excited about in 2010

As always, each new year brings a refreshed feeling of excitement. Perhaps its the long holidays and copious amounts of food, family and fun, or seeing a magic new number on the calendar that makes it feel like "The Future!", or just a desire to take advantage of an allowed re-emergence of self and goal setting. Of course, time isn't discontinous, so 2010 isn't disconnected from the current continuum of development and trends - but it's still worthwhile to take the time to step back and consider where we are and where we're going.

Mashable and James, amongst many others, have excellent predictions that will and won't happen in 2010. Generally they are good insight into trends in the geo and mobile space, although I will take up counterpoint to some of his suppositions on File Formats, Interfaces, OpenStreetMap and Augmented Reality.

File Formats and Interfaces

Geo is definitely becoming mainstream - everyone in my family has a PND, uses Google Maps, and are asking about various location sharing applications. In the next year we'll see geo become part of the assumed infrastructure, like the timestamp on a post or article, the location will be embedded.

I don't think TAG (Twitter, Apple Google), as James puts it, will be the only location sharing services. They, along with even more used Facebook, will definitely be the general public interface to location query and sharing - but just because of this reason alone they will have to be very generic, leaving room for specialized location based services to still thrive in niches. FourSquare offers 'gaming' or Flickr visual media, and others for music, drinking, sight-seeing, and house finding. They will leverage TAG, or at least TG.

Apple is like the Nintendo of consumer technology - more interested in providing an integrated, compelling experience, and privacy, before full open-ness and engaging with the developer or geek. They'll still have API's, but not something like OpenSocial, GeoRSS, or FireEagle integration.

The iPhone, and to lesser extent Android, have been revolutionizing mobile devices. They are truly providing windows into the rest of the web of data combined with the real world. It's natural for geopatial tools to move into these interfaces, but like any good user experience it won't be the same capabilities you find on a desktop or browser application. The utilities will be specialized for the small screens, finger inputs, and out-and-about tasks.

For file formats, the Shapefile, unfortunately, isn't near EOL. Too many tools only speak shapefile, and there is numerous legacy data that is still only available in Shapefile. Sites like GeoCommons offer alternate formats for all the data, but that still won't remove this basic format. Only when there is a truly open, license free, API to File GeoDatabases (FGDB), and every off the shelf tool can talk that API or Spatialite, will Shapefiles begin disappearing out.

GeoRSS and/or KML, on the other hand, will be in every service that does anything Geo. Looking at any iPhone App review that includes KML (or doesn't) brings up this point. Near enough everyone has Google Earth on their desktop, and Google is making big pushes in the utilization of Google Earth Plugin for in-browser virtual globes.

Visualization Technologies

To date, we've been stuck with either Flash or JavaScript DOM magic (and yes, Silverlight is out there too) in order to do data and geospatial visualization in the browser. As I mentioned, Google has been pushing Google Earth Browser, but also more generally they released O3D, a modern incarnation of X3D, providing for more general capabilities for creating 3D browser experiences. VRML lives!

More recently, there has been a resurgence in vector graphics that don't rely on proprietary technologies or additional plugins. SVG and Canvas support is pretty widely supported except in the infamous Internet Explorer (which I hear is still being used even today). Examples such as ProtoVis, Cartagen and Tom Carden's experiments definitely demonstrate that SVG is just on the cusp of being able to do a majority of compelling visualizations capabilities.

Another driver for alternative visualization platforms is the drive to mobile device integration. I don't see Apple allowing Adobe onto the iPhone anytime soon, and even Android doesn't have support. What types of visualization make sense is still a very open question - but whatever they are will be done with something like SVG.

Geo Data Skirmishes

James suggests that OpenStreetMap "won't dominate". While it won't dominate, I disagree that it won't continue to be extremely successful.

Google has recently moved to gathering their own data. They still have a long way to go, with many, many errors in roads, areas, addresses, and businesses and they're using the crowd to help clean it up. Google is in fact proving the crowd-sourced model. It will be successful. Google is doing it with Google's data, so there is no positive external benefit to that work - so to the industry it just looks like another data provider. However, with this proven model OpenStreetMap will succeed since any effort built into OSM has a positive benefit to anyone else.

However, there is a major difference in the trajectory OpenStreetMap is taking in the United States compared with Europe and other regions. In most other countries, the governments had very draconian licensing and as such OpenStreetMap was creating data from blank areas - starting from scratch, and building a community of volunteers along the way.

By contrast, in the US a vast majority of the data is free, and becoming more available everyday under the new administration. Therefore the US has a broad coverage of decent data without having first built the user community. So the difficulty here is both in building out community, as well as engaging companies that can do the same thing on their own while retaining proprietary rights to the data.

What's fascinating, and what signals the ultimate long term success of OpenStreetMap, is that US state, local, and federal government agencies themselves are engaging with OpenStreetMap. They are investigating how to put their data directly into OSM, and possibly even re-incorporate updates and modifications back to their own infrastructures. Some are even considering using OSM toolset as their infrastructure. OpenStreetMap is going through some growing pains with respect to licensing, maintenance, and community - but all necessary steps in moving from a small cadre of hackers to a global, public project.

As we see an increase in open government, specifically driven by the US Administration's directives, as well as other initiatives such as INSPIRE, this embrace and utilization of open platforms, and repositories, for sharing, federation, and syncronization of data will increase.

And as for augmented reality, it won't be as big as you think... yet.


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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.