What the GI Industry can learn from Web 2.0

Last week I was asked to make a presentation to the Ordnance Survey Partner Conference, and I took as my topic the innovation that is taking place under the banner of “Web 2.0”

My first surprise was how few of the attendees had heard the term “web 2.0” before, I wonder if this is representative of the inward nature of the industry in general or of the UK in particular ?

Anyway I covered in my presentation the seven elements as identified by Tim O’Reilly as central to the web 2.0 approach, and focused in on the areas I thought of special interest to the GI industry.

So hear with due respect to Tim are the key elements I believe are relevant to the GI Industry;

Simple services

Today’s consumers of geographical information both “amateur” and “professional” require much simpler task orientated applications preferably delivered across the web to browser or thin client applications. Only very few specialist “high end” users, and I would include the OS in this group, need traditional tool kit based GIS software.

Data included

As a one time system vendor I can well remember the days of manning a booth at an industry show showing fantastic GIS software, when a member of the buying public came along and asked to see a map of their house/office etc. Of course I would have to say that we did not have that data loaded on the demo, and that they would have to find a third party willing to provide them with data at additional cost, once they had bought our software – funny enough many did not come back !! If the GYM club has only taught us one thing it is that data must be included, and its quality will increasing be a deal making factor. – As O’Reilly puts it, Data is the Intel Inside.

Exploit the “people inside” the application

Although Google, eBay, and Flickr etc. are technically interesting applications and represent new approaches to on-line business what is really interesting is that much of their value comes from the content of their users. In fact Google has no content on its own, it’s value comes from exploiting the linkages other people make between websites. From a GI perspective it is easy to recognise the value that users of Geographical Information can put “back into the machine”, both in terms of providing quality assurance and most excitingly as a source for the “sense of place” data the traditional GI industry is so poor at.

Innovation from the edge

Lastly don’t look to the traditional GIS industry for innovation, or mainstream IT for that matter… watch the geeks !!

Written and submitted from the BMI Lounge at Heathrow Airport, using the BT Openzone wifi network, on the way to Survey Ireland 2006.

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