Archive for Microsoft

3D Cities to Virtual Worlds

Berlin Molkenmarkt

Recently, The members of the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC) adopted version 1.0.0 of the OpenGIS® CityGML Encoding Standard as an official OGC Standard. According to OIGC, CityGML is an open data model framework and XML-based encoding standard for the storage and exchange of virtual 3D urban models. Also, CityGML is an application schema of the OpenGIS Geography Markup Language 3 (GML3) Encoding Standard, an international standard for spatial data exchange and encoding approved by the OGC and ISO.

According to the CityGMLWiki, “targeted application areas explicitly include urban and landscape planning; architectural design; tourist and leisure activities; 3D cadastres; environmental simulations; mobile telecommunications; disaster management; homeland security; vehicle and pedestrian navigation; training simulators; and mobile robotics.”

CityGML derived from efforts in Germany to integrate and link building information to the surrounding land. Traditionally, this integration has been weak, resulting in many challenges to the building industry as well as planners. And it’s not only technology where there are gaps, the entire building and GIS industries have been at arms length for decades. The hope is that CityGML can provide the standards necessary to bridge those gaps so that models can more accurately reflect the real-world juxtaposition and interrelationships between buildings and land.

In my opinion, all of this leads to virtual worlds. Now, virtual worlds are primarily the domain of gamers and socializers. But virtual worlds are no passing fad. According to a recent Technology Intelligence Group report Virtual World Industry Outlook 2008-2009, “Over one billion dollars were spent by the venture community on startups directly within or supporting virtual worlds between August 2007 and August 2008, and according to virtual world vendors and developers …”

Exciting to me is that with the inevitable merger of real-world models with virtual world technologies, sometimes called the Metaverse, geography and geographic information will be critical. According to the Metaverse Roadmap Overview, the Metaverse is the convergence of 1) virtually-enhanced physical reality and 2) physically persistent virtual space. It is a fusion of both, while allowing users to experience it as either.

I’ve written about The Business Relevance of Virtual Worlds. Others have discussed 3D models in the context of the GeoWeb, which is happening now and will be the precursor to geographically accurate virtual worlds. All of the big players are in this – Autodesk, Bentley, ESRI, Google, and Microsoft, as are some smaller companies such as Galdos Systems and Onuma. The Metaverse requires standards for interoperability, and CityGML is an important standard for now and the future of geographic information online.

Enthusiasts to GIS Mecca – ESRI User Conference 2008

ESRI logo on door

GIS – Geography in Action; that’s the theme. On the product side the emphasis was simplification and stability. There is a lot to cover from the conference, so I’ll start with an overview of day one. 



San Diego Convention Center

San Diego – clear sunny days, not too hot. You want to be outside but need to be in. The sprawling convention center is ready on Monday – primed like a pump to handle the throngs of ESRI enthusiasts about to descend on the place. 


The event rings of a sort of Mecca for GIS practitioners (no religious disrespect intended). They come from near and far – 14,000 from more than 120 countries. (Only the Olympics have more international representation?)  And they venture from afar to see and hear what the company, its partners, and its customers are up to. And to meet people of like interests. Four days, hundreds of sessions, a huge exhibit hall, a never-ending map gallery, special interest group meetings, and numerous social events.



The plenary – the main event, the kickoff. Colorful kites adorn the front stage while three huge screens occupy the waiting audience with questions – geography questions. (Tough questions, too!) Meanwhile, gentle eclectic music with an international feel plays. 


Jack begins by welcoming the masses and he asks us to stop for a moment and meet another person. I turn around and meet a guy who’s at his 11th ESRI UC. When I tell him it’s my first, he says, “It’s all about Jack. That’s all you need to know.” I laugh. And it turns out that does not seem at all true – after the opening day, Jack stepped into the background and let his employees, partners, and customers take over. They had more than enough to share and do without worrying about Jack, it seemed.



Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said that GIS is changing how we abstract our world, how we reason about the world, how we organize and communicate. He referred to the vision of explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt as the foundation of Interior’s vision. Kempthorne also suggested that in the future GIS will be more pervasive because of all human action related to place. But he stressed the importance of reaching users outside the room – those not now using GIS. Reaching them is the only way to make GIS part of the infrastructure. 


