Sunday, January 9, 2011

It's 2011: Time to think about the future of Geo

It's fairly traditional to start a year with either a retrospective of the previous year, or a look forward. Or, of course, both. In that tradition, I'd like to start the year thinking about some trends that I think are going to be important for Geo this year.

Powerful Easy Analysis Tools

This is the year. In 2005, the Google Maps API and Google Earth broadened the use of geography tools far beyond the traditional GIS crowd, sparking a debate between so-called neo- and paleo-geographers that lasted for years. In the last year or so that debate seems to have calmed down a bit, as traditional GIS tools adapted to the web, and neo-geographers, were everywhere. So there's room for a fresh controversy.

The Google Maps API, followed shortly by a host of other APIs from Yahoo!, Microsoft, OpenLayers and others, allowed developers to easily place maps on their site. But as I pointed out in my Ignite Spatial talk in September, developers and GIS professionals aren't the only ones who want to share spatial data. In fact, I'm guessing the vast majority of spatial data, by volume if not quality, is in tabular form. Geocommons has recognized this for years, providing easy tools for uploading, combining, and sharing spatial data. With the addition of Google Fusion Tables, and easy mapping of spreadsheets and sharing of data, powerful tools for data analysis are in the hands of anyone with a Google account. I won't call them "low-end" tools, though certainly they lack the power of ESRI's tools, or any of a host of other proprietary and open source GIS applications. I predict that this year will see a lot of people migrating to Fusion Tables, and others using the API to back-end store the data. Which leads us to


OK, I almost had to slap myself for saying "Cloud." After all, of all the buzzwords going around, I think it is the least penetrable to people not "in-the-know" and perhaps has the most number of definitions. To make matters worse, Microsoft has diluted the term even more with this wacked commercial campaign.  However, it is being used a lot, so let me be clear, I think this is the year of Cloud Data Hosting.

I predict more and more spatial data will go into "The Cloud." We're already seeing that happening with services like SimpleGeo, Microsoft Azure's support for spatial data, and many other services. Fusion Tables of course has an API which I anticipate will be useful for a number of spatial data storage services.

Cloud Analysis

It's still early days on this. I think that 2011 will be the year of early adoption. In particular, tools like Google Earth Engine will allow you to run high-end analysis in cloud data centers. Some of these tools are already out there, but the introduction of Earth Engine allows you to do things we're used to in the spatial world, namely raster data analysis, but do it faster and cheaper than before.


Well, really, who am I kidding? 2010 was the year of local and location. Facebook's Places and Places API were a very powerful entrance into the location and local scene. Google Places with Hotpot is a big entry into the local market, but it came pretty late in the year. 2010 was about local, 2011 local will become mainstream, such that everyone will have forgotten that it wasn't part of our sites. Remember when there weren't maps everywhere? That was only 6 years ago, now it's taken for granted. Local will get that way by 2012. When of course the world ends, right? That's what the movies tell us anyway.

Prediction posts are fun, because rarely are you held to them. But really they tell you more about where you are now. The things we can't talk about, or don't know about yet, those are the real surprises. Happy New Year everyone.

1 comment:

V said...

How does a GIS geek plug into this world? This is a new direction to take disaster mapping while integrating official government sources. The map should be as simple to get as the book "There's a Map on My Lap".