Not all Geographic Information conferences are created equal. A great proof point for this is IRLOGI, the Irish Association for Geographic Information. Today I’ve been in Dublin at their annual GIS Ireland 2014 conference, which is in its 19th year. I’d been invited to give one of the opening keynotes; who could resist such an invitation?
Held in the hidden conference centre that nestles unassumingly under the Chartered Accountants of Ireland’s offices, GIS Ireland ticked all the boxes. The conference team had obviously worked hard to ensure that there was a wide range of topics being discussed and managed to avoid the “same people, same talks, same topics” trap that some conferences fall into. The coffee was hot and plentiful and the wifi (almost) stayed up and running all the time.
The starting point for the talk I have was an article called Today’s Mapping Industry Really Does Need To Please All People, All The Time, which I’d written for GPS Business News in September. As there was an article length limit, I couldn’t go into the detail I think this topic merited, but a conference talk is a different beast. This is what that article morphed into. This is B2*.
Welcome to B2*; the new reality of the mapping industry …
So hello, I’m Gary. I’m the co-founder of Malstow Geospatial and small and friendly maps, location and geo consulting company
based in South West London, which means I’m currently Head of APIs for the Ordnance Survey. In previous corporate roles
I’ve been head of community maps for HERE and head of geotechnology for Yahoo!
… I tweet, a lot, as @vicchi …
… and I write a map blog at www.vicchi.org
There’s quite a lot of slides in this talk and some of them contain URLs. Rather than try and frantically jot them down, this is the only URL you might want to take note of. It’s where the slides and my notes will be appearing. If you go to this address right now there’s nothing there but tomorrow when I get home, this is where things will automagically appear.
The starting point for this talk is an article I wrote recently for GPS Business News in response to what I perceived as a growing trend that the mapping industry is in a wonderful and safe position and that everything is awesome … so I did some research of my own and found some wonderfully big looking numbers being tossed around
75% of people are using some form of location services on their smartphones, according to Pew Research.
Markets and Markets value the entire location based services market at $40 billion, albeit in 5 year’s time
Berg values just the advertising section of LBS at $15 billion in 4 year’s time
Obviously we’re in the midst of a mapping and location boom
The trivial amounts of $2.76 billion that TomTom paid for TeleAtlas …
… and the $8.1 billion that Nokia paid for Navteq in 2008 are obviously bargain basement.
That’s a lot of money and a lot of market share. Surely?
Looking at all of these big numbers it seems obvious that if you’re a mapping company the sole path to success is just to license your data and then head to the bar, safe and secure that you’re in an unassailable position.
That can’t be right. I wanted to take a look at this unassailable position. Indulge me if you will …
Firstly, I want to set some context for what today’s mapping industry looks like and why it looks the way it does
As a species we’ve been making maps for a while. This isn’t the earliest map but it’s one of the earliest that’s recognisable as a map; it’s of the world as the Babylonians thought of it. Babylon is in the centre of the map and there’s seven triangular islands, 3 of which are missing due to damage, in the “river of bitter water”, or the sea.
No-one knows who made the Babylonian map, but we know this map, which goes under the delightful Latin title of Hemispheriu[m] ab aequinoctiali linea, ad circulu[m] Poli Arctici, (literally Hemisphere of the equinoctial line, to the circle of the Arctic pole) was made by Cornelius de Jode in 1593 for an atlas which was published by his father. This is a prime example of a map as art, but this art came at a price. You needed to be wealthy to commission such a map and such a map was often given as a notional gift to the rich and powerful to curry favour or was commissioned by one of the ruling elite. This is maps for rulers. Quite often the map was a blank canvas, waiting to be discovered and filled in, it certainly was the case when Sir Walter Raleigh undertook his voyages of exploration for Queen Elizabeth I and maybe the process by which this happened looked something like this …
Business marketing terms weren’t around in 1593, at least not that we’d probably recognise today, but I think you could classify de Jode’s map as B2G, business-to-government, as the kings, queens and other members of the ruling elite who either commissioned maps or were the beneficiaries of them were as close to government as you’d get in those days
But by the middle of the 20th Century, maps may still have been under governmental control but they were also for the masses as well, with the likes of you and me being able to buy maps and go out and explore the wonders of the countryside or navigate to unfamiliar parts of the country or even beyond, to what was termed, at least when I was growing up, as “abroad” or on the “continent”.
