GIS Monitor July 12, 2001
-ESRI User Conference Opening Session Report
-What’s the Big Deal About Geography Network?
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ESRI USER CONFERENCE OPENING SESSION REPORT
The 21st Annual ESRI International User Conference took place this past
week, July 9 to 13, in San Diego, California. Attendees numbered about
11,000 and came from 110 countries. I was able to attend virtually, via
webcast, courtesy of ESRI-Boston.
ESRI continues to grow, boasting 20% growth and 15% more staff this year.
User organizations now number more than 100,000 with about 1 million seats
in use. ESRI has about 1,300 partners involved in hardware, software, data
But Jack Dangermond, President and founder of ESRI, didn’t dwell on the
company, choosing instead to focus on the users. Jack moved on to
highlight the work of users with a series of images of maps and
applications. One that stood out for me was an implementation of ArcIMS
from Lonely Planet, the Australian guidebook company.
Theme: Geography … Creating Communities
The theme of the conference was “Geography creating communities.” Jack
defined a community by noting that it revolves around something that we
share in common - interests, values, and beliefs - with a purpose or goal.
A community is defined by communication: interpersonal, phone or Internet.
Geography and GIS create information communities of many sorts - those in
the same geography, those with similar interests like forestry, and those
interested in solving the same types of problems, like delivering data
over the Internet. The trick, he points out, is gathering those
individuals into active groups and actually getting them all to work
together. Jack believes that since GIS people have done much of this work
in the past, there will continue to be a need for them. Finally, Jack
described the earth as an organism, which will hopefully be diagnosed like
a patient so it can be healthy. Part of getting to that point, he argues,
is a move toward standardized data models for different communities:
cadastral, soil, land use, etc. (This reminded me very much of Open GIS
information community initiative.)
Jack started his conversation about the state of technology with a
statement from IBM: the coming years will bring 1 billion pervasive
wireless, web-aware devices to the world. He also noted that the fights
and hype over the role of servers, the desktop and mobile devices will be
"calmed down" by introducing standards, likely web standards (.Net, Java,
The big topic here was services. GIS is moving to a role as a problem
solver rather than a technology tool. ESRI's big experiment in that arena
is Geography Network (GN). GN currently hosts 2,000 services, mostly
data-related, from 300 organizations, many of them governmental. ESRI will
be adding e-commerce tools so those who wish to sell data via GN may do so
in the future.
G.net, an overarching vision, is the first implementation of the geography
services of loosely coupled systems. In other words, the new vision is one
in which GN will be a gateway to many "little" GNs developed by local
authorities. There were several comments about how ArcIMS could be
appropriately scaled for these local GNs. Some of ESRI's new additions to
ArcIMS, in particular, the metadata server, will make this possible. As I
have noted before, the lack of metadata and metadata search tools has been
one of GN's limitations.
This vision has three key players: GIS users who consume data and
services, GIS service providers who publish data and services and metadata
clearinghouses which allow discovery of data and services.
ArcGIS 8.1 is shipping and is being picked up fast. A hesitant few had
grappled with ArcInfo 8.0x but that was a bit shaky.
One new product was announced: ArcReader - a lighter ArcView that compares
to the Adobe Acrobat reader. ArcReader can pan zoom, identify, print, plot
and looks like it has the same user interface as ArcMap. From what I've
deciphered, an extension to ArcView allows the creation of .mxp files, a
specialized version of .mxd files, the new version of ArcView's .apr file.
These are readable by ArcReader, but are merely pointers to data on a CD,
or the Internet. This way data can be updated regularly (with a CD) or
live (with the Internet). ArcReader can read all the files that ArcView
can and will be free. Unlike ArcExplorer, which can read files (shp, DGN,
coverages, etc.) directly, I believe that ArcReader requires an .mxp file,
which can be created by the Publisher extension to ArcGIS. This product
looks to be the modern version of ArcView Data Publisher, an extension for
ArcView 2.1 that locked ArcView to a single project for distribution on
Several new extensions for ArcGIS (the new family name for ArcView,
ArcEditor and ArcInfo) are on the way. Survey Analyst (cogo and survey
measurement storage), Image Analysis (from ERDAS for imagery) and
Publisher, the creation tool for data to be read in ArcReader are on the
ESRI is spending a good deal of energy on servers. Currently the two of
note are ArcSDE for data and ArcIMS to serve that and other data via the
Internet. The latest ArcIMS release, 3.1, focused on quality, performance,
better docs, added security, templates, and internationalization. Several
new services are coming: routing, metadata (to server metadata from
ArcCatalog), ArcMap server (for cartography). ArcIMS is out for Windows,
and several flavors of Unix (Solaris and AIX) and several are in the
works, notably HP-UX, SGI and Linux. Yes, that's right, LINUX.
