With location and mapping so important in 2011, wouldn’t Microsoft love to have NAVTEQ in their back pocket? And with NAVTEQ being a well placed government contractor, it would only enhance Microsoft’s battle against Google (and to a lesser extent in our space, Esri.
Another year has come and gone and we are all huddled around the Google wondering when Santa will visit the Fee homestead. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and I wish all the best for the new year.
You may recall seeing this great visualization from Facebook last week on the links between friends. Well the creator of that graphic has blogged about how he did it using R and some amazingly simple processing. R is one of those tools that isn’t used in our space enough (really, you use Excel for analysis?) and if this doesn’t open your eyes to its great potential, your priorities are in the wrong place.
So last week Google threw down a huge hand in the bid to be the dominate mobile navigation company. Heck I can’t even remember who else has mobile navigation devices besides them anymore (though that might be the eggnog talking). It looks like Apple is going to give it a go for their iOS devices.
Apple seeks job candidates with “valuable knowledge” related to the development of navigation software, as well as “deep knowledge of Computational Geometry or Graph Theory.” Candidates are required to have at least 3 years’ experience of developing “high quality, robust software systems.”
In typical Apple fashion, they describe the work this way:
“We want to do this in a seamless, highly interactive and enjoyable way,” that job listing read. “We’ve only just started.”
Apple navigation seems like a natural progression for their hosted web services. I doubt Apple will ever do their own search as there really isn’t any way to improve on Google (Bing is trying, but really who wants to Bing anything?). Navigation though is a space that I’m sure Apple thinks they can do some really amazing stuff. Navigation devices are clunky and difficult to use. A little of the Apple design magic might lift all boats (and by all boats I mean only Apple and Google).
Well this isn’t likely, but still….
Manifold is being sued by an alleged patent troll (Google search is littered with their name and patent troll) based on some wacky patent some crazy government agency gave some Aussie 20 years ago (Isn’t that always the case?). The actual complaint is available here. You may recognize Uniloc as one of the most prolific (and successful) patent trolls around. This goofy patent seems to be the trouble. Manifold seems distracted, but this will only exacerbate their predicament. From this OCBJ article a couple months ago:
Uniloc pioneered the idea of using a 25-character product key or serial number embedded into each copy of a disk loaded with software. The key seeks to ensure there?s only one registered user per copy of the software and limit it to being loaded on a select number of devices. Uniloc?s patent only has about three years left before it comes to the end of its life. After that, Uniloc can?t sue to enforce the patent or collect royalties. We thought the timing was right to say, Well, it?s not just Microsoft,?? Davis said. Some of the biggest companies in the world began to use it.
Boy, best of luck everyone…
Invasion of the patent trolls!
So this was some really great news for those of us using OpenLayers; Bing Tiles for OpenLayers:
As of today, OpenLayers has a new layer type: OpenLayers.Layer.Bing. Why that you may ask, there is OpenLayers.Layer.VirtualEarth already. So why is this new layer type so special? It is the first time that we access tiles from a commercial service directly. Others (e.g. Google Maps) do not provide direct access to their tiles, but Microsoft does through the Bing Maps Web Services.
Yea direct tile access is pretty awesome. Bing Bang!
These new features are just the first steps in maximizing dynamic map drawing technology to create a faster, more interactive experience where efficiency really matters: mobile devices. For example, we estimate that viewing maps now requires almost 70% less mobile network data overall than before. We can’t wait to take the next steps in making Google Maps faster, more reliable and even more useful no matter where you take it.
3D Maps? Check. Offline caching? Check. Offline rerouting? Check. Wait, did they just say offline rerouting? Jebus how much is that app going to cost me? Oh right, free. Damn that is disruptive, iPhone version please!
I, for one, welcome our new Google overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted Geo-personality I could be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground data sweatshops!
Open.Mapquest.com provides the same features as our 10 sites in Europe and Asia, and also debuts a new error-reporting tool (which has been added to all of MapQuest’s open sites). For many, this tool may be their first step in becoming OSM contributors. Now, on any open MapQuest site, errors can be reported directly and are displayed in near real-time. These errors can range from an incorrect speed limit or directional changes on a street to a missing parking lot or a new cultural institution.
Bing Boom goes the dynamite! I guess now we can’t complain about the quality of the map anymore because it is my own fault it sucks in Arizona. This is a very gutsy move on MapQuest’s part as I’m not sure the map is really good enough to use in the United States, but we need something like this out there to get it moving forward. Rather than fix errors in the Google Map, now we can fix errors in the MapQuest Map and send them on to the root OSM map. Good work MapQuest!
