GIS Monitor May 17, 2001


-An Interview with Blue Marble’s Jeff Cole
-ArcView 8.1: Pricing, Avenue and other Goodies
-Autodesk’s New Releases

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A few weeks ago Blue Marble Geographics launched its service. The affordable, fully hosted, simple to set up service is aimed to take the burden off organizations that want interactive maps on their websites. Jeff Cole, Blue Marble president, offers some insight into how this new offering will affect Blue Marble and the GIS community. Excerpts from the interview are included here; the complete text can be found on the TenLinks’ website.

Q: How will becoming an ASP change Blue Marble, until now, a software and component company?

A: Blue Marble Geographics has been developing and marketing geographic software tools for nearly 7 years to individuals and organizations who are making or using maps or building mapping applications. We’ve built a community of over 120,000 customers in 60 countries -- that demonstrates that we’ve got the software development and marketing process fairly well figured out.

It was clear that growth opportunities existed within the traditional GIS marketplace. The results of GIS analysis are powerful when a talented person uses sophisticated tools to answer compelling questions. As an individual who has used traditional GIS solutions I find it very disappointing that many, many GIS projects never see the light of day.

As we investigated further, it became clear the opportunities within the non-traditional GIS marketplace were orders of magnitude larger. We began by asking a few simple questions. We talked directly with over 100 of our existing customers who had expressed an interest in an Internet mapping solution. Through this process we learned what customers were asking for and how existing solutions met or failed to meet their expectations.

It became clear to us that they weren’t asking for another traditional GIS Internet map server (IMS) solution. The vast majority of them don’t host their own web sites – this single fact alone totally rules out a traditional GIS IMS – you can’t install anything on a web server that you don’t own. They were absolutely amazed by the cost and complexity of traditional GIS IMS solutions.

Well, that’s the long answer. The short answer is that we’re faced with a very, very large opportunity and we’ve built and delivered a world-class solution that offers what subscribers expect. Quite simply, we view as a better way to deliver our core technology to customers who are compelled to offer an interactive map on their web site as part of their message.

Q: What are the main arguments for ASP map hosting vs. in house hosting?

A: When you set up your own server, you are responsible for paying for hardware, server configuration and administration, backup power, and bandwidth (a T1 line costs ~$1500/month, a 530Kb DSL connection costs ~$550/month). It’s your responsibility to keep it up and running 24/7/365. Hosting your own web site doesn’t make any sense for all but the largest companies and organizations. We view the potential market opportunity as being much larger.

Q: You mention that the "non-traditional GIS marketplace were orders of magnitude larger" than traditional ones. Are there any special challenges working with "non traditional" users?

A: Non-traditional users are totally scared of the word "GIS" - totally intimidated. People are looking for a "show and tell" solution that works on top of a map background - not GIS. The biggest challenge we face is education, getting the word out that publishing an interactive map on a web site is a totally realistic proposition without a ridiculous investment.

Q: Are there plans for routing and other services down the road?

A: Absolutely, we’ve got the core technology to add geocoding, routing, and other features as soon as we need to. Customers will tell us what they expect.

Q: What percentage of web mappers really need interactive maps vs static ones?

A: Static image maps are a highly effective way to convey information that doesn’t change and that can be presented simply. Visit Minor League Baseball’s homepage and Gorham Savings Bank (Maine) for outstanding examples of web sites that publish static image maps that are highly effective. The locations portrayed on these sites and their database attributes don’t change often.

I don't have a clue as to the percentage of sites that can use static images versus interactive maps. What's interesting though is that I would suspect that many don't think interactive maps are "doable" and take the static image map approach. Low-cost, simple, realistic solutions may change that. It's also interesting to note that building and maintaining static image maps isn't cheap, especially if they're complex.

Q: How should potential users position the offering in comparison to linking to MapBlast or others?

A: Comparing to MapBlast (and other map portals) is like comparing apples and oranges.

There are fundamentally two different types of subscribers. Some subscribers have their own maps and/or databases that they want to publish as part of a story on their web site. In this segment, is a realistic extension of their existing GIS investment. For very little incremental cost these folks can realize tremendous additional value. I was presenting a paper at a conference recently and I asked the audience how many GIS projects they had worked on that never left their desktop. The responses were amazing. One gentleman had 30 Gigabytes of GIS projects on his desktop that only he and his organization knew existed. Unbelievable!

The second type of subscriber has a database of locations and simply wants to display it on an informative, interactive map directly within their web site. MapBlast, MapQuest and other “map portal” sites provide canned maps of a defined area that can be linked to from within a page. Map portal maps can’t be customized (you can’t overlay your database on their maps) or published directly into your site without engineering and a “custom” business arrangement. Map portals are obviously focused on the big fish (large retailers, national chains, etc.) that can afford expensive solutions.

Q: Is there a particular market is aimed at? Any particular GIS software user base?

A: We’ve made the map data format issue irrelevant for existing mapping software users. supports ArcView, MapInfo, and AutoCAD map file and database formats (as well as MrSID and TIFF images) directly, without conversion. Any user of these mapping programs can subscribe to and publish their projects easily at a reasonable cost in less than a day, without having to invest in software, hardware, bandwidth, training, support/maintenance, or web development. More and more traditional GIS software users will realize the absolute absurdity of traditional GIS IMS solutions as they investigate them over time.

The market opportunity is huge. Literally any organization or business that has their own maps or databases of locations (real estate listings, dealers, customers, ski trails and lifts, members, grant recipients, survey sites, tax parcels, assets, etc) can dramatically enhance their message by publishing a customized interactive, database-driven map on their web site.

