Have we had “peak GIS”?

Has Big GIS, like Big Oil, peaked?

The concept of peak oil is that we’ve experienced peak production of oil and gas (in the US as long ago as 1970):

In the American context this is what the debates about offshore drilling usually omit: whether we do or not makes little difference (to production). Recall that Obama is in favor of offshore drilling and now that the Gulf Oil spill is out of the headlines has moved to allow it again (he previously allowed it before the spill but it became untenable over the summer).

Can a similar argument could be made for the concept of “Peak GIS”? That is, that the era of Big GIS as such is coming to a close either now or in the near future. What I mean by this is not the end of digital mapping and analysis, but that as a coherent entity, Big GIS will be split up into smaller more distributed (read: web-based) capabilities.

If you don’t like the concept of Peak GIS, think of the split up of Ma Bell into the Baby Bells back in the 80s.

Esri has gone from saying “oh you can’t trust crowd-sourced data” (I have several nifty Jack Dangermond quotes along these lines) to including OpenStreetMap as a standard basemap in ArcGIS 10 and arcgis.com. This is indicative of their switch in attitude I think that they can no longer ignore VGI and a more distributed model.

What does this mean for Esri-like Big GIS? I think it means the single $8,000 software (or whatever you pay for it) will come under challenge from smaller outfits offering similar functionality in specialized areas. I am speaking technologically here. I don’t know how it would be put into a business model, but here are three possibilities:

1. Function-on-demand for a payment? Well, that would be offputting to the user, to be constantly paying. You might also have to know where to get each small tiny function (eg transform a projection). Maybe a clearing house of functions like a spatial data clearinghouse, or library?

2. Netflix like subscription service with different levels? Who provides this? After all Netflix is a central place, but the key point is that they don’t produce any content, they just distribute it. this is therefore a bit like #1.

3. Mobile phone-like set of functions like 300 as month text messages? I get 300 text messages a month in my account and can use them up as I like. Maybe if I pay 10-25 cents for each one I won’t mind too much.

I see the web/cloud as enabling these more distributed models. Esri of course will remain a player as it has built up decades of trust and consumer goodwill (name-brand familiarity). But if I were Jack Dangermond I would be thinking anti-trust, company split up and Peak GIS.


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