Friday, 5 March 2010

Gathering clouds over the horizon...

... intermittent sunshine and showers predicted tomorrow. No this is not a meteo prediction, but a metaphor for opportunities and confusion that cloud computing creates. I see it as a pressure-release valve, where the constant demand to deliver more for less is pushing both sectors, for-profit and not-for-profit.

I discussed earlier technologies available over the web helps reduced implementation costs - that's for the consumption or demand side. On the supply or delivery side, geospatial data have been available on the web in various guises for a while
The government sector was an obvious starting point for web-delivery, as it truly resolved both mandated delivery and decreasing costing issues that squeezed them forever it seems. However ExxonMobil's global license for cloud computing and ESRI joining Amazon's AWS partner network are sure signs that the for-profit cloud-geocomputing is here. And while the data quality vs. ownership debate rages, there are signs of sunshine on the horizon:
  • the UKMAP (business) was endorsed by the UK Land Registry (agency) to register parcel data (via #thierry_g)
  • volunteer mapping on the web using OpenStreetMap in Haiti is mainstream news
  • and a common operating picture, termed by Don Murray here, seems to be emerging
In other words, while Larry Ellison rants about the cloud - has been around for a decade, and I add AWS for half that time - we geospatial types stand the most to benefit from distributed production and consumption on the web. A lot has been done already on portals such as GEOSS, data repositories such as WeoGeo mentioned above, and tools such as SafeSoft to rationalise and bring together data formats and metadata for all to use. I think the key new benefit is the geotagging events and data, tweets being an excellent starter - this will be more widespread, once it's settled which format works best - while discussions and semantic websters push RDF, yet another battle of protocols clouds the horizon... And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, proper metadata will ease the burden of choices, as data and applications will actually have a handle to grab onto, no matter which lever will be used in the end.

PS: I volunteered at OCO 88 when the Jamaican bobsled team in the video performed, after which fellow Canadian John Candy RIP created Cool Runnings.


  1. Andrew,

    You hit on a number of really key drivers as we look forward.

    First is we are seeing more and more demand and interest for real-time data feeds. While there has been lots of talk about sensors I think one of the surprising values of twitter is its ability to turn as Jack D. says is to turn "Citizens into sensors". During emergencies this capability has saved untold lives and enables information to get to where it needs to be. This coupled with twitters SMS capabilities opens up some interesting possibilities.

    Twitter has made it very easy for applications to search and post information thru its REST API ( Interesting to see where this is going. The state of Arkansas is putting on a real-time twitter demo as part of the NSGIC MidYear conference. (

    Second, you mentioned the growing need for metadata. We are definitely seeing this as more and more data becomes available on-line. We are now seeing applications that are able to programmatically work with Metadata to make decisions. This is very exciting. The key to being able to work with metadata is the ability to consume and work with XML. Standards (consistency) between metadata servers is key to making this work well.

    Lastly, The cloud is very interesting and levels the playing field. Now anyone with a great idea can build a scalable web application without having to invest in a massive data center. This is huge. The ability of anyone to create desktop applications has existed for many years due to the inexpensive hardware. Launching web applications has been different until cloud services like AWS. Now it is inexpensive to launch a service and have it grow. The next few years are going to be very interesting.

  2. Talking to y'all is always an educational experience - that's what keeps me coming back to you, James Fee @ WeoGeo in Tempe, and Gary Gale @ Yahoo!GeoTech in London - thanks, eh!

  3. Totally Inspirational...

    Not so much for the technology that can enable to make things happen but the will of belief, human endeavour against the prejudices, odds and scepticism that may exist in others minds and perhaps in one's own minds...

    Who would have would have have thought that Jamaica could have placed a team in a 'bob-sleigh' team at the Calgary Winter Olympics.

    The obstacles are effectively in one's own minds and beliefs and even if one doesn't win as with the Jamaican Bob Sleigh Team there is respect for at least having tried...

  4. On a technology front all these things will happen and unfold...

    Surprises may not come come necessarily from the acknowledged and established teams but the outsiders who may impact different perspectives and themes.