GIS Monitor Feb 15, 2001


-Internet Land Rush
-A Visit to a MapInfo User Group Meeting
-Bentley Declines Comment on V8Ball
-Raster Maps for the Mobile World
-Voice Activated Wireless Location-based Services Trial
-A Guide to MapGuide Add-Ons
-Two GIS Landmarks Bite the Dust
-Points of Interest
-Week in Review
-Back Issues

This issue sponsored by:


The ink is barely dry on papers approving the new domains and already some of the designated registrars are taking “pre-registrations” for the soon to available .biz, .name and .info extensions. The bad news is that these pre-registrations do not guarantee you will be granted the name of your choice and most of the registrars will issue no refunds. The registration process will ultimately be done in a round-robin random sort of way, so no one registrar can honestly assure a favorite name. The Federal Trade Commission warned in December that this “pre-registration” is, in fact, a scam.

The actual “sale” doesn’t start until June at the earliest. The “free for all sale” will be preceded by a “trademark owner only sale” period, and a quiet period for dispute settlement.

Oversight hearings questioning ICANN’s process of choosing new top-level domains were held last week. Companies who won or lost in the ICANN process that ended up with the .biz, .name and .info extensions spoke in front of Congress. Smaller companies suggested that the $50,000 nonrefundable registration fee, required by ICANN to simply submit a proposal, kept them out of the market entirely.

The addition of the “new” domains raises another issue: there is a whole world of other top-level domains already in existence that few of us know about. Where do these “other” domains live? Just under our noses, as it turns out. Most of us use the Commerce Departments USG A-root server that holds the information about which domain points to which computer. But, if you use an alternative root server, you can not only see all the familiar, domains (.com, .org, .net) but also .etc, .online, .casino, .music and .here). An organization appropriately called “youcann” manages a site explaining this “other” web.

One of the domains already in existence on the alternative web, .biz, was duplicated by ICANN last December. There are concerns that two “.biz”s could cause serious confusion.

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Last week I attended the fourth meeting of the Massachusetts area MapInfo users. Part of my interest was to see if user groups were surviving in the age of the Internet. Spend a little time on the Internet and you just might start thinking that virtual meetings have taken over and users can sit all day in front of their monitors interacting with others in newsgroups and webex meetings. I’m pleased to report that there is at least one user group that is alive and well.

There was a full house at the site, just outside of Boston. And, unlike some meetings – especially CAD ones I’ve attended – the participants brought questions. A full hour was spent on technical, management and data questions. There was a healthy mix of new and experienced users.

The training, done by one of MapInfo’s trainers, covered data sharing: putting maps into other documents, sharing data with other MapInfo or ProViewer users, and putting data on the Web. Perhaps the most popular demonstration involved an application included in MapInfo Professional 6: an HTML image mapping application. The application made it trivial to prepare HTML pages of clickable maps from a MapInfo workspace. Publishing the resulting web pages on a web site provided interactive web maps: a click on an area linked to its associated data.

An observation: user group attendees always have that same mix of newer and more experienced users. This may give the false impression that the user base is not progressing. On the contrary, I think the seats are simply being filled by the next generation of users. And, I must add, I for one appreciated the number of “mature users” compared to “whiz kids.” That indicates that GIS is indeed “growing up.”

I was surprised to find that only 20% at most of the attendees regularly follow MapInfo-L, the very active newslist. I wonder if meeting participants did read the postings, if they would need to attend?

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At my request, I received a call from Charley Ferrucci, Bentley’s Vice President of Corporate Marketing. I asked about the V8Ball website, a self-proclaimed underground site that may in actuality be a Bentley guerilla marketing scheme. Mr. Ferrucci would neither confirm nor deny Bentley’s involvement. He did say that they were very excited about the beta release of MicroStation v8 (scheduled for today, according to the V8Ball site).


Simplylook is developing one more of the key enabling technologies for the wireless world. They have a proprietary imaging engine (heavy server, thin client) that allows small images to be delivered to mobile phones, PDAs and other devices. Those images are “smart” and can be zoomed, panned and have data linked to them.

The company is targeting graphic-intensive needs such as maps, floorplans, stock charts, photographs and interactive gaming. If the wireless Web parallels the “wired” Web, Simplylook is in a good position, at least in the mapping sector. The majority of maps delivered over the web are raster with some smarts behind them. Streaming vectors do exist (Autodesk MapGuide, ESRI’s ArcIMS, and Intergraph’s GeoMedia Web Map among others can deliver them) but for many vendors and users, raster is quicker and easier, at least for now. The same will likely be true in the wireless world -- at least at the outset.