Full Text of Interview

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A reader emailed to ask if I’d cover pricing of ArcGIS.

While I don’t feel that I want to take on the responsibility of getting pricing correct (this is a complex thing even within the US!), I did receive a mailer from ESRI detailing upgrade pricing for ArcView 8.1 in the US. ESRI is offering concurrent licensing for ArcView in the Windows environment. This means that if three licenses are installed on a network up to three users on the network can run ArcView. If a fourth user tries to log on, he or she will be asked to wait until a license becomes available. More and more network managers are looking for this type of software management.

The price of ArcView is going up. Please note that this discussion is about US pricing only. For years ArcView has been priced at $1,200. ArcView 1.0 was $500 for those who remember back that far! ArcView 8.1 now lists at $1,500 for a single user license. That’s on par with GeoMedia and MapInfo Professional. A concurrent use license is $3,500 – so it basically costs $2,000 to share a license. In the long run however, this may be more economical for many organizations.

Paralleling the new purchase price, upgrade prices are also higher than the typical few hundred dollars. Moving from ArcView 2x or 3x, Windows or Unix, to AV 8.1 (Win only) is $600. ArcView 8.1 is not available on Unix. Extension upgrades for Spatial and 3D Analyst are $600 as well. To ESRI’s credit you can continue to run your 3.x ArcView on the same computer as your 8.1 ArcView.

And while we are on the subject of ArcView, there has been considerable discussion on the Net about the move from Avenue at 2.x/3.x to VBA as the customization language for ArcView 8.1. Many are angry about the change. Many seem shocked. ESRI began gently suggesting the change was coming some years ago. Some users listened; some did not.

One user faction wants ESRI (or someone else) to design a translator to port code from Avenue to VBA. Discussions I’ve had with programmers suggest that while this is theoretically possible, the resultant code would need substantial checking – perhaps equivalent to porting the code by hand.

Although I sympathize with those who have large investments in Avenue, I feel they need to be realistic. Technology changes.

LizardTech put ESRI in the news this week extolling the inclusion of their image compression technology in ArcGIS 8.1. The fine print: an engine to compress images up to 50Mb is included. For larger files, you’ll need to purchase an upgrade.


Ralph Grabowski provided some further details on the upcoming Autodesk design products in his last issue of Upfront.ezine.

Autodesk Map, along with the other vertical products will be released the same day as AutoCAD 2002: June 15, 2001.

Grabowski also reports from his discussion with Senior Product Manager Andy Ramm that 65% of AutoCAD users could use one of Autodesk's vertical applications. Grabowski points out “that 65% figure could be read as bad news for Autodesk. It means that there are many AutoCAD users who either: (1) don't like Autodesk's vertical apps; or (2) don't want to pay more than they already do.” I’ll suggest that the return on investment may simply not be high enough for those who only need a “bit” of mapping or architecture. Users with “small” vertical needs can be quite happy with AutoCAD or even LT, as they had been before the vertical products came out.

One might compare Autodesk’s strategy to Bentley’s. After introducing its vertical products at a premium price, Bentley simply raised the price of MicroStation to include the choice of one of the “engineering configurations” with the purchase of a seat of MicroStation/J. The goal was perhaps to give everyone the opportunity to try out their geoengineering, building and plant engineering, mechanical engineering and other solutions.


-I noted the passing of John Sailor several months ago. A scholarship fund has been established in his name: Wayland H. S. Scholarship Committee, John Karl Sailor Scholarship Fund, PO Box 36, Wayland, MA 01778. Those interested can contact the Board of Directors of NEGITA (New England GITA), with whom John served as an officer.

-Interactive Week noted this week that interest in high powered programming language Visual Basic is actually falling: in this spring's Evans Data biannual North American Developer Survey, Visual Basic slipped from 62 percent in March 2000 to 46 percent in March 2001 among programmers using multiple languages. Some of the challenge is from Microsoft itself – the new .net initiative would have given different meanings to key terms in the language.

Other appealing options for programmers include Sun’s Java, Microsoft's new Java-like C Sharp (C#) and Borland’s Delphi development platform. This is not good news for Intergraph, Autodesk and ESRI who now include VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) in their offerings.

-Fandango is using a type of LBS to allow moviegoers to find theatres and purchase tickets over the phone. The service determines the caller’s location (land or cell) and provides information on local theatres and allows ticket purchases for a 75 cent surcharge.

-Navitime Japan Co., Ltd. and Mitsui & Co., Ltd have introduced yet another file format for putting maps on cell phones. Introduced at BREW 2001, QUALCOMM’s developer conference, the new vector format is called “V format” purports to be up to 10x smaller than PNG or GIF raster formats. Before releasing the viewer the companies hope to integrate it with an internal compass, so the map automatically puts north at the top and rotates as the user turns. They also hope to link it up to QUALCOMM’s gpsOne system.

-Sierra Maps has put together a CD for installation of GRASS on Mac OS X. GRASS has been available for Mac from some time, however the installation has required many settings and collecting various documents from around the Web. The $25 CD and limited tech support is aimed to alleviate the installation pain.

-Merrill Lynch has noted a relationship between annual reports (10K SEC filings) and company performance. 83 percent of companies with the shorter annual reports (those occupying less than 300 KB of file space) outperformed the Lynch index. Autodesk’s, by my measure, was 200KB; MapInfo’s was 394KB.


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