Tag: technology

Real Estate Gets It – Location is Everything

A recent article in the Financial Post reminds us of what the real estate industry has known for a long time – location is everything.  Many factors influence the price of property but in the end, location is fixed and according to Elton Ash of Re/Max “The location is always critical. The location is directly tied to price. Nothing beats location. Ever.”

So what about other industries?  Absolutely for many.

Geo-industry analysts predict returns to strong economic growth in 2010 for technology companies in the sector while broader based technology gurus are consistently recognizing the importance of location within other technology products and services.  Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch puts “Geo” in second spot in his prediction of technologies that will have a significant impact in 2010.  He points to the recent Twitter acquisition of Mixer Labs, creator of the GeoAPI as evidence that tech companies see geolocation capability as a must have in their products and services.

My opinion is that increasingly opportunities will exist for geo technology companies to leverage their expertise in markets outside their traditional areas of business.  The challenge will be to identify the real opportunities from the fluff.  Many of the opportunities will look quite different from traditional location based markets and the winners will be the ones who can figure out how to structure themselves to match the market requirements.

Rabkin’s ROI has a great post on the impact new technology has on our “baseline experience”.  Barry Rabkin points out that when new technology is seen to add value to our lives or improve the way we go about our business, a new baseline of expectation is established against which we measure future technology.

His post is a good reminder that disruptive technologies are always changing market expectations.  While we may believe our product is the disruptive one, we can can never lose sight of the reality that our competitors are also responding to changing market conditions.

For companies in the spatial technology world, this change is all too evident.  Particularly as one observes the business of organizations such as Microsoft and Google and others as they continually raise the bar of expectation among consumers with respect to access to spatial information, ease of use, etc.  What was pretty heady stuff a few years ago has now fallen below the threshold of user expectation.

I not sure the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” is entirely true in a competitive market place but it is clear that even when the bar is being steadily raised by some large market players, opportunity remains for others.  In the spatial technology field we continue to see many companies thrive (not all to be sure) and new companies emerge, set to introduce their own technologically disruptive products and services into the market.

The challenge remains to innovate around sound technology with a sharp eye on what the market requires.  Recognize the market expectation is always changing, don’t forget that your competition is probably gauging the market as closely as you are, anticipate what  they will do and have a plan to deal with it.

But My GPS Told Me To….

It seems like I am hearing a lot about the problems with personal navigation technology these days. A recent twitter post by @mapserving of a news article by the BBC describes another case of GPS misadventure. And only a few days ago, my wife and I, attending a reception listened to an extended dinner table discussion of the problems of in car navigation. Some of the accounts are humorous but sometimes the consequences may be serious.

So as a one promoting the benefits of spatial technology, what does one make of these types of reports?

As the growth in location aware applications and services is upon us, we need to remind ourselves first, that technology in itself is probably not the complete solution to any user’s needs.

In the case of GPS navigation there are many potential sources for error including the following:

  • Outdated map data – recent street addition
  • Incorrect or incomplete data
  • Inaccurate geocoding
  • Poor routing models
  • GPS satellite system responsiveness and accuracy
  • Interpretation of user queries
  • Operator error

Take a look at the manuals that accompany your GPS device. If these issues are addressed at all, it is not in an overt way. And even if they were spelled out more prominently, would it make a difference? My sense is that in today’s technological world, there is a tendency among all of us to focus on the benefits of technology while losing site of its limitations.

There is a fine balance between promoting new technology and ensuring that users are aware of the limitations of its use or the need for other information, common sense, etc. One of the challenges of those providing technology based products and services is to minimize the limitations of the technology during the user experience. This can be accomplished by:

  • Understanding the use case – this will change as products and service uptake moves from early adopters to mainstream users;
  • Ensuring you have thought through and are able to provide a complete solution to the user – are things like documentation, training, etc necessary and how should they be implemented to be effective; and
  • Constantly work to solve technical limitations or provide workarounds.

These are pretty fundamental and there are probably others but we need to keep at least these three in the foreground as we work to advance the use of spatial information and technologies.

In the world of technology, it seems the focus is usually on the early stages of the product lifecycle curve.  While we dream (and hopefully plan) for the point when our product moves beyond the realm of the visionary and early adopters, much of our effort and challenge remains with those early stages.

On June 22, 2009 Kodak announced the end of the line had come for its Kodachrome film products – after a 74 year run.  Amazing.

Kodachrome Announcement

In today’s technological world, to imagine a product life cycle of 74 years is hard.  But Kodak succeeded with Kodachrome for many years..

Marketed to both professional photographers and the rest of us more in the snapshot category, the Kodachrome film products  were known for their vibrant colors, fine grain, sharpness and archival qualities.  For many, it was the film of choice.  The product line made its way into a popular song recorded by Paul Simon in 1973.

In making the decision to discontinue this product line, Kodak indicated that today Kodachrome generated revenues had declined to a fraction of the company’s total revenue.  Its product life cycle peaked in the 1950s and ’60s but as Kodak’s business changed in response to the disruption of digital photography sales declined.

The reality is that the end of the cycle comes for all products.  Often in the technology world, the cycle is disrupted by new innovation and the tail of the curve is cut short.  But for some – like Kodachrome the cycle is long and successful.

For the nostalgic, Kodak has compiled a gallery of iconic images shot with Kodachrome film.

“Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, Oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away”—Paul Simon, 1973

Spatial context is a part of our decision making but spatial information technology may not.

The recent announcement by YourStreet.com that they were discontinuing the use of maps in their hyperlocal news service is a reminder that there is nothing sacred about the application of spatial information tools in a business context.  That is sometimes hard for us to imagine – at least those of us living with spatial data and technology day in and day out.

The reason cited by Directions Magazine was a financial one – maintaining the service was too costly.  Assuming that is true, what does one make of it?

  • Technology used to communicate spatial context has a value associated with it
  • At some point the value of spatial information technology may not justify the cost
  • If that point is reached, the technology in question will be dropped or will atrophy

Should that surprise us? Not really since it pretty much is the way life goes.

In the case of Yourstreet has the importance of spatial information disappeared? I would argue that it has not given that they premise for their business revolves around local (read spatially relevant) news.  Instead, YourStreet has simply determined they will not use online mapping tools as a spatial reference system to help their users.  They have deemed that a descriptive spatial reference system (ie, a user defines the spatial context for news of a particular location in his or her request) is adequate for their user’s needs.

We need to be clear that spatial context is not the same as spatial information technology.  The former can be achieved in a variety of ways.  Technology may aid in providing spatial context but it needs to be evaluated within a cost/benefit framework appropriate to the business or organization in question.