Flash is not dead yet, just ask these guys…

There has been much in the blogosphere, tech and even mainstream press written about the relative merits of Flash and it’s use compared to the up and coming shinny new standard of HTML 5. While nobody other than possibly Adobe denies that HTML will be core to much of the future web, today there are some very pragmatic reasons while flash is still widely used.

That said flash has never been very popular from a web mapping point of view, every since the original Google Maps back in 2005 web mapping has developed by exploiting the cutting edge features of html and javascript.

However from a rich user experience point of view there is much that flash still has to offer..

Last week I spent some time with the people behind findmaps.co.uk, a B2B operation in London who have developed a rich mapping/GIS  SaaS  (“software as a service”) application using flash. The service is a very slick interface to OS mapping in the UK, and offers basic GIS functionality without any of the GIS baggage found in other web based GIS tools.

So Findmaps sits somewhere between arcgisonline and Google/Bing maps, and clearly meets a real market requirement. In particular a key point of pain that is largely successfully hidden from professional users is the almost comically complex OS licensing that has been reduced to a running shopping basket total which is updated each time you view a map.

Yes you read that right for large scale OS data you do pay each time you view the map on screen !

In many ways findmaps may represent what GIS ultimately becomes, the complex GIS we know today will become even more focused on the needs of those relatively few organisations that create data, the professional users in real estate, Land and environmental management who currently use desktop GIS will migrate to SaaS applications like this and everyone else will use web mapping tools.

Written and submitted from the Boulder Marriott (40.016N, 105.260W)

What Map Maker is /is not

Last week Google introduced Map Maker a set of online map making tools to very positive… but not universal acclaim.

I can understand where SteveC is coming from, but I think it’s important to clarify a few points.

Map Maker is clearly not an open source project, and as such is not in competition with openstreetmap and does not I believe represent a forking opportunity for the creation of open geodata. If you wish to help build an open geodata based global map then openstreetmap is the project for you.

What Map Maker represents is the public exposure of the tool Google has been using internally for a while to “fill in the gaps” of our global mapping coverage, specifically mapping areas not currently covered by the commercial map data providers. We are now asking the users of Google Maps to help us by providing mapping data using the same tool. The data submitted is licensed by contributors to Google to eventually become part of Google Maps/Earth following moderation by Google.

This is a key difference in approach to openstreetmap, most end users of Google Maps/Earth etc. and most developers using their api’s don’t want or need access to the raw data, for them such information is most usefully made available as pre-rendered tiles.

Although not currently an open source project, it does produce data that is free to users, the information contributed by the community becomes freely available to them via Google Maps and the Maps and Earth API’s

At the moment, I believe this is the best way to rapidly expand the availability of mapping and to provide access to detailed online maps to communities which up until now have just not had access to something most of use take for granted.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

State of the Map looking good

State of the Map

I’m afraid I won’t be able to attend this years State of the Map Conference, but the schedule looks fantastic and I’m sure Limerick as a location will provide great craic. If you have not already registered, this is a conference I would really recommend attending, without question crowd sourced geodata will be an important part of the Geospatial Industry of the future, and this is the event to hear from the pioneers.

Written and submitted from the Google Office, London.

Feeding developers

Lunch MenuThe principle success criteria for a good developer conference, great food !

Ok there is more…

A commitment to open up interfaces to allow the developer community to really exploit the functionality that you develop, and an opportunity to share experiences and communicate with your peers are also really important.

Written and submitted from the Hotel Adagio, San Francisco, using its free wired broadband network.
Talking to the developers who attended this weeks Google I/O conference in San Francisco, the opportunity to sit and chat to the Google engineers who develop the API’s they use was really appreciated, and something Google is slowly getting better at.

Developing a successful geoweb API is an incremental process, a product of the natural tension between adding new functionality and data and making that functionality available to developers, in that context it should become clear that the big announcement of the Google Earth plug-in, is more about adding a API to earth, than bringing 3D functionality to the browser.

I can’t wait to see what the hugely active developer community makes of the Earth plug-in, no doubt we will see 3D with everything over the next few months as perhaps the functionality is used is places where on balance it’s not really appropriate but cool.

In time however truly innovative new applications will appear, and it’s really fitting that Paul Rademacher the guy behind the first map mash-up got to introduce it to the developer community.

On and another thing…

flight of the conchords

Entertainment – flight of the conchords better than Steve Ballmer any-day 🙂

GSDI 10 – Despite best intentions, slow progress but a new outlook ?

For the last 15 years the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI) have been working hard to co-ordinate national and local governments, NGO’s, international institutions and other organisations to develop local, national, regional and then hopefully one day a global GIS database along with the polices to access it. Last week I attended and made a presentation to the GSDI’s 10th Conference in Trinidad.

GSDI 10 Conference

With our planet finally becoming recognised as a life giving infrastructure itself to mankind, such attempts to develop better management tools cannot really be argued against, however despite the best intentions of all those involved success so far has been limited.

Although I presented on the potential of Geoweb search as new technological development that is relevant to the creation of SDI’s, almost everybody agrees the technical challenges remain the most solvable, it is the organisational issues which restrict the sharing of geodata, and the complexity and therefore cost of developing national and regional SDI’s which are limiting progress.

Perhaps part of the issue is that SDI’s often appear to be “Grand Designs”, the results of many years planning to produce truly comprehensive infrastructures ready to support any potential national or international need, perhaps a better model would be to take a more evolutionary approach developing systems built around the existing open standards (the OGC’s role has very important here) to solve particular domain or thematic problems, which could be consolidated to form an SDI at a later date. For example you could imagine an international systems designed to monitor sea level change as a result of Global Warming.

Although it would be fair to argue that this is the preferred route to developing SDI’s there are few practical examples in operation today.

The Grand Design approach does introduce an additional issue which is technology related, many of the current SDI projects are planned to deliver over decades, with technological developments continuing to move rapidly, it is difficult to plan to implement using a technology which will be obsolete years before the infrastructure goes live.., as it is today the best available standards as drafted by OGC are moving from basic http interfaces to the more web services friendly SOAP based interfaces, while the leading edge is looking to REST based interfaces.

For technical architects this is an almost impossible design choice.

So we need to move away from the “Grand Design” approach and build SDI’s organically and simply, perhaps making use of the new Global infrastructures that companies like Google and Microsoft have made available to bootstrap the technology, and deliver faster benefits and to make the case for more in depth infrastructures at a later date.

After all have not all GSM networks grown out to provide national coverage from initially covering the urban centres where the need was greatest ?

The delegates I spoke to at the conference remain committed to the importance of the task, and I think are open to taking different approaches, I was very impressed to see Chris and Justin from the Open Planning Project run an afternoon workshop on GeoServer which provided an interesting contrast to the ESRI workshop held in the morning, ESRI incidentally have done a great job supporting the GSDI Association since its early days.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.