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

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does “authoritative” mean? “You can provide open access to information,” he says, “but if you don’t explain how you got that information, and where that information came from, then what have you got, really?”

Thompson says that ESRI’s map-making technology enables a user to access data about the authors and sources that were used with a mouse click. The website communicates with other systems, so a mapmaker can pull in data from Bing, Yahoo, and Google, Thompson says.

The website also is fundamentally different, Thompson says, because free mapping systems like Google’s don’t make it easy for a user to compare different maps of the same region, or, for example, to combine two maps of California to show both earthquake hazards and wildfire hazards in a single document. “It used to take this death march to create these maps and apps,” Thompson says. But with, “Somebody with relatively low expertise and no cartography-specific skills can produce something that can be shared.” It would also possible to combine that electronically with another map that details real estate parcels—to scale that up—and include 10,000 records or 10 million records, which is something an insurance company might want. “Before now, it was really difficult to do that,” Thompson says.

By integrating its website with social media, Thompson says it’s also possible, for example, to create a map of concert sites on Lady Gaga’s tour and push it to Facebook and Twitter.

He maintains that ESRI’s open initiative is targeting a broader audience of GIS users. It allows users to bring together data from different sources, which couldn’t be done easily before, and includes references for the “authoritativeness” of each document for anyone to check.

“So this initiative is about being able to accommodate all uses of information, and that’s just not possible with these other systems, which are amazing systems for visualization,” Thompson says. “But they lack these capabilities and the knowledge that people put into publishing their own maps.”

Google might take issue with that, but now the ball is in their court.

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

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  • Phillip Davis

    Esri. Open? Really??