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2005 June 9


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Editor's Introduction

In this issue of GIS Monitor I report on the upcoming Where 2.0 conference and bring you my usual roundup of industry news from press releases.

— Matteo

Conference on New Location-Based Web Services

The location-enabling of the Web has finally begun to take off and applications which are able to serve the large quantities of data necessary for GIS are now here. We are quickly moving beyond simple maps, beyond turn-by-turn driving directions, even beyond the most recent additions, local searches and satellite imagery. Much more data is becoming available, such as Pictometry�s oblique aerial views, to be released by Microsoft later this year as part of Virtual Earth. Near real-time data, such as traffic and weather, are not far behind. More sophisticated search applications, such as MetaCarta, are vastly expanding the practical and conceptual boundaries of location-based searches.

True, Web-based applications are still far from having the sophistication of full-scale enterprise or desktop GIS and simple, on-line geo tools will not obviate the need for trained GIS specialists � just as professional programmers have not been rendered obsolete by "drag and drop" software writers. However, not every organization who today turns to GIS vendors and consultants needs all of the capabilities of an in-house GIS or of a GIS contractor. As the capabilities of free, Web-based applications increase, so does the share of business needs they meet.

These are just some of the ideas that will be discussed in detail at the upcoming Where 2.0 conference, June 29-30, at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, California. The newest in the series of O�Reilly Conferences, Where 2.0 was conceived in part at a panel on the same issues at last year�s Web 2.0 O�Reilly conference � and was made particularly timely by the escalating competition between Google and Microsoft for dominance over the emerging location-enabled Web.

Conference sponsors include Telcontar, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! Panelists from the last three companies will face off over local search, moderated by John Battelle. Microsoft MapPoint general manager Stephen Lawler will discuss Microsoft's mapping and location strategies, including their new initiative, Virtual Earth. (I asked an account manager at Microsoft�s PR firm whether the software giant is planning to make any major announcements at the conference, but she was predictably tight-lipped.)

Other confirmed speakers include John R. Frank, founder and CTO of MetaCarta; Mary Foltz, director of Location Solutions Product Line Management for Nextel, who will identify obstacles to the mobile development platform; Stephen Randall, co-founder of Symbian and CEO of LocaModa, who will discuss mobile marketing; Paul Rademacher and Greg Sadetsky, who have combined Google Maps with craigslist and with Yahoo! Traffic, respectively; NavTeq's Bob Denaro, who will describe how his company�s drivers gather road and route data; and open source geo tools hacker Tyler Mitchell, who will discuss currently available, free location applications and services. Telcontar�s president and CEO, Kim Fennell, will not be a speaker as announced, but the company will be represented by Marc Prioleau, its vice president of marketing. As of this writing conference organizers were talking with ESRI�s founder and president, Jack Dangermond, about his possible participation.


Conference co-chair Dave Sonnen, owner of Integrated Spatial Solutions, Inc. (ISSI), told me that the conference will be about �the frontiers of location-based technology� and that much of it will deal with operational issues at the enterprise level. It will explore �what�s next beyond academics and research labs, what�s the business model, what things are going to make sense to investment capital, and what is actually going to be implemented.�

�I think that we are going to see location-specific capabilities within enterprise systems and within broadly accessible resources, such as cell phones,� Sonnen told me, and cited as an example the recent deal between Microsoft and Sprint to deliver asset-tracking capabilities. While ESRI, Intergraph, Autodesk, and MapInfo �all have interesting capabilities� it will be interesting to see whether and how these traditional players will make the transition to this new way of thinking about location capabilities, he added.

Who will attend the conference? About half of the attendees, as is typically the case at O�Reilly conferences, will be developers, according to Sonnen. Other attendees will include investors and executives. Will the participation at the conference of several competitors mean that some sparks will fly? �It is always good to get those guys to talk to each other,� Sonnen told me, but location-based services are so new that �it�s hard to tell who are competitors.�

Does he expect any major announcements at the conference? Yes, he expects some product announcements.

Telcontar�s Marc Prioleau told me that Google � which, like Yahoo and unlike Microsoft, is one of his customers � �has raised the bar with usability features. Satellite imagery is just the beginning; you can overlay a bunch of different data onto maps, such as demographics, pedestrian routing, and multi-modal routing.� New types of data � including �volatile� data, such as traffic � is a fertile area for applications, as is local search. One big challenge, according to Prioleau, is to make the little flower shop on the corner come up together with the big chains. Another one is personalization: for example, he pointed out, if you drive home from your office by the same route every day, you would want the system to proactively notify you in case of a traffic jam along that route.

Prioleu sees his company�s role as that of developing location platforms on which others can build. �Three years ago you would have had to build a platform from scratch,� he told me. Now Nextel offers a platform and allows third party application developers to build on it — for example TeleNav�s turn-by-turn directions, Motorola�s VIAMOTO (used in Avis rental cars), and Networks In Motion). Other carriers will take more of a branding approach: they will put their name on these services and sell them directly to the end users.