Looking forward to ArcGIS 8.2, several "old" features are being brought
back. First off, ArcGIS 8.2 will include a geoprocessing framework for
raster, vector, network and terrain data in geodatabases. Said another
way, geodatabases will soon have topology and will be able to be built and
cleaned just like coverages.
Two other old features returning: the command line along with support for
a scripting language. The existing dialog boxes will include more options.
Modeling diagrams, now used only in Spatial Analyst will be available for
all geoprocessing tasks. This is a way to visually lay out the plan of
attack to solve a problem. Enhancements in cartography will include
automated map series production, raster display, exploratory spatial data
analysis, GPS layers. Parts of the Mapplex labeling engine will be
available for ArcGIS as an extension. On the editing front, ArcEditor will
be completed and will gain interactive topology checking and possibly
conflation. There will be enhancements to the geodatabase including
support for topology, relationship networks (non spatial connections, such
as the relationship between cities linked by airline routes), linear
referencing (dynamic segmentation), support for TINS, and a tool to manage
history. The demonstration of walking through time and seeing changes in
land ownership brought cheers.
David Maguire, Director of Product Planning, hosted the second session. He
introduced ESRI's software plans and vision. He highlighted the move to a
scalable family of products, which reduces the need for training and
allows users to do work without worrying as much about technology. He also
noted ESRI's support for a variety of standards including IT, Web Services
standards (Java, .net, XML) and GIS standards (OGC).
After a review of the features in 8.1, the first demo of the day -- and
most subsequent ones -- were done not by ESRI staff, but by users.
Representatives of the city of Aylesbury, UK showed some 8.1 planning
demos. ESRI's John Calkins showed raster tasks with Spatial Analyst and
Geostatistical Analyst. He used the modeling tool that will be available
across ArcGIS in coming releases. Clayton Crawford showed off a 3D Analyst
fly through. Some parts were underground and others above ground showing
San Diego. The finale of the demo, showed the sun setting on the
convention center using the light alteration tools; it was a real crowd
pleaser. Bernie Szukalski showed off ArcIMS and ArcPad. The new routing
extension for ArcIMS will include US nationwide data, with future release
supporting Canada, North America and Europe.
Bernie introduced the upcoming ArcPad 6, which will include
internationalization, customization, query, and edit tools. The
demonstration was from Hong Kong Dept of Civil Engineering. In addition to
viewing data on a hand held PC (iPAQ), the two users showed an application
supported by ArcIMS running on a WAP phone and a subscription based ArcIMS
vehicle tracking application.
Soren Anderson, from Denmark, presented an application based in that
country for an insurance company. The interesting thing was that the data
was all hosted outside the company! The ArcIMS-based app used several
country-wide data servers.
The final demo of the morning explained the streamlined process of
published metadata using the upcoming metadata publishing extension of
1. make metadata in ArcCatalog
2. get to server hosting the metadata, a secure server
3. drag and drop the metadata file from ArcCatalog onto the server, there
it's put into a geodatabase, and indexed
4. preview it
5. now anyone can now search this service from ArcCatalog
6. after performing a query, with found records, searchers can preview the
results (see footprints of all) or examine individual records
This slick process makes it easy for a small organization to build their
own local "Geography Network" and that's exactly what ESRI wants to see.
If these metadata servers can be linked via the main Geography Network, or
a similar type of portal, much of the vision of a searchable worldwide
database will be possible. I'll note that to make this fully interoperable
with other vendor solutions, ESRI will need to support Open GIS
interfaces, something they've supported in the past.
After lunch Jack worked with Hugh Keegan and his team from the prototype
lab to show off what was possible with the Geography Network. They pulled
real time weather (from WSI) and combined it with real time stream
monitoring data for Pennsylvania from USGS. The general sense was that the
possibilities are endless so long as data developers choose to share.
Clint Brown then had members of the development team show off some of the
research work in progress, including coincident editing, topology building
in geodatabases, and tracking of history over a several year period in one
ESRI has always done a few things right at their conference. The stars
were the users and it was good to see them on stage. There was a
respectfulness that not everyone was on the ArcGIS 8.1 platform and ESRI
staff members were careful to explain new terms (.mxd file) with reference
to older familiar terms (.apr). Finally, I'll make the statement that
ArcGIS 8.1 has arrived. It works, it's real and ESRI is already growing it
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT GEOGRAPHY NETWORK?
For the past few years ESRI has been touting their experimental Geography
Network as a place to share data across the Web. You can use it with free
ArcExplorer and access data through the Internet using desktop products
like ArcMap (available in all members of the ArcGIS family). During the
21st ESRI International User Conference, no less than three partners have
signed on to support it with their data and services: Syncline, Tele Atlas
and DMTI Spatial. Trimble announced support for it several weeks ago on
the client side.
