I thought it worth following up on John-Isaac Clark’s article Making Sense Out of Google’s Geospatial Evolution. I’ve met John at past geo-conferences. He is Chief Innovation Officer at Thermopylae Sciences & Technology. Thermopylae have built their product suite on top of Google, so the recent changes announced by Google around their geospatial products could have a direct impact on Thermopylae’s business. In some ways Johns blog post was written to reassure his companies existing clients. Aside from this, there are some interesting points made worth discussing.

Google Impact on Geospatial

The launch of Google Maps in the mid 2000’s sent ripples (tidal waves?) across the geospatial industry. Suddenly interactive maps were easy to access and use. The Google Maps interface was beautifully simple. No head scratching was needed to use their maps. And with slippy tiles the user experience was extraordinary. For those of us developing mapping applications, simply finding good base map data was a huge undertaking. Google changed all of that. Rich base map data-sets suddenly became available. That was a huge change. I agree with John that the Google geospatial releases “enabled geo-literacy to be introduced to non-geographic information system professionals”

Geospatial Competition Heats Up

I’ll not beat around the bush here. John avoids naming Google’s (perceived) main rival. But its esri. So let’s not tip-toe around.

Google shook up existing geospatial companies at that time. None more so than esri. Some of us wondered (worried) how esri would react. As it turned out esri evolved rapidly. Initially to catch up, from there to innovate. John says “A few organizations took aim at Google, building products to perform similar tasks but not in similar ways”. There is some truth here, but more explanation is needed.

Google’s entry into geospatial was generally very good. It spurred others to be innovative. Today we are all reaping the benefits, Google and non-Google customers alike. But, on the down side, the geospatial playing field has become cloudy. Google and esri perceived themselves as competitors. Google tried to become a GIS-like solution provider, while esri started to see consumers as a potential user base.

Wrong and wrong.

John in his blog article says “no product on the market has one-for-one technology comparable to Google’s at present”. And thank goodness. Nobody should or indeed could compete with Google in the consumer space. Google do what they do amazingly well. And so do esri. GIS provides deep geospatial insight. Call that location intelligence, or location analytics.

Google provide a maps mash up: “Simple, easy, and clean”. ArcGIS gives a maps mash up depth. And therein lies the difference.

Google’s Geospatial Evolution

Esri are a GIS company. Google are not. What does that mean in practical terms?

That esri provide advanced geospatial capabilities. Google do “simple, easy, and clean” really really well. That’s easier done with their consumer focused offering. That is not an excuse for the often overly complex applications provided by the GIS industry. The GIS industry can learn from the Google example.

Offline and Disconnected Environments

We agree wholeheartedly with Johns assertion:

“I believe that (there) presently exists an opportunity for the next chapter of offline geospatial to be written over these next two years”

With our offline enabled configurable map viewer, this is one area of particular focus for our company.

The Esri Google Future

I agree with John. There will always be a place for Google in the enterprise. I do not agree with his use of the term GIS in the same sentence with Google.

With the Google announcement, finally Google are not trying to be esri, nor esri Google. Each do what they do really well. In those areas where there is overlap, a decision will need to be made on the best client solution. But the core offerings and focus of each company is finally more clear.

Those who have sold GIS-like solutions on Google technology, and Google-like solutions on esri will be potentially impacted by this announcement. For the rest of us, this is potentially very good news. Not only since it brings clarity to once muddy waters, but means potentially we can mix solutions. Build applications which pull from parts of both esri and Google.

Now that has some mouth watering possibilities.


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