I wrote another article.

It’s been 11 years since I last dipped my toe into the magazine world and the IT and GIS industry has changes beyond recognition in that time. It was before Google had even entered the mapping world, before Facebook, YouTube and Open Street Map. Just thinking about this makes me feel old, anyway enough of my brooding.

Having moved from the Old world to the New world it’s been interesting to see how the geospatial world has evolved and amazingly how my JavaScript skills seem to keep me in employment. Whilst consumers have ‘got’ geospatial, and there are many many applications showing this, businesses still consider geospatial to be a dark art whilst many organisations have an army of geo-literate people checking in and sharing location already, they just need to right tools to unlock those skills.

So the article ‘what I wrote’ deals with the tools and technologies that Google has and is continuing to build that allows organisations to unlock the inherent geospatial literacy that many people already have from their personal use of technology. From familiar data set and cartography, to solutions that work on consumer devices in a simple way, without the need for expensive legacy systems and true cloud based geospatial data stores which use the same sharing and access technologies people are used to in GMail or Google docs. I hope you enjoy it, maybe I’ll write another one in 11 years time.

A few Google Geo Presentations

imageIt’s been a busy year so far and therefore my posting has been woefully slow. Much have my time has been working with Google Earth Builder. This provides a new way of distributing geospatial information from Google into all sorts of clients, providing a true geospatial platform as a service without the need to worry about how many servers or virtual servers you need to support your clients, allowing GIS experts to worry about geospatial information science rather than geospatial information systems. There will be more information coming out about this platform over the next few months and I hope I can talk to as many people as possible about how they may use this to share their data and collaborate with their clients, removing the complexity, headaches and expense that this causes with current geospatial systems. If you want to know more watch the Where 2.0 video below.

More Google Geo Goodness

Where 2.0 wasn’t the only conference recently, last week at Google IO 2011 there was a veritable plethora of geospatial talks on all of the aspects of Google Geospatial. Two talks stood out for people imagewho might be using and sharing geospatial data, the first about Google Fusion Tables and the second on the surprises of the maps API. The latter presentation gives a good overview of some of the new geospatial functions with the whole Maps API that you might have missed over the last year including. Geospatial at Google is a ever increasing area which touches lots and lots of products, that are easy to use and implement for non-geo experts which increases the reach of geospatial data to more people, this talk is a great intro to all of these.

Fusion tables, GIS for normal people.

Fusion tables continues to add more and more functionality that will allow the geo-prosumer to create and share spatial data in record time. One of the main additions has been that of extra styling functions to the product allowing people to create more engaging maps which in turn help convey the message easier to non-geo people, you can get some more details here. If you wanted to know more about Fusion Tables then this talk is a much watch to show how you can host and map geospatial information from the Google cloud without a single line of code, something I would never have imagined possible when I started doing this GIS malarkey in the early 90’s.

Speed, Speed, Speed

A final geo talk at Google IO that caught my attention was one about how to improve the performance of any mapping application using the Google Maps API. I’ve spent a good portion of my career trying to improve the speed of web applications and especially geospatial web applications. It’s good to be armed with knowledge before you even start any development, this presentation hopefully will help you avoid the pitfalls that people go through when starting developing in this area.

If you combine this with articles from the Google Maps website, such as Too Many Markers, then you can hopefully create speedy maps that are a joy and not a curse to use.

You can find more information and sessions from Google IO 2011 at the website here. If you set the filter to Geo you can see all of the presentations that had a geo flavour. Hopefully I’ll be presenting at the Google Enterprise Geospatial day at the end of august. If your into geospatial and Google it will be like a mini Geo-IO. Hope to see you there.

Normal service will soon be restored.

I’ve been increasingly remiss on the updating of this blog, which I’ll hopefully remedy over the next few weeks. I don’t have any more excuses apart from the fact that I’ve been on a never end whirl of meetings, conferences (as delegate and booth babe!), training courses (run by me) and the never ending search for people to help me out. I’ve also been coming to grips with the never ending volume of innovation and products coming on stream at Google, absorbing their nature and understanding their impact on enterprise geospatial.

Google London

What no PC?

The other fact is prior to joining Google my main blog editor used to be Live Writer. I was one of the most PC people you might have known, thats PC as in Personal Computer, not the other one although I’m not too bad in that department as well (I try to minimise the HR violations). It seems that over the last year I seem to have become mostly Mac, that being until my first day at Google I had never even had a Mac or even touched one in anger for over 15 years (since I waged a one man war against them back in my days at Kingston). It turns out they are not half bad.

