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A day at Geotec Event, Vancouver. BC, Canada PDF Print E-mail
Written by Glenn Letham   
15 February 2005
It was a short trip but I managed to spend one day at Geotec event yesterday in Vancouver, BC, Canada. This was the 19th annual gathering of industry professionals which runs through Wednesday at the Westin Bayshore Hotel.

First order of business, Geotec event 20 is scheduled to take place June 18-21, 2006 in Ottawa, Ontario. This event has been strategically located in Ottawa to coincide with the planned 100th anniversary of the Atlas of Canada. New sponsors of Geotec for the 20th event include the Association of Canadian Map Libraries, Cartographica Magazine, The Canadian Cartographic Association, and the International Cartographic Association… should be a great event!

I arrived at Geotec early Monday AM and have to say I was a bit surprised as to how the show has shrunk in size. Mind-you, the last time I attended was in 1999 but it was a bit of a shock to me when I look back at the older events which typically took place at Canada Place and the Vancouver Trade & Convention Center. Not to detract from the event, it may be a bit smaller, however, the quality is still excellent and the event draws some great exhibitors and presenters. The smaller crowd can likely be attributed to the dramatic down-sizing in Provincial and Federal government employees that are involved in GIS as well as the very busy travel season that is just around the corner. As luck would have it the ESRI business partner conference is also taking place this week and add to that travel budgets for public employees are hard hit these days as well… too bad... it's a great event! 

The event was kicked off by a keynote from well known author and Professor Mark Monmonier (I still have trouble pronouncing that one!). The topic was exploring the societal impacts of geospatial technologies. In his speech he argued how geospatial technologies are no more value neutral than a truck or a tractor (other tools) and that all can be prone to breaking down. He went on to discuss the importance of understanding not only the benefits of GIS and geospatial technologies but also the unintended consequences – he cited numerous examples of this with location-based services.

Mark Monmonier


Following the keynote session I took in a panel discussion of industry experts. The focus of the panel was an Industry Outlook. Four well known industry veterans took part – Joseph Berry (University of Denver), Henry Kucera (Swiftsure Spatial Systems), Frederick Limp (CAST), and Vincent Tao (GeoICT Lab, U Toronto). Topics discussed in the session included a look at where the Internet would take us, the status of open systems, GIS & visualization, and enterprise systems / system integration. The first question, where will the Internet lead us offered up some interesting comments to set the tone:

Kucera noted how the Internet is a manifestation of what’s going on today. The increase in available data has led to lots of “noise” on the Internet. There’s so much information available that there are now barriers due to the noise and “mis-information” that’s available over the Internet.

From left to right: Frederick Limp, Vincent Tao, and conference organizer/manager Matt Ball

Berry discussed the importance of web services but alluded to the fact that we tend to expect things to be free. He cautioned business not to build a business model that’s dependant solely on an Internet delivery model. People don’t just want data delivery but rather, they expect a service that they can base decisions on and they want to interact with a process.

Limp discussed how thanks to the Internet a small business with a big idea can have a tremendous impact on society; case in point – Google. He mentioned how the idea need only appear to be simple and cautioned that scalable = success.

Tao referenced that the Internet is a platform or an assembly line and that web services are the enablers of the infrastructure.

During the 90 minute discussion several references from the audience were focused on Google and the new web service available from Google Maps. Overall the feeling from panelists seemed to indicate that Google is making what we do more recognizable. One panelist had looked quite closely at the Beta web service and was quite impressed – he even spent some time trying to break it but with no success. A reference about the OGC drew a response that they are clearly moving forward, however, to the industry it’s not entirely clear as to what they are doing and most people (end users) aren’t even aware if they are using OGC specifications. It was pointed out that Google Maps uses some proprietary technologies rather than open source but that it wasn’t much of a surprise.

The session concluded with Mr. Tao providing a brief demo of GeoTango, an innovative D3D Tool for Interactive Visualization. The demo involved a web client using a wireless connection to stream large datasets (vector and raster) to an “ArcGlobe-like” environment. We saw high-resolution imagery and aerial photography streamed to the display with more detailed imagery being served as we flew closer to the ground. Hotspots displayed on the map provided access to live webcams and other information providing an interesting display of some very cool technology. The live demo was flawless and fast… I was totally impressed! See http://www.geotango.com/ for more.

