Release 4.0

Saturday, September 27, 2003

The point about maps
One of the things I’m planning to write about soon is maps and mapping tools. I have always loved maps (and travel, of course!). I love to see how things are laid out, their relationships, how they fit together. And in addition to traveling, I love the intricacies of planning a trip: the sequence of places matching the sequence of meetings, which carriers fly where, route optimization… someday, I know, I will be able to leave this up to software and the Semantic Web, but for now…. Does anyone know if Icelandair gives Star Alliance mileage? (The Website is cryptic.)

I’m an investor in MetaCarta, a sort of geographic googling tool. And then there's Google itself. Over the past year I’ve been dabbling with maps and GIS where I find them. But the basic “map insight” – the story about whoever it was that compared disease incidence on a map with the location of certain water pumps in London and indicated the source of cholera – seemed pretty old to me. It was all about visualization.

Last Thursday, though, I had dinner with a senior vp at ESRI, the leader in the mapping tools business, and it all came clear. Or, to see the sizzle,

It’s not about visualization (which is just the means to the end), it’s about identity. Yes… my R1 colleagues and I have been writing for a year about digital identity, registries of objects and data represenetation across the Semantic Web.... and (as Dave Barry would say) I swear I’m not making this up: With maps it’s the same issue. Inside the mapping community, the big challenge is standards for data representation. Just as you need federated identity to leverage all kinds of services for individuals, so do you need location identity to leverage mapping tools. Sure, I can match my map to your map… but unless I have a person (or a very smart tool) doing the work, I don’t know that your “WH” is my 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue. …and so forth. Maps and GIS are a huge tool for a broad range of applications in everything from (as usual) “homeland security” and petroleum extraction, to retail site location, cell-phone everything, logistics, etc. etc. Most of what people do takes place in physical space…even though so far we have focused mostly on what happens in commercial and legal space (financial transactions and record-keeping). For the next phase of computerization, accurate understanding of the physical world will be key.

So what’s the answer? I’m looking for companies that are good at understanding/managing “location identity.” There’s probably a different name for it; you know who you are….

posted by Esther 10:30 AM

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