Why is ESRI spending its resources this way? Should users of other GIS
products be concerned? ESRI has for some time done what it wants -- or
more precisely -- what founder Jack Dangermond wants. Without a board of
directors or shareholders, Jack and his colleagues call the shots. And,
Geography Network, like ArcExplorer before it, was something important
enough to take on.
When ArcExplorer came out, ESRI set the bar for all GIS companies. Every
company had to provide a free viewer for their own format – and perhaps
other GIS formats. The list of free viewers is quite long and has changed
how we use and share GIS data. Image viewers for the new formats (MrSID
and ECW) are available standalone and as plug-ins for CAD, GIS and
ESRI is now setting the bar higher yet. Now companies have to find a way
for their users to share data -- or be left behind. ESRI does, of course,
have a leg up with so many users in key government mapping organizations
worldwide. Jack pointed out in his opening remarks that most providers on
Geography Network are public agencies. Many of these have a mandate to
provide data and ESRI has developed a rather simple way to get the data
out to the world.
And, as ArcIMS, the technological foundation of ArcIMS grows into a more
mature server -- soon to include publishing metadata -- Geography Network
can only get more useful. With metadata searches available, finding the
right data is no longer hit or miss.
So, how does this affect the NON-ESRI community? ESRI has worked to make
Geography Network conformant to the Open GIS Consortium’s Web Map Server
(WMS) Interface. This means that any WMS client can access the data, even
one from a competing vendor. But how many MapInfo, Smallworld or Autodesk
users are willing to have ESRI host their data?
There are two things that are very hopeful for the Geography Network and
the entire GIS community. First, ESRI and many GIS organizations have to
be practical. One very sharp colleague put it to me this way: if you want
it now, choose proprietary systems, if you want long-term
interoperability, choose standards and interoperability specifications.
ESRI chose the former and got it done. I’m optimistic that ESRI users and
others will encourage ESRI to adopt standards and interfaces as they
become available. The other hopeful side of Geography Network is simple:
People use it and it works! As a privately funded experiment it did quite
a lot to dispel fears of those working on spatial data infrastructure
projects because it is a real life implementation of a true data-sharing
tool. Think of it also as a worldwide, ESRI-focused, pilot project.
POINTS OF INTEREST
-Geographers are interested in patterns and their causes. Typically, we
work at the scale of towns, counties, states, countries. A few of us work
on a larger scale, tackling such things as traffic flow in shopping malls.
ShopperTrak of Illinois offers an automated sensing device to track where
shoppers go and ultimately what they buy. I went through grad school
listening to my advisor talk about following Lolits (little old ladies in
tennis shoes) around malls to determine traffic patterns. Roger, they’ve
solved it, so you can rest easy.
-Webvan, a grocery delivery service, filed for bankruptcy this week. The
high overhead of storing and delivering the groceries, with few takers ate
all their capital. Geography can make delivery expensive!
-Amazon ended its free shipping on multiple purchases. Amazon noted that
it was an experiment and they learned a lot. Again, you can’t ignore
-It’s very nice to see so many small GIS organizations recognized at the
ESRI conference. To their credit, they use the opportunity to highlight
GIS in their communities, as Ames, Iowa did in its local paper.
-The general consensus is that WAP is fairly slow and hard to use, so how
are we to order merchandise from our cell phones and communicate with Web
services? Enter Roamable. Their solution turns Web-based e-communication
into – that’s right – e-mail. A business can provide any online content in
the good old fashion form supported by RIM pagers, Palm Pilots and some
phones. How does it work? You start the conversation saying something like
“I want headlines.” Your return e-mail lists them with numbers. You reply
with the numbers of the ones you want further detail. I used the demo
asking for movies in my area by putting my zip code into the subject of an
e-mail. It returned a rather large HTML page that was fine on my desktop,
but might be a bit much for my Palm Pilot. I guess you could do this with
maps, too. Still, this doesn’t sound too much better than WAP phones!
-Bad news for Bluetooth. Psion, known for its hand held computers and
PDAs, is restructuring to focus on wireless business networking and
dropping plans for Bluetooth enabled devices and connectivity tools.
Bill Thoen responds to a statement I made last week:
“In your latest GIS Monitor, you imply in the "VINDIGO AND MAPINFO FIGHT
ECONOMIC DOWNTURN" piece that DeciBel Planner is a MapInfo product. It's
actually produced by Northwood Geotech, in Nepean, ONT. They were recently
bought out by Marconi.”
Bill is quite correct. It’s interesting to note that the press release on
that product was from MapInfo and Northwood, with no mention of Marconi.
Marconi had its own financial troubles last week with a warning on
earnings, dismissal of 4,000 employees, the walkout of their CEO designate
and a lawsuit.
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