Google Says Your Desktop GIS Apps Will Be Irrelevant

Oh S#*t!

Why is it companies want to be so disruptive when all you want to do is make maps? Says John Herlihy of Google

In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant.

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.

Larry Consuming Content


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.

Here come the users

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.

FlexAPI on iPhone

It’s dead Jim!

The End of Platial

Platial Moving Forward

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.

Bumble Bee Man

Ay, ay, ay, no me gusta KML


I found it interesting that Di-Ann followed up with this:

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?