Cell-Loc and Nortel are doing a trial in Austin Texas with location-based services for cell phones. The idea is to link the companies’ location capture technology with directory assistance and voice recognition.

The user will dial a number to access the services, but will not need to report his or her location, that will be determined by Cell-Loc’s Cellocate network. Cellocate uses TDOA, timed difference of arrival, to determine location. This technology pinpoints locations based on the different time required for a signal to reach several antenna sites at different distances from the caller.

The user will speak their request to the service: “Find me a pizza place within ˝ mile.” Nortel’s voice recognition will translate the request into a query and then provide the results via voice to the phone.

I want to suggest that this process is a bit of a house of cards. If the location captured is not correct, the result will most certainly be off. Even if it is correct to within an acceptable degree, there is still room for error in voice recognition. And there is further chance for error in the “playback” of the answers. I’m reminded of the children’s game “Operator”: a message whispered from child to child gets garbled beyond recognition by the end of the line.

Still, I believe this type of trial can’t help but move the technology forward. The companies hope that if the trial (to be held in April) is successful, this type of service can be rolled out by the end of this year to telecommunications service providers.


I noted in the last week’s issue that Autodesk had announced add-ons to their Web mapping software, MapGuide that allowed the product to directly read ESRI shape files and Autodesk’s own native DWG. I found it disturbing that Autodesk would charge for support of its own format.

Dan Ahern, Industry Marketing Manager for Autodesk GIS Solutions offered this explanation:

"It is true that Autodesk MapGuide Data Extensions for SHP and DWG formats are currently sold separately. But, despite your strong argument to offer these features at no charge, our hands are tied by government regulations. Autodesk, like any public software company, is scrutinized by government regulatory agencies like the SEC. Autodesk must adhere to the rules of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). The FASB rules state that, without a software maintenance program in place, Autodesk must sell future feature enhancements (excluding bug fixes) separately. In fact, we considered holding off the release of Autodesk MapGuide 5 to include these two data extensions as part of the major release, but we obviously chose not to delay.”

"Autodesk does have an extension plan for its products, including AutoCAD. We take useful features, roll them into packets called "extensions", and offer them between major releases. This way, our customers can obtain useful productivity tools today without waiting for a major software release cycle. And the functionality contained within an Autodesk Extension is often included later with future major releases. Our customers can expect to see this particular SHP and DWG Data Extension functionality wrapped into the next release of Autodesk MapGuide at no additional charge, but it is available if they want it today."

So, the “pay as you go” nature of these extensions has nothing to do with their content, but rather with their packaging and SEC rules. Further, it does help to explain why “maintenance” is becoming widespread in GIS and elsewhere in the industry. I, for one, have never worked at a public company so this is quite new to me – and very interesting!


I learned this week that both GIS-L and GIS Asia Pacific have shut their “doors.”

Bill Thoen covers GIS-L’s history in this month’s GeoWorld. Like many of the earliest online “communities,” GIS-L was fine until specialized lists came along: ESRI-L, MapInfo-L and others. Still, there are now so many e-mail and web-based discussions, there should be something for everyone. And, GIS-L had an important role in making that possible.

GIS Asia Pacific, published by Adams Business Media (publishers of GeoWorld and Business Geographics, among others) shut down in November of last year. The November issue stands in tribute on the publication homepage.


-My favorite search engine, Google, this week purchased my favorite USENET news reading site, Google plans to reinstate many of the USENET archives that have not been available in recent years. And, they will provide their search engine to query the millions of messages. Unfortunately, the most useful feature of, the ability to easily browse and post to a saved set of newsgroups in a completely threaded environment, is not currently available. Until Google adds this feature, I’ve joined

-American Express is trying out free web service for its cardholders. A past attempt by the company allowing free stock trades eventually went to a pay-for-service model. With everyone else getting out of free Internet service, it is odd that high end AmEx is getting in.

-A two-year study by Alexa reveals some interesting data about how Internet users find their destinations. Most surprising to me: users are apt to key a website name or addresses, not into the address field of their browser, but into their search engine. Common searches include “” or “” Adult material is the most popular search topic, while “map” is ranked 20th.


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