Embedding geospatial technology into mainstream

Embedding geospatial technology into mainstream


Ed Parsons
Ed Parsons
Chief Technology Officer
Ordnance Survey, Southampton,
[email protected]

Over the past 12 months we have seen considerable innovation in the use of geographic information coming from outside the established GIS industry as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo (GMY) continue to develop their map-enabled search tools at such an amazing pace. The combination of these major IT players is bringing a whole different perspective to the industry as GMY, embed geospatial tools into their applications, the recent addition of a “map this” button in GMail is a prime example of this trend.

Have you ever used Google Mail?, have you used it recently? In many ways there is nothing new with a webmail, application there are tens of millions of users of such systems worldwide, but GMail is different in that it is one of the first applications to be developed using what has been termed Web 2.0 technologies.

Web 2.0 is the overused term of the moment for systems developed using modern web based development tools with open programming interfaces. Web 2.0 also describes systems which are more democratic in nature allowing 3rdparty extension and development. This is important because increasing the integration of geospatial technology into mainstream applications is coming from the “underground” of bedroom hackers and community groups.

Back to Gmail.. earlier this year a new function was added to googles web mail client, the “Map This” button, a hyperlink which is produced automatically when the Gmail application recognises an address or a package shipping number. It’s a great example of embedding geospatial technology in a mainstream application. The embedded geospatial technology actually increases the usefulness of the application, for example, if someone provides an address as part of a conference invitation, you know both when and where the conference will take place.

From Google and their advertisers perspective this also potentially increases the users awareness of the sponsored ads displayed below the button, and probably they are more likely to start using them as their contents are contextual to both the email topic and its location.

It is as a source of contextual information that geospatial technology is most likely to be highly valued as it becomes embedded in traditionally “non-GIS” applications such as GMail. The value of location as contextual information is that it may be used as a very effective filter for the huge amounts of information available to any user of the internet, or for that matter any user of a large corporate data warehouse.

The importance of where.
There is a famous cartoon first published in the New Yorker magazine in 1993, by Peter Steiner – ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog” which shows a dog communicating to somebody using a PC – the joke is, that of course if dogs could type.. the person receiving the dogs email would not know. I have in the past modified this cartoon to ‘On the internet nobody knows where you are”, and for at least the past ten years this has been appropriate.