ESRI Reshapes its Proprietary Mapping System Into an Open Crowdsourcing Platform, Raising a Challenge for Google

7/16/10Follow @bvbigelow

In the plenary session that kicked off the ESRI International User Conference this week in downtown San Diego, ESRI founder and president Jack Dangermond demonstrated the features of ArcGIS.com, a free website the company recently launched that allows ordinary folks to create their own maps.

Dangermond also highlighted a free mobile app that the private, Redlands, CA-based company created for the iPhone and iPad, as well as various community “crowdsourcing” initiatives that are making use of other free resources to create “intelligent” maps of city parks. With its new ArcGIS for Apple iOS and the new website, which can be accessed using Safari and Firefox, ESRI has now extended its mapping technology well beyond its traditional Windows-based market. ESRI’s David Cardella tells me they also are working on an Android app, and just started work on an app for Windows 7 Mobile.

ESRI conference displays

ESRI conference displays

“Our initiatives here are to access services and to bring community resources back to the user,” Dangermond told the audience.

Even while ESRI released the tenth version of its proprietary ArcGIS program, a prominent theme of the conference this week was the democratization of its geographic information systems (GIS) technology. Since 1969, when Dangermond founded the business initially known as Environmental Systems Research Institute, the technology has evolved from proprietary systems that customers purchased and loaded onto their own computers into technology that’s also now available in free and open-source forms, like so much else on the Internet.

At ArcGIS.com, anyone can use the free online resources to create a map, starting with a base map (topographic, aerial view, street view, etc.) and adding layers of information (crime incident reports, real estate valuations, public transit routes, and other data). The result could be a map for a neighborhood watch group that shows crime hotspots along local bus routes or a realtor’s list of mountain homes adjacent to a ski area.

Much like an online wiki, the maps created on the ArcGIS.com website also can be … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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