Hello and welcome to Where 2.0, the only conference dealing with the
curious new ecosystem forming at the interstices of mapping portals,
GIS systems, ubiquitous GPS devices, open source, and the Web 2.0. I
need to work on my elevator pitch.
This world didn’t exist when we began planning the conference in
December last year. But two months after we started, Google released
Google Maps (the creator of which is in the audience, and the product
manager for which will be speaking later today). Within weeks,
hackers had reverse engineered the slick Ajax API and built their own
applications on top of Google’s product (those hackers are in the
audience, demoing at the Where Fair tonight, and speaking this
To Google’s credit, their response wasn’t a flurry of legal takedown
notices, a tsunami of cease-and-desists. Amusingly, we have both a
recipient of a rare Google Maps takedown notice *and* the guy who sent
it. Anyway, instead of shooting down the remixers, Google blogged
about how cool it was that people like Google Maps enough to build on
top of it, and Google worked behind the scenes to relicense their data
so that they *could* offer this service.
Of course, Google weren’t the first people to build mapping systems.
The GIS industry has been building and displaying maps for decades, in
the form of companies like ESRI and recently a lot of open source
competition (look for Dave McIlHagga’s talk later today!). The
Internet mapping portals like MapQuest (part of the Open Data panel)
and Yahoo! (participating in the local search panel and speaking
tomorrow) have had their offerings as well. What Google did
differently was to embrace the inadvertent Web 2.0 nature of their
application: they didn’t try to force their platform back into an app,
they let it go to see where it would end up.
Google then added satellite imagery. Later, Microsoft announced MSN
Virtual Earth: maps, satellite imagery, *and* detailed 45-degree
photography of cities called pictometry (the General Manager for
Virtual Earth will speak before lunch). Google added their first
international maps to Google Maps, covering the UK. Yesterday
morning, they released Google Earth and last night they released the
Google Maps API. Internet developers and users love this arms race,
while all the while the traditional map creators look on nervously.
There are two influences: open source GIS tools, and the mapping
platforms being built by the Internet search companies. To help seed
this destabilising change in cartography, I took a van load of open
source GIS hackers and Google Maps hackers to Yahoo! and to Google.
All parties enjoyed the encounter, and one recurring theme was that
what we’re seeing launch today is just the first step. There are a
lot of standards and GIS knowhow yet to be subsumed by the Internet
The mapping operators are nervous because this race will end when most
of the value has gone out of displaying maps. The value will move to
the applications around the maps: the data on top of the map. As
Schuyler Erle says, cartography is becoming a read-write medium and
the value will be the data you put on the map. He who has the most
and best data wins. Value has been the big unanswered question around
the Google Maps development: where’s the money coming from? How can
Google continue to offer this for free, when they pay companies like
Navteq (speaking later today) for the mapping data they use?
The answer is local search (speaking … okay, you get the point).
I’ve been predicting that within six months we’ll see one of the major
portals offering syndicated local search to the people building map
applications around Google/Microsoft/Yahoo!/MapQuest/whoever maps.
Every mapping application has content around a location, and has
people interested in that content and that location. Those two facts
add up to gold for advertisers: looking at French Riviera beaches but
your IP address identifies you as from the US? You need a travel
agent. Looking at London traffic cameras? You might be interested in
ride sharing, public transportation, and inner-city parking. Looking
for housing offered on Craigs List? Perhaps you’d like a building
inspector, realtor to complete the transaction, or an interior
decorator who lives nearby?
These are all big-screen Internet applications, though. The other
side of location is portability: having services wherever *you* are,
rather than learning about services from your desktop at home. The
market here is growing. The first wave of location services built on
mobile phones suffered from the technology they were using: cell tower
triangulation had too great a margin of error to be useful for
turn-by-turn directions, which is the gateway drug for location
But there’s good news on the mobile location front in the US. E-911
mandates will get us GPS chips in phones. Nextel have begun to offer
phones with GPS and navigation apps for those phones. The best news,
though, is that these devices are becoming programmable by anyone.
The camel’s nose is under the tent for hackers wanting to write their
own mobile apps using the GPS locations the phone can provide.
Tomorrow we’ll spend a lot of the time examining portable
applications: social applications like Dodgeball, lessons of LBS
startups like uLocate, the challenges of location-based marketing
through mobile phones (by the founder of Symbian, who has an ingenious
take on it), and a panel the obvious problem of privacy.
The present illuminates the future. We’re here to look forward. We
want to see who’s shaking things up in the maps and mobile location
worlds: what platforms are being built and what apps are being built
on top of them.
Of course, the present is full of small details. I have to interrupt
our navel-gazing with some reminders to clear the lint, if you will.