The End of GIS

So yea, link bait title, sue me.  But I felt like it needed to be there.  But before I go into what that all means, I’m going to continue blogging over on Medium but with a new focus. The RSS feed, email blasts, and Twitter account will cease to produce original content.

So why is there an end to anything?  I’ve been working toward this end for some time, the focus has been to move away from proprietary stacks and toward open source.  But there is a more significant theme to this.  Pivoting away from specialized software that is good at one thing, towards libraries to get things done.  Regardless I’m now working at a company that specializes in aggregating, analyzing and visualizing 3D data.  GIS has been useful at many things, but 3D was never one of it.

The start of Spatially Adjusted happened over the course of a family vacation to my wife at the time’s in-laws in rural Texas.  I can’t recall exactly what made me start, but it was the intersection of Esri and Open Source.  This was pre-OSGeo, things in my life were still ArcGIS and mostly ArcIMS.  There was a ton about me being excited about EDN when that first arrived and unboxing ArcGIS 9.1.  But I was getting into open source.  In fact, the first time I blogged about PostGIS, Sean Gillies was quick to put me in my place.  Because of course I was a big Esri supporter, and all he saw was someone complaining about the quality of the software.

My blog has a big story arc in it.  I go from “Esri blogger” to “Esri hater.”  Early on I used to get Esri passing me info to get the word out.  The reality of this was there was no Twitter or Facebook yet, so the only place people could be open was my comments on my blog posts.  But over the years I grew bitter about the software.  I grew tired of competing against Esri on contracts.  I became angry at software being half-baked and having to rewrite things every few years.  Look, there was a ton to like about the Esri Web ADF…  No wait, there wasn’t.  I’m sure people worked very hard on it, and they probably take it personally when I call it a POS but it was.  Engineers aren’t at fault for creating the Web ADF, Esri marketing is at fault for choosing to push it.

I honestly could write pages on why I dislike things about Esri but I won’t.  I’m honestly over it.  I look back at ArcObjects, MapObjects, Web ADF and the rest and I feel like it was a different person.  I cannot picture myself doing that work anymore, and that’s OK, we all grow up and grow into what we enjoy.  That’s the big picture through this journey, being open to change.  The “threat” of Google Earth, the “threat” of open source, the “threat” of the ELA.  All irrelevant in the end.  The most prominent part of our professional lives is our ability to handle change.  Don’t assume anything, just look for ways to improve your workflows, provide better service toward others and be proud of your career.

Throughout this journey, there have been a couple people who have affected great change in me.  Early on I can only think of two people; Howard Butler and Sean Gillies.  Both forced me to look at how I perceived open tools such as GDAL, UMN MapServer, and PostGIS.  Sean more than anyone called out my proprietary bullshit and while I didn’t agree with everything he said, it did open my eyes.  Later on, blogging brought me into contact with more developers.  People such as Bill Dollins, Dave Bouwman, and Brian Flood.  The work they were doing, even in the Esri ecosystem really helped me grow.  Even inside Esri, the creation of EDN and the DevSummit introduced me to Brian Goldin, Steve Pousty and Rob Elkins who basically made the first DevSummit my Woodstock.

I also can’t stress enough how many people I’ve met over the years because of this blog.  Not a conference goes by where someone introduces themselves to me and tells me they follow me.  That means a ton as personal networks is what drives us all.  It has been those who introduce me to the fantastic stuff they are working on that inspires my passion.  But that is why I think my story arc went from “Esri blogger” to the intersection of 3D BIM and GIS.

I really can’t think of anyone I’ve met over these years I don’t have a ton of respect for.  From Art Haddad pushing ArcGIS Server to be something more than a hacked together project to Jim Barry always making sure I could find the right documentation or developer help, I’ve always been lucky enough to find the right person to help out.  I really could go, but everyone should know what a great asset you are and still will be.

So what now for me?  At Cityzenith I’m focused on building the platform that the real estate and AEC industries can use to make a better world.  This blog has been on so many different platforms over the years.  Best I can recall the progress went; Blogger -> MovableType -> WordPress -> Octopress -> WordPress -> Github Pages -> WordPress and rather than port it over to yet another platform I think it has earned the right to relax.  Just like PlanetGS.com got to retire in dignity, so will Spatially Adjusted.

So follow me over at Medium where I’ll be talking about Elastic, Unity, Mapbox, Turf.js, Tippecanoe, Safe FME, 3D formats, AWS (including Lex, Lambda and Comprehend) and using Unity inside web browsers and mobile devices.  Should be a blast!