These sort of maps were designed for the consumer and fall within the purview of what’s now termed business-to-consumer, or B2C
While we tend to think of digital maps as a relatively modern invention, maps have been data for a long time, pretty much ever since we stopped engraving them by hand. Though there’s a lot of press coverage about vector maps being the latest thing, maps were vectors that then got converted into rasters. And of course, it you have data, other people may want that data
They may even be willing to pay money to license that data, and so we have maps as data and maps as a business-to-business transaction.
Life was simple. The maps industry knew where it was. We went out and made maps from mapping data. We did this under government authority as B2G, we licensed the data to other businesses as B2B and we sold maps to the public as B2C.
But all things can, must and do change and the disruptive change to the maps industry started in the mid to late 1980s
In 1984 a company called TeleAtlas formed in the Netherlands and the following year another company called Navtech formed in Silicon Valley. Both made rudimentary digital map data and TeleAtlas’s data would form part of ETAK, the first in-car navigation system.
In 1989 the rollout of the US controlled Global Positioning System starts. These days we know this as GPS.
In 1991, at Cern in Switzerland a man called Tim Berners-Lee started to link a web of documents together and on this very NeXT cube (formed by Steve Jobs after he’d been ousted from Apple), the first webserver and web site was born and the World Wide Web officially started.
Up until 2000 there was two sorts of GPS signal – a degraded civilian one and and an accurate military one. This difference stopped in May 2000. As a result GPS starts to become widespread in civilian devices, leading to the explosion of personal satnav devices and the presence of GPS in our smartphones
And talking of smartphones, whilst they were first thought of an patented in 1971, mass availability and adoption of these hybrid mobile phone, network enabled computers didn’t really take off until the turn of the Millennium
And in 2005 Google finally made their unofficial API for Google Maps, which had launched earlier that year, publicly available and Yahoo! quickly followed with their maps API.
So with map data, maps APIs, GPS and maps on the web and on our smartphone a decision inversion occurred. Technology decisions which had previously been made by the CTO and then percolated downwards to GI and software engineers, were now being made by those same GI professionals and percolating upwards.
All of this made me think of a theory about the distribution channels and relationships that mapping organisations have. My theory goes something like this … in order to continue to survive and grow, just having one channel or relationship isn’t enough
B2G alone isn’t enough
B2B alone isn’t enough
B2C alone isn’t enough
B2D alone isn’t enough
You really need to please all people, all of the time, you need to be B-to-everything, which I’m shortening to B-to-* because it’s shorter to say and sounds vaguely snappier
To try and prove my theory I looked at some of the key players in the mapping and mapping data space and tried to categorise them. Would the theory hold for one category, for all of them or maybe there’s some specific category where the theory holds true, albeit in a tenuous way
The first category I termed “this is my map data making”, in other words, organisations that actually go out and collect the raw geospatial data that’s the key ingredient in making a map.
Then there’s “not my map data making”; these organisations make maps but use other company’s map data, usually licensed data.
And then finally there’s “accidental map data making”; organisations that have ended up creating mapping data almost accidentally or as a beneficial side effect to their main endeavours.
This is the first category of companies; those that make their own maps
First up is Amsterdam based TomTom, the owners of TeleAtlas.
There’s obviously a B2C offering from TomTom, driven (pun fully intended) by TeleAtlas’ data, as this is what the company is probably best known for.
The B2C flavour continues with paid apps on two of the main smartphone platforms.
And on the B2B side there’s licensing TeleAtlas data …
… as well as a map platform that caters for the B2D side of things, as long as you’re a paying licensee
TeleAtlas/TomTom data are the underpinnings for Apple’s maps on iOS and on OS X as well as Google’s maps for those areas where Google hasn’t yet made their own maps as a by product of gathering StreetView data.
So TomTom’s B2* scorecard looks something like this …
Then there’s Chicago based Navteq who were acquired by Nokia and now form part of Berlin based HERE.
There’s a strong B2C presence for HERE, with a consumer maps portal, …
the default maps app for Windows Phone …
… a deal with Samsung to provide maps which aren’t Google’s on Android phones and rumours of an equivalent for iOS at some point.
B2B is also a strong showing for HERE, signing platform deals to run maps for big enterprises …
including Yahoo …
and Microsoft’s Bing.