Mars Edit

Maybe because I secretly like having the option of a command window hat doesn’t run a horrible version of DOS, and actually have to use vi and ssh in my job! Maybe it’s also because I do most of my job in a browser these days and no longer have to have a copy of ArcGIS on my machine. Finally it’s probably the fact the the machine boots up fast, suspends without trouble and doesn’t seem to lag at weirdmoments. Sure it’s probably down to Apples bespoke hardware / software combination but whatever it is it’s been a breath of fresh air and whilst it’s made me tear whats left of my hair out sometimes, once I started to think like a Mac I’m unsure that I can start to think like a PC again (I’m sure I’m going to grow a goatee and get some thick glasses next).

So here I am having found a new easy way to write blog posts on my Mac using MarsEdit. It seems to do everything LiveWriter did without the fact that Microsoft seems to always want to update the whole Live suite all the time including the now horrible new version of Live Messenger, the Mac version from Microsoft is better.

Fast Boot, Quick Suspend

Why don't you!

Just as I find one way to edit posts another challenge falls into my lap, the CR48. Now my next challenge is to find a good blog editor that runs just in the browser and I can conquer the a new frontier. So far I’ve had good experiences with the machine. For much of what I do on the couch (as distinct from at my desk, although it’s not far off there also) is within a browser I want instant on to check emails and websites and instant off when I need to go do ‘something less boring instead’. The CR48 really does those things well, for editing text and using the ‘normal web’ it’s a lot better than an iPad, although for media consumption the iPad still has it beat, but then again that’s not what it’s primarily for.

CR48

What I like most about the CR48 is that it is something that is trying to upset the status quo of something that looks like a ‘normal computer’ acting like a ‘smart phone’. The act of doing away with storage on the device makes it instantly more controversial as people will start to get all nostalgic over defragging hard disks or performing virus scans, updating applications or managing services. It seems like many of our computers have turned into actual servers over time running background processes that seem to make the machine randomly page to disk or kick a background process to max warp (subsequently making your 2010 computer run like something purchased before modems went out of fashion).

Are we living in the future yet?

I don’t know when this happened, but it seems that between my Mac and my ChromeOS device I’m slowly moving into a brave new future when I can start to worry less about about what’s on my machine and more about actually getting things done. When most things you do are being stored in the cloud, you become much less attached to the actual machine your using, it becomes much more of a tool than a priceless piece of technology to be protected with your life less you lose your photos. Hopefully this  ChromeOS video serves to highlight this brave new world in a robust manner, hope to see you there in the near future!

Geo Semantics

image

The term GIS is one that tries to balance two very different disciplines, that of Geographic knowledge and  processes with information systems, that of the computer systems and processing power that allows the computer provision of maps and spatial analysis that was never possible before. As the software and systems have become more and more sophisticated it has often been the fact that GIS has seemed to be more about the IS component and less about the G. This is especially true with the advent of server software for providing map and analysis functionality that can be deployed on the intranet or internet.

image The GIS department had to start hiring and understanding the technical complexities of server installation and web development, whilst in the past it had mainly been concerned with providing the output of requests for maps and spatial analysis. Often this lead to the G and IS components being split across a number of departments and the complexities of any project rising as a case, especially if the IS was outsourced by the company. As the complexity of the systems gets ever greater the pressure on an organizations IT and IS department becomes even greater, whilst pressure for GIS to be ubiquitous within an organization puts increasing cost pressure to provide the maps at ‘Google Speed’.

The question is, how much G do people need and how complex do the IS need to be to support them?

G for all

I remember pouring over esteemed journals and papers in my youth (last century!) whilst people regaled image the readers with the exact types of functionality that were required by a system to be a GIS. That software doesn’t do this, it’s can’t be a GIS, our software does it, it’s got GIS on the box, it therefore must be a GIS. Often the premise was to get, what I would call hard-core GIS on the desktop for as many people as possible be that as an install or through a browser with complicated functionality such as editing or complex geographic processing. All of which came in a new interface which required a great deal of training to use, which obviously benefited the training departments of the organizations in question.

image One if the benefits of a product like Google Maps or Google Earth is the number of people that have already used it. The reduction of time it takes someone to get up to speed with a product ‘they already know how to use’ to quote an iPad advert is important to organizations that are rolling spatial functionality out to 50 or 100 people, possibly more. Arranging training courses on complex products can be both time consuming and expensive.

This is also the case for how people share information. Having to install and configure complex software for many people who just want to share a map amongst both small department or to a wider group of people without the need to have expensive complex software to maintain and configure, not to speak of any hardware, is a barrier to the take-up and use of geographic information. If this difficulty is taken away from people, then all sorts of people can take a spreadsheet of points, a set of addresses or even a KML file and upload this to a data store that just that.

