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

7/16/10Follow @bvbigelow

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edited, organized, queried, and shared with other users, a capability that Dangermond says prompted some people to describe the website as “GeoFlickr.” (As with Flickr, Yahoo’s photo sharing service, ArcGIS users also can pay to use more advanced map-making capabilities, and to store more data in their online account.) But Dangermond says the website’s capabilities come from ArcGIS—ESRI’s flagship development software for creating geographic information systems.

(Apple appears to be developing some mapping capabilities of its own. The Cupertino, CA-company bought a Canadian mapping company called Poly9 this week and an API mapping developer called Placebase last fall.)

The Web is democratizing access to geographic information. As Dangermond demonstrated, it is relatively easy today for anyone with Internet access to create their own maps, and to store and share their data in the cloud. As impressive as it all seems, though, it’s hard for me not to view ESRI’s open mapping initiatives as anything but the company’s strategic response to the immutable forces unleashed by free mapping tools like Wikimapia, Google Maps, and Google Earth—and the voracious online appetite for free services and open software.

Yet when I later met with Simon Thompson, ESRI’s director of commercial marketing, he said there’s much more to ESRI’s initiatives than merely providing some new open APIs and GIS resources on the Internet.

“People have always tended to work with experts, and looked for authoritative sources,” Thompson says. “What Google has done has been a separate kind of awakening,” at least among GIS developers, to the significance of credibility and transparency in the creation of online documents.

What GIS developers and users are wondering now, Thompson says, is what … 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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