Nathan Torkington, the conference�s co-chair, and others at O'Reilly Media, realized last year that the time was right for this conference. �We are seeing the mass market movement of maps and location technology,� he told me. �The GIS industry, after developing over a few decades, has matured and is now ready for everybody to use. When Google developed Google Maps it put the technology into everyone�s hands and turned it into an API.�

A lot of open source work has been done, says Torkington, following the OGC�s specifications for location databases; however the data is expensive. The United States is lucky, he pointed out, to have Tiger data that works 90 percent of the time; other countries do not have that kind of data or it is extremely expensive. �In the UK Ordnance Survey charges you through the nose for the data.� When Google built its system it absorbed the cost of the data. It does not make raw data available, but what it provides is �enough to give people the taste� for what can be done with location information and it allows developers to do such things as mapping craigslist housing listings. �When you see how primitive the Google API is compared to a GIS,� Torkington told me, �you realize just how much more can be done with online mapping systems.� Now everyone is trying to figure out how to use these systems to make money. One way is to syndicate local searches, by displaying ads and charging the companies placing the ads each time a user clicks through an ad. Another business model is to let companies get a certain number of hits for free and then charge them substantial amounts if and when they become popular.

�I don�t see GIS disappearing,� Torkington says. Instead, he sees �a huge new market for the experience that GIS has accumulated. Free systems will never be as powerful as GIS, but a lot of people have niches that don�t require GIS. If I were a GIS company I would be a little worried.�

Because location is an integral component of every commercial transaction, says Torkington, we may see that people who provide inventory systems, for example, will also provide location software, rather than referring customers to a third party, and more and more software will come with location capability.

I asked Torkington what criteria he had used to select speakers: they had to have an interesting story to tell and a new take on an old area, he told me. For example, Stephen Randall, a founder of Symbian, who thought of turning television sets in public places into blogs for location information � such as �great parking around the corner!� Torkington also put together a panel with Bret Taylor, product manager for Google maps, and the creators of Google Wallpapers (Python code to stitch together Google Maps tiles into larger pictures). Google asked the latter to take the maps down, without making the standard legal threats (see Torkington�s story �Google Maps Takedown� on the O�Reilly radar site).

John R. Frank who founded MetaCarta in 1999, will be on a panel. He told me that the conference will be mostly about local search, �which is what we do.� We had a long conversation about what MetaCarta does and how it does it. I will report on that in an upcoming issue.

News Briefs

Please note: I have culled the following news items from press releases and have not independently verified them.


The Public Utilities Department (PUD) of the City of Anaheim, California, is currently in production with ArcFM, an application developed by Miner & Miner (M&M;), and with SAGE � FEI (Stand Alone Geodatabase Editor � Field Equipment Inventory), M&M;�s customized web-based application. The PUD, a municipal utility serving approximately 105,000 electric customers in a 50 square mile service area in southern California, selected ArcFM and ArcGIS for a facilities management system. As part of the solution, it also requested a single source of information for its capital plant and equipment data in order to feed their work management system (WMS). To fulfill this requirement, M&M; built SAGE � FEI, which leverages the openness of the ESRI technology by using multi-versioned views for remotely viewing and editing equipment-specific tabular data that reside in the ArcSDE geodatabase.
     Prior to SAGE-FEI, the PUD keyed the same information into two disconnected databases. Now, utility operations personnel can use a series of web pages to enter equipment information directly into the GIS. The SAGE-FEI web application also uses GIS-connected network data to provide connection details such as circuit number and substation information to people throughout the PUD.
     The City�s Utility Service Center uses the system to input new equipment records and keep track of equipment location from the time of purchase until disposal. The Environmental Inspection department enters information on PCB testing to monitor the PCB content of its devices and generate standard reports from the database as required by the State of California. All city employees may access SAGE-FEI.

NAC Geographic Products Inc., based in Toronto, Canada, has released its wireless location-based services application, Locamagic, to Telus Mobility of Canada. This application is designed for all GPS-enabled cell phones to provide address management, locating, navigating, local business searching, cell phone tracking, and friends� location monitoring services for more than 30 countries in North America, Europe, South America, and the Asia-Pacific region. The geographic data are provided by Microsoft MapPoint Web Service.
     Using a cell phone�s GPS receiver, for every spot on Earth�s surface Locamagic provides the Universal Address, which represents a location using eight characters for a resolution of 30 meters and ten characters for a resolution of 1 meter � instead of the 15 and 19 characters, respectively, required by longitude/latitude coordinates. While GPS technology makes accurate locations available everywhere, the Universal Address makes them consumer-friendly: easy to remember, communicate, record, input, and display.
     With Locamagic, consumers can use the Universal Addresses to represent fixed locations in their daily activities (e.g. buildings, doors, stores, restaurants, gas stations, bus stops, fire hydrants) as well as temporary locations (e.g. accidents, crimes, parking spots, dates).
     Locamagic allows users to convert between Universal Addresses and street addresses, street intersections, post and ZIP codes, cities/towns, points of interest, and lat/long coordinates. When entering locations, Universal Addresses can reduce key input by 80 percent, avoiding difficulties with foreign characters, eliminating errors from address databases, and extending the services to locations lacking street addresses.
     With the user�s permission, Locamagic�s tracking service can display the user�s current and past locations in real time on an interactive map on a web browser. Locamagic�s friends� monitoring service allows users to monitor multiple moving objects using either a cell phone or a web browser.