I love the new look for Bing Maps. I think they have made their background map perfect for basemaps. Nice and subtle. But their new look had some drawbacks. Well Microsoft has addressed some of those and has a new version up and running.
We’ve updated our map style to reflect user feedback so it’s even easier for people to find where to go, how to get there, and what to expect along the way. Key changes are:
- Increased city density while preserving a clean, visually appealing map
- Clearer differentiation between major and minor city streets
- Greater color contrast at the city-level so streets pop? out more
- Altered font sizes and contrast for crisper, less cluttered map labels
- Improved highway shields for US and added new shields for 7 countries
Two thoughts come to mind here. First off the changes all seem to really improve Bing Maps for the better and the second is my amazement at how agile Microsoft Bing Maps team is. Could 2011 be the year of Bing Maps?
Bing it baby!
Update: Justin has a great overview of what’s new.
Getting at Free Data
I’ve talked quite a bit over the past few years about how one can make data easily accessible and usable by users. TIGER/Linehas been one of my biggest examples. The web interface is a nightmare in usability and the FTP site is hard to use (and who really wants to download 150 GB of data ) unless you’ve got those FIPS codes memorized. There has to be a better way to access this data.
OK So Let’s See What This Thing Can Do
When I joined WeoGeo almost 2 years ago, we were working on adding vector support to the already powerful raster customization options. We’ve had vector support for a while now, but only recently had we added what we call ToC support so that you can manage large datasets such as this TIGER/Line 2009. ToC gives WeoGeo the ability to deliver many different shapefiles(or any other supported data type) as individual layers allowing someone to customize their order. In the case of TIGER, one could only get the hydro layer and only have to download that dataset. This means that you don’t need to get gigabytes of data to access lakes in your area of interest. One could of course download everything, but many times you just need one part of the dataset.
So I Work Across County Boundaries
TIGER County data is of course organized by county. In many regions, the reasons why these county boundaries were created have no bearing on reality or the facts on the ground. So organizing data by county might make sense to some mathematician sitting in a cubicle in the bowels of some government building, but to those of us who need to work with the data it is nothing but an impediment to building our products. The ToC (which is just a JSON file) gave us the means to offer up TIGER/Line 2009 data for the USA. Unlike the TIGER/Line website, you can easily select across counties and states for your data in one download. If I want Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA, it is a simple order. I don’t have to navigate through Oregon to Multnomah County and then back out to Washington and THEN back down to whatever county Vancouver, WA is in (seriously how do you figure that out on their website ). The clicks involved are just nuts.
Get Multiple County TIGER Downloads for Free
Take this example below; I can order all the TIGER/Line data between New York City and Philadelphia (including all those counties in New Jersey), select only the layers I want, clip it to my area of interest, re-project it and even deliver it in another format (such as TAB files).
“How many trips through the TIGER/Line website would it take to grab all that data
Grab only the TIGER layers you want, leave the junk behind.
Thus, WeoGeo is now hosting the entire TIGER/Line 2009 (TIGER/Line 2010 will come out as more states are added) for everyone to use. Because this dataset is about 150 GB, we are subsidizing the cost of hosting and delivery ourselves for basically anything smaller than the State of New Jersey (As much as I’d love to let you all download the whole thing as much as you wish, I still have my son who wants an iPad this Christmas. We just want to cover our costs here). This means that I can grab the Los Angeles Metropolitan area and get every TIGER/Line shapefile for free. Not a bad resource considering that you can place that order in less than one minute.
What is that Census data for like 17 million people. For free!
So Yea, I’m Excited
Yup! Having the TIGER/Line 2009 Layers in WeoGeo and making it available free to users solves some of the problems I’ve seen with federal data sharing websites. While I do think hosted basemaps such as Bing and Google Maps are the future, having some free local data is still very valuable to those who need data unencumbered by licensing. And you can use our REST API to access this data outside of the website or with our MapInfo and ArcGIS connectivity.
Amazon put TIGER/Line 2008 on AWS a couple years ago and then let it die. We’ll keep our archive of 2009 and soon 2010 up for those who need it in the Amazon Cloud.
In addition, we’ve got lots of other datasets available for free on our Market including the whole FCC geo-database, natural hazard rankings, National Land Cover and Natural Earth Data. If you’ve got some good suggestions of free data that we should be including in our WeoGeo Market, please don’t hesitate to contact me via my email address which is located at the top of the sidebar on the right.