So I think I’ll just leave this here because it is how I feel.

jack-mission-accomplished

BIM Database Long Tail

In the GIS world the database part of GIS files is the power. I would wager the average GIS Analyst spends more time editing, calculating, transforming the GIS database more than they do the editing of the points/lines/polygons. The first thing I did working with GIS files is open the table to see what I have (or don’t have) for data.

One of the key aspects to BIM is the database. In the hands of an Architect, the database takes a back seat but tools such as Revit make sure that everything that is placed has detailed information about it stored in a database. It isn’t Revit though, IFC, CityGML and other formats treat the database as an important part of a BIM model. But when we share BIM models, the focus is always on the exterior of the model and not the data behind it.

Aqua Tower, Chicago, IL inside Cityzenith Smart World

One thing I’ve focused on here at Cityzenith since I joined as the CTO is pulling out the power from BIM models and expose them to users. As someone who is used to complex GIS databases I’m amazed at how much great data is locked in these BIM formats unable to be used by planners, engineers and citizens. I talked last week about adding a command line to Cityzenith so that users can get inside datasets and getting access to BIM databases is no exception.

That’s why we’re going to expose BIM databases the same way we expose SQL Server, Esri ArcGIS and other database formats. When you drag and drop BIM models into Cityzenith that have databases attached them you will be prompted to transform them with our transformation engine. BIM has always been treated as a special format that is locked up and kept only in hands of special users. That’s going to change, we are going to break out BIM from its protected silo and expose the longest of long tails in the spatial world, the BIM database.

I’ve always said Spatial isn’t Special and we can also say BIM isn’t Special.

The Launch of Cityzenith

As I mentioned in my last post, Cityzenith launched last week in Chicago. Thanks to everyone who turned out to see us move out of beta and into a full blown data platform for BIM and GIS. We were lucky enough to have many special guests speaking including State of Illinois CIO Hardik Bhatt, City of Chicago Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk, John Kizior of AECOM, Tom Coleman of WSP-USA, and Gordon Feller of Meeting of the Minds. Michael Jansen, our CEO, lead the discussion and talked about the road to where we are today and how we’re going to change how things are done.

A warm thanks to attendees from Arup, HOK, HKS, CannonDesign, Foursquare, Perkins+Will, SOM, AECOM , Gensler, DeWalt, CallisonRTKL, WSP USA, BuiltWorlds, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Argonne National Laboratory and many more who attended. The hard work has begun for us and we’re looking forward to helping companies connect with each other around the world.

If you’d like to give Cityzenith a spin free of change, sign up now. Let us know if you’d like to see a demo first. There is so much more to come, stay tuned!

The Command Line Revisited

I’ve talked repeatedly about GIS command line tools being powerful. During the launch last week of Cityzenith, I was describing our Asq query tool to the audience and described it as the command line of Cityzenith.

Presenting Cityzenith Smart World to the world…

Asq is simple, a query tool to search through our indexed data stores in Elastic. But is also much more, a way to manipulate what you see in your view. Using the GUI to add and work with files and layers is of course how must people will work with the product but being able to stack together commands to perform the same action is where the power is. Much like Automator on Mac OS X or similar scripting tools, the idea is to batch functions together in building blocks.

Back in the 90s I used AutoCAD for much of my data creation because it made it simple to model the built environment. Before the madness of AutoCAD 13, the DOS based approach of having a command line at the bottom of the window made its use so much better than having to navigate toolbars and menus. Windows 95 and Mac OS destroyed the command line tools to the point we have things like Ribbon Interfaces and stackable toolbars. Its so much at this point that I try and do most of my GIS processes in the command line using Python or Javascript.

I don’t want users of Cityzenith to feel constrained by buttons, dialogs and options. Start typing and autocomplete takes care of your next decision. In showing our development team how you perform a Definition Query on ArcGIS Desktop, they were speachless at how many right clicks, OKs and other UI madness one must complete before getting something as simple as [PARK_NAME] = “Grant”. I want to type:

SHOW -> FILE -> PARK -> WHERE -> PARK_NAME -> IS -> “Grant”

That’s not even including all the spatial query functions we can do.

We just launched so this is the beginning of command line City Information Modeling (CIM). Cityzenith can help manage the built environment but taking control of all the aggregated data is critical. Hence Asq being the command line of Cityzenith.

If you’re interested in signing up, we’ve got a page to do that.