G, without the ISimage

Google Fusion Tables provides such an environment to do this. It’s not an overly complicated piece of  software, it just allows someone to take some spatial data, such as a set of geographies, and upload them into a cloud based data store where the information is rendered in a table like environment. At this point there is the ability to filter, aggregate or link the data to any other and then create a simple visualisation of the data that can be placed on the Google base map or linked into Google Earth. That’s it, not complex configuration of servers, no need to handle security as this can be provided using authentication to groups of Google account users or if you’re sharing non-sensitive information just made public. Everything can be handled within a browser, no need to involve any IS group or outsourced department, sharing power can be given back to the actual providers of the data or to those people who want to play with visualizing the data and not configuring servers.

Sure in the background there is a whole series of IS going on, but the knowledge of uploading and managing security on items is now mainstream enough through sites like Google and Facebook that there is a ready army of new graduates who already know how this is done, indeed this is the way they will expect spatial data to be shared!

To G and beyond!

image GIS cover a wide variety of implementations, from viewing data in Google Earth (yes it’s a GIS to some degree) to manipulating features in ArcInfo (which is definitely hard-core GIS!). To say one thing isn’t or another is a matter of Geo Semantics. The more that the complexity of sharing and visualizing spatial information the more it will be used within organizations. The easier it becomes for people the more it will be used, not only by the users but also by the people sharing the data for them to see.

So in the future don’t believe the confusing semantics about whether something is a ‘GIS’ or not, just work out if it has enough ‘G’ for what you need to do. As the complexity of getting or accessing spatial data online is reduced then many more people will be ‘doing’ or ‘using’ GIS whether they realize it or not. That can only be a good thing.

When web hosts go bad.

There are a number of reasons why this blog has taken a bit of hiatus in terms of posts in the last fewimage months. Probably the most important of which is that fact for once in the UK we seem to actually be having a summer, coupling this with my daughter forcing me to watch all of the Doctor Who’s since the reboot (honestly she’s only 4 but she’s quite persuasive) means I spend a lot of time outside on the bike or in explaining the fighting differences between Daleks, Cybermen and everything in between.

A slow spiral down the web plug

Secondly has been the slow demise of an excellent webhost, Webhost4Life. Whilst never the fastest host it has always been reliable for everything I’ve needed it for, especially for the price and features I paid for imageit. Recently though they decided to move to a new platform which I think this was due imageto the company being sold to another and a change of management went for a cheaper option. Initially it seemed good, the admin site was much improved and it seemed that things were going tickey-boo. Unfortunately as others have also found the support and stability of the site has gone way down. This blog was up and down more times than the Grand Old Duke of York, and even when it was up it was slower than an England footballer in front of goal. Finally having enough after 3 days of downtime I decided to pull the plug and move this blog over to a new host, Arvixe.

imageNot only has this host been a lot quicker for me, it obviously doesn’t seem to be as contested, but it also supports a variety of development platforms, from PHP to ASP.NET and whilst the admin pages aren’t as nice and I had to install WordPress 3 the manual way (actually it wouldn’t even upgrade on WebHost4Life so it was very broken) which took all of one hour including getting the data loaded from the old blog.

I wonder if it’s like changing banks, hosting is one of the most painful things to change once you have it all set up, once you’ve done it though, you wonder why you never did it before.

Moving On

image Finally I had my final, final, final leaving do this week from the hallowed halls of ESRI(UK) esri(UK) ESRI UK. After 7 weeks of being at Google and one month of garden leave (people kept telling me there was no ‘–ing’) it was about time too. Moving on from a job where I talked to people about GIS technology to a company which I talk to people about GEO technology has been less of a shift than you might think. The complexity of solutions might be less, I haven’t yet touched SAP since I left (phew), but it’s still based around understanding how people’s workflows might fit and integrate with the respective technologies and API’s. Although it’s a lot more consumer-focused though, a bit like web mapping was with ESRI UK 8 years ago, I like it.

image There is so many geo-technologies to learn at Google, from the server based Google Earth Enterprise to the cloud based Fusion tables, as well as the well know Google Earth and Maps. My first seven weeks I have have been like a kid in a candy store both metaphorically with the learning of new technology and physically in the micro kitchens (note to self, must do more exercise).

Expect to see much more Google Geo related tips and trips around here as I work the stack of technology in my sweetie bag. I won’t give up the esri thing just yet though and hope to do some integration work between the various systems and I’m giving a talk on integration next week

Now with added location and mobile

On a side note, whilst updating the site I implemented two new features. Firstly the move had broken my imageprevious ‘where are you from’ section so I thought I’d update it with some Google Maps code. Unlike the previous attempt I decided to take the easy geolocation route and have the browsers (or gears) do it for me. I’ll discuss how this works in a subsequent post, it’s not tricky and takes about 10 lines of code, all of which you can get from the Google Maps v3 API page here

The second feature was the addition of the WPTouch plug-in which formats WordPress sites to work nicely on mobile devices like the iPhone and Android devices. The free version seems to work nicely for me, the pro version seems to have some nice features that one day I might find I need. Give it a go, it looks nice.