Various product announcements followed Read more

Jack Dangermond: “This is no longer a dream. It is actually starting to work”

2008 ESRI Federal User Conference

Today in frigid Washington D.C., the 2008 ESRI Federal User Conference started. I attended and share here some observations on the opening presentation by ESRI’s President, Jack Dangermond.

This is the 20th version of the federal user conference. ESRI officials told me that 2,500 pre-registered, an increase of 600 from 2007. Incredible growth for a technology conference these days.

DC Convention Center

The nice new Washington Convention Center is the venue; the rooms are, well, roomy. The food is decent … but let’s move to the good stuff.

Jack Dangermond kicked off the plenary discussing how his audience is “working on the nation’s problems.” He showed dozens of maps covering about 20 categories of applications including humanitarian programs, emergency management, environment, energy, defense, homeland security, and facility management. The heart of his message was that Read more

Is NAVTEQ Worth $8.1 Billion?

Nokia N95 with map

On Monday, Nokia said it is buying NAVTEQ, the provider of data for digital maps. Like the July announcement in which TomTom offered TeleAtlas for $2.5, a device maker is grabbing a provider of map data. Reportedly, some analysts are saying Nokia is overpaying for NAVTEQ. Perhaps, but these same analysts likely lack the understanding of the full potential of what NAVTEQ provides. Nokia’s main market is mobile, which is exactly where the explosion of location-based applications is occurring. Furthermore, rumors abound that TeleAtlas might be now seeking a higher valuation, more in line with the NAVTEQ/Nokia deal – mentioned are Garmin, Google, and Microsoft.

Of course the primary concern in the market is the same as the concerns over a TomTom/TeleAtlas combo – whether other device makers (GPS, phone, etc.) will be at a disadvantage because of the combination. Nokia is claiming NAVTEQ will remain independent, however that is doubtful in the long term. Why would Nokia spend $8.1 billion and act as a holding company? While it can benefit solely from NAVTEQ’s continuing growth, it will need to embrace it more completely than it could have if it hadn’t bought it. Otherwise, the price makes no sense.

Another way to look at it is that the other device makers have contracts for the data and the data providers have incentive to keep them happy because they are revenue sources. In many parts of the world, there are at least two providers of digital street data, ensuring some competition.

Time will tell whether Nokia overpaid. It paid more than 13 times annual revenues, compared to 5 times revenue that TomTom offered for TeleAtlas and 3 times revenue that Pitney Bowes paid for MapInfo. The Geo Factor is optimistic about the market for geospatial data and applications – current use is but the tip of the iceberg. Consumer uses, especially on mobile devices, is overshadowing business applications. However, the market for business uses of location-based data is huge. Assuming Nokia handles the merger right, it will get its money’s worth.

3-D Walkthroughs, Flyovers, and Geotagged Photos – Cool, Yes but Wow or Yawn for Businesses?

At the recent trendy Where 2.0 conference, Google and Microsoft announced new capabilities for their online mapping services, focused on three-dimensional photographic views of a few large U.S. cities. And Google just announced it would acquire Panoramio for linking photos to the geographic location at which they were taken. While interesting to look at, the value in this set of advancements remains entirely unclear. Consumer curiosity is high, but this will wear thin unless there are applications for these interesting capabilities. Like Henry Blodget at Seeking Alpha, I wonder where the money is in this.

For businesses, the value is even more fleeting. Most businesses fail to adequately take advantage of, let alone monetize maps and other geographic information. Putting more such information, however sexy, at their fingertips will likely do little to change business use.

There are certainly great applications of 3D views: emergency management, taxation, and dealing with crimes. Companies such as Pictometry not only feed the big boys many of the oblique imagery we all see, they provide real-world applications for viewing and measuring buildings for a variety of purposes. Geotagging photos is used mostly for travel/tourism (see the previouse post about MapWing) and could have business applicability, for real estate, criminal investigations, and other applications. The value is in the applications of the imagery, not the imagery itself. How long Google and Microsoft will continue to open their wallets to feed their online mapping solutions remains to be seen, but at some point someone will want to see revenues tied to these visual indulgences.