ESRI is teaming up with other corporate sponsors to design and implement a GIS to provide a faster, more reliable response to victims of domestic violence. Advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) receive more than 500 incoming phone calls a day from victims and their families, and the hotline needs donations to ensure they can answer each and every call and quickly provide connections to help. The NDVH, based in Austin, Texas, answers 16,000 calls a month, a volume its basic equipment can barely manage. Last year, more than 30,000 calls went unanswered when callers were either put on hold too long or got a busy signal.
     The agency needs $900,000 in donations to help answer every call and update antiquated telecommunications, computer, and database systems. The funds complement pledged contributions from corporate sponsors that include ESRI, Tele Atlas, IBM, Microsoft, and others. The latter three are members of the ESRI Corporate Alliance group. All are cooperating in a public/private sector Connections Campaign Corporate Partner Consortium that teams telecommunications and technology companies with the federal government to generate a plan for solving the hotline�s technical problems. The consortium is the result of a bill sponsored in 2004 by U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden (D-DE), who is also an original sponsor of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that led to creation of the NDVH. Consortium members have donated services, hardware, and software to support the plan.
     ESRI ArcGIS software will provide the platform to support the variety of geographic datasets used to connect callers with assistance providers. ArcView coupled with ArcGIS Spatial Analyst will also be used to determine trends and/or patterns from historical calls. Such analysis will help the NDVH address agencywide needs as they grow and change over time. A Web-enabled portion will run on either ArcIMS or through ESRI ArcWeb Services. Along with the $500,000 in software, services, and support that ESRI is providing, Tele Atlas is contributing digital map products. The overall application is slated for completion in October 2005.
     The technical team for the NDVH call center application is designing an integrated on-screen system that automatically identifies the general geographic area of the incoming phone number, allows search and selection of appropriate services from the database of providers and shelters, and can map the street locations of the selections. The system will maintain caller anonymity.


DigitalGlobe, a provider of commercial satellite imagery and geospatial information products, and DMTI Spatial Inc., a Canadian provider of geospatial products and services, have released Satellite StreetView, which combines digital mapping data with satellite imagery.
     The product combines 60-centimeter resolution QuickBird orthoimagery of urban areas with vector map layers, resulting in a real-world depiction of Canadian ground features. The integration of CanMap Streetfiles provides users with street centerline data and address lookup functionality, integrated with the imagery. Satellite StreetView is currently available for Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City, and Calgary. Montreal, Vancouver, Hamilton-Niagara, Halifax, Regina, Saskatoon, Windsor, Fredericton, and Saint John will be released over the next few months. The imagery is updated annually and the mapping data is updated quarterly.

MapInfo Corporation, a provider of location intelligence solutions, has released version 8.0 of MapInfo Professional, which helps companies to visualize the relationships between data and geography and optimize relationships between the location of their assets, customers, and competitors.
     The release includes faster editing tools, new data creation and analytical capabilities, enhanced data access and work area enhancements, new multiple user support through silent and unattended installs, additional demographics, and free data such as U.S. urban areas and wilderness boundaries. It also provides increased support for industry standards, including the Open GeoSpatial Consortium (OGC) for Web Feature Service (WFS) and Enhanced Web Mapping Service (WMS). Users can incorporate data from external sources and view them on a single map. New support of advanced Oracle capabilities, such as Oracle Database 10g Workspace Manager, allows joint MapInfo Professional and Oracle customers to work with server side versioned data.

Leica Geosystems� new Construction Machine Automation group (a business unit of the company�s Surveying & Engineering division) has launched LMGS-S v4 and LMGS-P v4, new versions of its 3D machine control system for concrete pavers and fine-grade trimmers and for asphalt pavers and asphalt milling machines, respectively. The LMGS-S interfaces directly to the most popular concrete paving and fine-grade trimming machines and automates steer and height control; it is ready for use on all GOMACO machines and selected WIRTGEN concrete pavers. The LMGS-P is compatible with virtually all asphalt paver brands on the market, plus Wirtgen, Dynapac, Marini, Bitelli, and RoadTec milling machines. It fully automates the steer and cross-slope control of the screed. Both devices include a ruggedized machine computer, with touchscreen display and USB data transfer.


GeoDecisions, a provider of geospatial solutions, has added a new regional office in Newark, Delaware. For the past three years, the company has provided on-site GIS support at the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) in Dover, Delaware. Most recently, it developed the agency�s Information Network For Online Resource Mapping (INFORM) enterprise GIS. Headquartered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, GeoDecisions has 17 locations throughout the United States. The Delaware office is the fifth one it has opened this year.

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