Brian has a link to the API that makes it happen. He based this API on some draft standards so it should be really easy to integrate into just about any application out there, but the chocolate syrup and cherry on top is his ArcGIS Server REST API Compatibility. Now, he still hasn’t released this publicly (at least that I can see), but it means that any data you create using his Arc2Earth API will be easily consumable in the ESRI ecosystem natively. No wacky WMS or WFS for ESRI users, this stuff will be copy and paste stupid easy.
Customers want this integration and it just isn’t ESRI users. We can sit on our high horse all we want and talk about open standards, but in the trenches people with money don’t have time for the OGC and others to get their act together (and even then they could care less).
“Give me a web service that integrates into my ArcCatalog natively and I’ll buy”
“I’m using the ESRI Flex API and want to use your dataset.”
Here is the ESRI REST URL, have at it.
Give Me Some of that Good Data-as-a-Feature
We should be looking at these Data-as-a-Feature services as opportunities to get our data into the hands of those creating applications. A quick look at the ESRI Mashup Challenge shows that there are tons of very useful apps screaming to integrate your data layers into them. You just need to make sure you provide the meat and let ESRI handle the bread and lettuce (maybe a little bacon too).
So the above example is “ESRI Centric”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valid for EVERYONE. If your online geo-content isn’t in formats or services that can easily be integrated into popular mapping APIs and libraries, your data is not going be easily used. For the consultant, if you can’t deliver you data to your clients quickly and easily, they’ll look elsewhere for services (integrating with Drupal, SharePoint, whatever). For data providers, if I can’t grab your data and throw it into my OpenLayers mapping application or Silverlight API app by cutting and pasting lines of code, I’ll probably not use your data at all. You’d better start thinking this way because the landscape has changed, work with web services or be out of work. The writing is clearly on the wall, pay attention.
It looks like the powers that be at the ESRI Developer Summit have decided a .NET ESRI/Microsoft SIG is a good idea after all. Fears (possibly all mine) that the DevSummit was changing and wouldn’t be able community anymore are tempered somewhat by this announcement. So if you work the ESRI/Microsoft angle to develop GIS applications, you can now share this fact with your brothers and sisters in code. Viva Palm Springs!
A late edition to the ESRI Developer Summit is the GeoDesign Idea Lab. This is going to be a set of lightning talks by developers showcasing how they’ve been using the concept of GeoDesign in their applications. I’ll be moderating the session with Eric Wittner of ESRI. If you’ve been telling everyone you’ve “been doing GeoDesign for years”, now is you chance to get up and show everyone how your stuff is teh sexay.
Most of what we’ve seen out of this GeoDesign has been with researchers and university types talking about concepts. Now is the time to show how developers have been in the trenches integrating disparate disciplines and bringing the results to the decision makers and the public.
Email your Lightning Talk (10 minutes maximum) abstract to firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered. I’ll be blogging the session in detail so this could be a great opportunity to get your GeoDesign chops out in the open. Plus since it is going on at the same time as the Business Partner Conference expect some of the marketing geeks to drop by and see what is up.
Bam, game over. We’ll be working our GIS magic on Androids and iPhones. I know, I know… We’ve heard this all before from Messrs. McNealy, Ellison, but now that Google is saying it (again?) we’d be get our act together or we’ll be irrelevant. Heck old Larry bought himself a trophy on the backs of those making desktop irrelevant.
Devil is in the Details
OK, so what does this talk really mean. We all know damn well we’ll be using our desktops to perform GIS analysis for years to come. Consuming data is what Google is talking about. Unlike Sun or Oracle, isn’t focused on content creation, but enabling people to discover and use it. The operative word is mining for data. Google is talking about the world (who most of the time is searching for information on their mobile devices) performing a search and then visualizing that information. Yep, you are thinking what I’m thinking, that is GIS in a nutshell, visualizing information. Content creation will still be performed on desktops around the world, but it will remain a niche marketplace. The “magic” we’ve been taking about will happen on mobile clients.
So right, ESRI is “cloud ready”. Everyone is either developing a cloud plan of action or executing it. We want to host our data with providers who scale as the need arises. We want to pay monthly (or hourly) for these services and not have those annoying maintenance agreements. But wait, where are we down Google’s path of mobile nirvana?
We’ve got some efforts into web visualization from Geocommons (who is probably at the forefront of web browser vizualization), but alas their client is flash based so it isn’t really designed for mobile apps. You can bet your last Amazon gift certificate that they’ve been working damn hard on one. ESRI has also moved into this space with two feed. Their Map a Map service is right up that Geocommons alley. I keep waiting for the the announcement that they’ll link Make a Map to their ArcGIS Online service and bam, ESRI users have a way to visualize their data online. But like Geocommons, their client is Flash (see a trend here) and isn’t usable on most mobile clients. Change is coming though. We’ll see their effort at the ESRI Developer Summit realized with their ArcGIS for iPhone API. Right to the front of the line goes ESRI with consuming geo-content on mobile devices.
Of course there are hundreds of others competing in this space. Cloudmade (I think this month they are mobile), SimpleGeo, Twitter (with their GeoAPI), and countless others.
Back to the Future
Yea so go about your business. Desktop Geo isn’t going anywhere. But clearly if you don’t provide mobile versions of your web apps you are going to be as irrelevant as every stupid MapGuide 6.5 Active X junk mapping site out there. All yawls standardizing on ESRI’s Flex API better be planning because Google is spot on, we’ll be visiting your website working with your data on our mobile devices. Good data not accessible on mobile is going to be devalued completely.
OK, so the news is grim. Platial is now essentially finished, at least how we knew it before. They’ve turned off their service and now everything is essentially a download link. This means if you’ve been using Platial (or at least used them in a previous life) and want to get your data, you need to act now. Platial has “donated” your data to Geocommons where it now resides under a creative commons license. If you want to keep track of Platial user “poopypants” contributions, thankfully Geocommons has archived it.
If you’re looking for a new map widget, Google MyMaps offers one. It is not two-way, meaning your users cannot YET contribute but it is a very easy way to map and share maps.
The Google is supreme in this space. And users have embraced Google’s My Maps over other competing services. Google has innovated so quickly in this space and that you can perform simple spatial queries shows that their speed of innovation is going to take out a ton more start ups. Why share your data with someone’s free data portal when you can do the same with Google’s My Maps, visualize with their APIs and oh by the way, indexed by Google’s spiders.
In the Noise
I went back and searched though my blog to see if I ever posted on Platial before. I found it interesting in that I never mentioned them before. It wasn’t because I didn’t know who they were or because I had never seen them. I guess they just didn’t go far enough down the “professional GIS” hold that I’ve got myself into. I wonder if that was the same for many others. Platial covered quite a scope and in the end maybe their efforts were spread too thin, money dried up and well Google sat on them.
Selling ads on top of spatial data does not make a workable business model. I think that either you are too niche and can’t get enough eyeballs or you are too far down the food chain and the real revenue is going to Google, Apple and Microsoft. The pyramid scheme ensures that the last person gets nothing and those developing these websites are funneling so much back up the food chain that they can’t survive.
The Good News
So… depressing isn’t it? Nah, it is just how the world works. Those who started early sometimes never make it to the finish line. Consider yourself lucky that you don’t have millions to lend to these companies. 😉
On a serious note though, what Platial was trying to do, share your data with widget, is a live and well. You see thousands of Google My Maps on so many websites without even thinking about it anymore. Heck, when Platial started, did you think it would be possible embedding an ESRI map on your blog?