Just last week O’Reilly announced a new conference called Solid that is about software and hardware everywhere. The event addresses the coming together of software and hardware to change our interactions with the physical world, blurring the line between the physical and the virtual. In the absence of O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 Conference, could this be the right event to act as a platform for the next evolution of geospatial innovation?
It was just last year that the Where Conference went away as a stand alone event and was half-heartedly combined with the new Strata big data analytics series of O’Reilly conferences. Certainly, spatial analysis at a broad scale is an important application area, yet the attempt failed to scale to the levels of past Where 2.0 Conferences where the potential of location was embraced by a whole cadre of Silicon Valley players. Perhaps O’Reilly has dropped the geospatial frontier from their radar or maybe there is an opportunity in this latest event.
The Where 2.0 Conference had a cachet that is definitely missing from the geospatial conference circuit these days. It signaled the industry as a player in the fast-moving Internet start-up scene, where new companies would display their location technology innovations and speak to how they were changing business and creating investment opportunities. The Where 2.0 event was the place to discuss and unveil new underpinnings of the “Geospatial Web,” and showcase how businesses could leverage this power to their advantage.
The O’Reilly machine is also missed in the geospatial space as their attention comes with a stable of top-notch technologists that know how to present a compelling story in a way that excites users and attracts broader awareness. O’Reilly lets their conference offerings evolve with the technology frontiers, closing their Web 2.0 and Where 2.0 events in favor of Open Source (OSCON) and the Strata big data conference, among others. This nimble approach ensures that they remain at the epicenter of innovation, yet what happens to the communities that they once fostered?
Geospatial technologies as a platform for new online business has become rather stale of late, and was certainly looking that way prior to the shuttering of the Where Conference. The issue has been the commoditization of the technology by large players that leave little room for upstarts, coupled with the high cost of maintaining mapping data. With cloud-based platforms — including Google, Esri’s ArcGIS Online, and even open source — the platforms also take away the opportunity of the geospatial Web as a launching pad for new business.
The high cost of maintenance gets reflected in the roll-back of functionality that has occurred over time with many of the free online geospatial platforms. The popular real-estate mapping portal Zillow is a good example of this evolution as it has changed their look and feel over time, pulling back some map-based functionality and promoting ads as they work to better monetize their offering and rid themselves of costly data subscriptions. In order for geospatial technology to appeal to the innovators there needs to be an upside and a disruption of the status quo, rather than the retrenching that has occurred. Perhaps the mobile-centric area of smart things and connected devices offers the next excitement.
Location is a very solid underpinning for the coming together of hardware and software to inform our surroundings as in the Internet of Things and Smart Cities. Software that understands and controls the physical world needs to have both a map and an accurate position in order to optimize the complicated systems of our built and natural environments. The coming together of sensor streams requires a geospatial web framework that acts as a recording of realities as well as the analysis point for forecasting and simulations.
The Solid event lumps a good deal of converging technologies into their event outline (http://radar.oreilly.com/2013/11/software-hardware-everywhere.html), including rapid prototyping and manufacturing along with the sensor web, the Internet of Things, and coming automation of machines all the way through autonomous cars. Central to all this content is a growing pace of innovation around hardware that makes creation very accessible and the coupling of the Internet with this hardware to make it more intelligent. The connected world is taking life, along with new solutions and services that tune our environments to enhance our lives.
Geospatial technology definitely has a role to play in making sense of this connected world, providing the baseline of awareness and a means for digital exploration. The connected world with more open sharing between computers, phones and sensors could provide the disruption for a next-level of location awareness, and return some of the momentum to the geospatial web.