Technology Thoughts

If you go down to the tube today…

You had better not take your laptop…

Like many of my fellow tech workers in London, I carry my powerbook plus other kit in a rucksack and following the events of 7/7 have joked about how we must appear to others.

This is no longer a joking matter however and the extent to which the “security services’ are using the terrible events of July to restrict personal liberty was reported in todays Guardian (pdf). David Mery had a night out from hell after making the mistake of carrying a laptop on the tube in his rucksack and owning the type of equipment we all take for granted at home, you know scary stuff like usb hubs, gps receivers and maps !

We all want to be kept safe, but not to the extent that we all become suspects of CCTV checklists, you defeat terrorists using intelligence and politically removing their motivation – not alienating the general population.

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

9 replies on “If you go down to the tube today…”

I agree, Ed. I think the value that Google had brought is it has given enough tools to enough tinkerers to make people think a little more spatially. Google Maps is a toy, a very powerful toy, but still a toy. What’s interesting is seeing how far the toy can be extended.

I’ve seen some pretty impressive stuff. And the most impressive thing is that people didn’t have to configure ArcIMS or Mapserver to do it. That ease of use is extremely important. Other web based GIS apps are a royal pain to use. This does a lot of work for you.

Minor accuracy problems are of minimal importance to these people who are rapidly innovating and pushing not the envelope of technology but the envelope of public expectation.

I blogged about this (sort of) here:

I think you’re dead on Ed. This is a for sure a hype and also easy to explain. For the first time can everyone! make their own GIS apps. promoted by one of the strong promoters out there. Google’s businessmodell here is straight forward with ad. plug ins that could be the beginning of yet another Google success story. With Microsoft and Yahoo tracking a little behind will this in the end benefit the professional GIS community as they will receive more attention than they ever had. With this attention they can show a larger market what they can do with pro solutions and no ads.

Also, maybe the best part is that this is fueling the creating force out there. This will result in many new ways of using GIS.

Cheers, Gjermund


The public and technical awareness achieved byGoogle overshadows the general excitement generated by the GIS industry over the past 15-20 years. The recent O’Reilly books on mapping shows how individuals can access complicated technology by relatively simple means to put their personal data on a map backdrop without knowing all the technical cartographic details.

For example, small retail businesses could plot the location of their customers to gain an understanding of their distribution in relation to their business location. This will lead to more questions and likely stimulate the desire to do more things with maps. It is at this point that the level of awareness will probably generate the demand for more mapping tools that are easy to use.

When the technical and educated hobbyists generate some interesting results the compelling nature of maps will generate further interest by individuals and small businesses that have been too small to take advantage of the technology. It is also possible that teenagers will pick up on mapping technology as they did on computer games a generation ago.

Then, look out!


I agree with Ed. Some of it is hype simply thanks to Google’s big name, I come to realise however that the APIs are not hype but very real, and all that talk by GI professionals to fault Google & Co strikes me as either fear-laden turf protection or misplaced perfectionism. To me, to ask for GIS analysis functions in Google Earth is like asking a car dealer to make a Golf fly.
Just the week after Google Earth came out, I went to my kids’ British school in the Hague to read them a story in class in native Luxembourgian. Obviously most 5-year olds don’t know where Luxembourg is, so I took along 3D GIS to show them, and to let them compare the sizes of the respective countries and continents.
The point is, I had both ArcGlobe and Google Earth on a standalone laptop to run the show. The kids of course didn’t care about the tools, they just cared about what they saw and learned. I used Google Earth for flying round the globe and ArcGlobe for showing custom data, e.g. georeferenced cartoon characters. Basically i used both apps to maximum advantage. I only spent 1 evening preparing for the event with both apps. Had I tried, in pursuit of elegant integration, to turn one app into the other, I suspect it would have taken me weeks, especially since I’m not so hands-on anymore. Perfectionists of course would balk at the lack of integration but the look on the kids faces was worth the weight of my laptop in gold! So – Mission completed.
When Google Earth came out I was wondering how long it would take our creative geologists in Shell to discover it and start using it for their project work alongside the professional enterprise GIS environment we provide them with. The answer turned out to be 2.5 days. After which they asked, why can’t our desktop GIS look like that? Now multiply that by over 1000 users alone in this company, and no-one is going to tell me that this has no impact on the professional GIS market.
Google Earth is helping to make GI a commodity just like oil – prices will no longer be driven by production costs, but purely by market sentiment and expectation. When emotions produce 60+ dollar-a-barrel prices then oil companies will make a killing. Google Earth & Co will probably force GIS and data vendors to revise their cost models downwards, and that is no bad thing. Maybe it will help kill off some of the perfectionism that prevents the GI community from being more outward looking. Ultimately, in a corporate organisation, less is more – a few geocodes, lat/longs or X/Y in business systems achieve more than a small group of GIS gurus holed up in their office to create super stand-alone applications. You still need the gurus, but their power is leveraged much more if they can help spatially enable non-spatial systems, rather than improve the already spatial ones.

Shell global GIS coordinator (views expressed here are entirely personal and not necessarily those of Shell)

Great points, Ed. Personally, I never would have developed my Web map applications (including if Google Maps hadn’t existed. I don’t want to have to deal with installing a bulky map server just to display a map. Google really understands developers’ needs, in this regard.

Some evidence that Google Earth has an impact on the traditional industry–this job ad came through the GITA mailing list yesterday:

“Client: Fortune 100 Financial Services Firm
Position Summary: Position will require geocoding a large number of facilities, mapping it to Google Earth and creating various overlays using Google Earth. Data must then be posted to Google Earth so that it can be shared with individuals outside of the firm.
The client has minimal experience with geocoding and Google Earth; therefore the individual must be fully able to complete the geocoding on his or her own with little supervision.”

This looks like if a larger company has just discovered the potential of GI.


Excellent point, ed, and also Theirry. I think that there is a growing fear in the GIS community that these easy geo-tools are making people jobs less valuable. And I think it is a valid concern. As the tools mature (google maps, earth and slick GIS products from ESRI and others) and data becomes more available and useable (thanks to standards and data providers) it’s inevitable for geo-awareness to spread quickly beyond the GIS-niche. As a long time GIS’er I’m a strong advocate of removing my blinder and start to really see how geography fits in with technology of the 21st centurty. Go-goooogle!

Add a comment?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.