The GeoTango demo

Web Services

One of several sessions I took in was about Web Services. To my surprise the session was a panel discussion format made up of a who’s who in web services. Participants included reps from Microsoft, ESRI, Google/Keyhole, and Telcontar. We heard first-hand about the offerings from these leading technology providers as they each discussed what customers get when they subscribe to their solution. Descriptions of the data and services offered from each provider were presented. Of interest:

MapPoint Web Service provides the base functionality and GIS functionality to a web service. It provides maps, geocoding, routes, proximity search, traffic and construction data, and much more. It is implemented as a SOAP/XML service and is developed and hosted by Microsoft. Its device independent with no UI constraints, meaning it can be implemented in all kinds of applications including; web, wireless, enterprise. Street level data is available for some 24 countries and some 200,000+ POI destinations are included for North America and Western Europe. Solution scenarios include: Store location finder, travel portal, speech location service, yellow pages, mobile location services, call center solutions, fleet tracking, and field services management. See http://www.microsoft.com/mappoint/products/webservice/default.mspx

ESRI ArcWeb Services discussed by James Killick, ESRI
Killick noted how web services and the development of the solutions have been influenced by the IT industry (standards), commercial sectors, and the GIS industry. What is ArcWeb Services? Essentially it’s on-demand-mapping and GIS designed to map and web-enable your applications. There’s no software to install by the user and no data to be updated or maintained by the user. The services are accessible via ArcGIS, over the Internet, or via applications running on a mobile, desktop, or web client. An example of this would be a typical city serving data to the public. Some of the services available include: find a place or address, get maps, directions, batch geocoding, information about areas (address, weather, zip code), traffic data, and much more. Some fine examples of uses of ArcWeb services include the National Geographic Map Machine, Mapshop for newspapers (NY Times, LA Times). Of interest, new, fully managed web services are available from ESRI where the company hosts the entire application including the data – See http://seamless.usgs.gov/ - using this service visitors can view and download geospatial data.  More information and a free evaluation can be found at ESRI.com – Note: ESRI also has just today announced details of a new ESRI developer network – stay tuned for more info. See http://www.esri.com/software/arcwebservices/


You likely recall that late last year Keyhole was acquired by Google. Keyhole is a technology that enables a web service to deliver very large datasets. The technology provides a dynamic interface to imagery, features, vectors, and 3D terrains. The service is ideally suited to large enterprise users (government) who require access to terabytes of data and imagery. Of interest, a low-cost consumer version is also available. Uses and users of the service include numerous consumer apps (lifestyle, edu, entertainment) as well as professional users (real estate).  The technology was recently used by CNN to provide updates and images of Mount St. Helens when she came to life once again in 2004. On the horizon… with the recent launch of Google Maps http://maps.google.com/, it’s just a matter of time before the keyhole technology gets rolled into the Google Map service offerings. See http://www.keyhole.com (Note: see article “What are Google’s plans for keyhole”)

Of interest, it was noted that both ESRI and Microsoft offer customers a chance to buy into their web services for less than $8,000. Even cooler, word has it that ESRI has a new ArcWeb service offering that will come in at around $2,000. Stay tuned!

I won’t go into detail about Telcontar, however, I will say that these folks are definitely the company behind the companies providing location-based web services! They have a strong focus on enterprise applications as well as wireless solutions and the telematics industry. Telcontar can provide real-time data to it’s clients and essentially, they provide the answers to where am I? and even more important, what’s more convenient? Telcontar has a very impressive customer portfolio including: Yahoo?, Google, Ask Jeeves, and Rand Mcnally. Google engineers recently took online mapping to the next level using Telcontar's Drill Down Server® (DDS) geo-spatial software platform and application development toolsSee http://www.telcontar.com/

On The Floor

Finally, my day ended with a tour of the exhibition hall floor accompanied by a couple of hours of wine tasting. A couple of images from the floor follow:

The ESRI booth and studio

The new HP 4000

The Lizardtech booth was busy

Got Maps?

Remember, Geotec 2006 is in Ottawa, Ontario next year.

Last Updated ( 15 February 2005 )
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