The 3D Arms Race and Thoughts About Analytics – Part I
A few weeks ago, Richard Waters published an article in the Financial Times titled “Way to go? Mapping looks to be web’s next big thing”. The article can be found here.
The article started with a reprise of the acquisitions of TeleAtlas and Navteq and then focused on what various pundits have called the “3D data arms race”. Although there was little information in the article that was new from the practitioner’s point of view, the article does provide a valuable overview of the some of the developments in the 3D-mapping space. Although the article’s author did not admit it, the orientation of the article and most of the sources quoted were the same people who discussed this topic during a panel discussion at Where2.0 in 2007.
Waters apparently feels that many people have only recently discovered “the usefulness” of the map as a means of conveying “finding” information. In essence, the examples presented by Water in the remainder of his article are uses of online maps to provide information about location, particularly information that is currently surrounding the user (near-casting) or that will surround the user during his or her journey at some future point in time (far-casting – e.g. for this evening’s date or tomorrow’s business meeting).
The author seems unclear of the importance of geographical databases (including those with true 3-D data) and the use of GIS tools to analyze them. Geographical data compiled as an intelligent, topologically structured database are capable of storing significant amounts of information tagged by location and other defining attributes (e.g. Postal address, business classification, contact information, outstanding characteristics, elevation, path to locate (if in mall or multi-story building, etc)). Just as important, modern Geographic Information Systems can extract these data and synthesize them into information more useful than possible when using paper maps, or when considering the map only as a graphical image. Perhaps Waters does not understand the “GIS-magic” under the hood of the internet and it may be that many of the providers and users of geographic information on the Internet do not understand the real magic either. Let’s use the Waters’ article as a guide to think about analytics and how the real future of the Internet may unroll.
“Finding” information, the major use of geographic information on the Internet today, is egocentric process focused on personal navigation. It answers questions like “Where am I? What is around me? Where can I find this? How can I get there?” and other spatially oriented queries. In turn, this “finding” revolution is hitting now because navigable databases, such as those produced by Navteq and TeleAtlas, are finally comprehensive enough to make their use adequate for some of the tasks of interest to people who need to use the “finding” functionalities of spatial displays and spatial software on the Internet.
Of course, the current popularity of “finding” functionality is also related to the fact that the Internet has been turned into a distribution channel for geographical data as have “On Board” (PNDs and in-dash navigation devices) and “Off Board” (cell phone) navigation devices. What is important here is that the availability of navigable map databases through widespread distribution channels provides venues for the use of these data that were not previously available. In turn, this blend is causing both Internet practitioners and other users of 3d-geographical data to ask, “What else can we do with these data and what other data elements might we use to expand our ability to “find” relationships among things?
Let’s think about that next time.