And finally there’s a B2D presence with a whole suite of developer APIs, some freemium, some tied to NAVTEQ data licensing.
Here’s HERE’s B2* scorecard …
Moving away from global mapping providers, let’s take a look at where I’m currently consulting, the UK’s Ordnance Survey, which is probably the oldest mapping agency there is, being in existence since 1792
As an executive branch of the UK government, the OS is trying hard to cover all the bases.
There’s the printed consumer maps side of the business which seems to be as British as long summer evenings, weak tea, cricket and warm beer.
There’s also a strong B2D showing with a variety of APIs, which I’m working hard on expanding and improving.
And there’s data, loads of data which is licensed to other businesses as well as being made available to central and local government agencies via the UK Public Service Mapping Agreement.
The Ordnance Survey’s B2* scorecard looks something like this …
That’s category number 1 dealt with, now let’s look at category number 2, the “not my data” brigade who take mapping data and make maps and services with it under license
It probably comes as no surprise that the first in this category is Google, the company that, probably unfairly, seems to be synonymous with web maps and mobile maps. It’s true that Google are slowly making their own base map as a convenient by product to StreetView, but they are also licensees of a staggering amount of data, including TomTom’s.
Google tries hard to tick all the B2 boxes. There’s a consumer maps site …
… and mobile maps which are closely integrated with Google’s other core business, that of selling search advertising.
There’s also a strong developer offering as well, giving “free” (in very inverted commas) access to maps, geocoding and a whole slew of other geospatial services.
Here’s Google’s B2* scorecard …
Launched in 1996, next up is MapQuest. 1996 doesn’t seem that long ago but MapQuest is a literal veteran of online and digital maps
As a TomTom/TeleAtlas licensee, MapQuest has a strong consumer offering, albeit one with some quirks. There’s a consumer map portal, which isn’t powered by TomTom data at all, rather it’s driven entirely by OpenStreetMap.
MapQuest’s B2C credentials extend to a competitor to Google Maps amongst others being available on iOS, on Android, on Windows Phone and on Amazon’s Kindle Fire as well.
It looks quite an impressive offering, maps, GPS, traffic notifications and turn by turn navigation …
… but sadly it’s a US only affair so I can’t download it or try it out as I don’t have a US credit card.
There’s also a strong B2D showing as well, and MapQuest are unique here in offering two identical sets of developer APIs, one driven by TomTom data and one by OpenStreetMap.
This is what MapQuest’s B2* scorecard looks like …
And finally in this category is Apple. The Cupertino based company is a relative latecomer to the maps game, relying on Google for their maps until the launch of Apple Maps in 2012
It’s fair to say that the first versions of Apple Maps felt rushed. With odd visualisations of melting bridges, showing the wrong location of the Apple Store in Sydney, Australia, marking an entire city as a hospital, misclassifying a nursery as an airport, and identifying the nearest petrol station to be as far as 76 miles away from the user’s location.
But Apple Maps have iterated rapidly and improved significantly …
… and thanks to the acquisition of C3, they have a very impressive 3D offering and a captive developer audience in the OS X and iOS operating systems.
This is Apple’s B2* scorecard …
And finally there’s the accidental geospatial data companies.
The best example of which is probably New York’s Foursquare.
As a consumer recommendation site, Foursquare gets things impressively right.
There’s also two consumer mobile apps, the original Foursquare and the new Swarm, though many people, myself included, think Foursquare isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be, especially since the gamification elements of checking in and competing to be mayor of a place have been phased out.
But the side effect of all of this has been a vital part of the mobile location based ecosystem and that’s Foursquare’s places data which power so many of today’s LBS and LBMS offerings.
This data set, an almost byproduct of their core business, has immense value that is now slowly being licensed and recognised.
This is Foursquare’s B2* scorecard …
There’s also an elephant in the room, an obvious omission that I’ve not talked about, and that’s OpenStreetMap. Now I know that OSM is a community and not a company or an organisation but it rightly deserves examining in terms of B2*
Since its inception in 2004, OSM has grown and grown. Not just in the amount of the world that’s been mapped, nor just in the amount of mapping data that this has generated (which currently weighs in at just under 500 GB). OSM is probably the definitive exemplar of a crowd sourcing project and it’s now starting to attract some heavyweight business attention, both directly and indirectly through the ecosystem of companies offering and monetising OSM based services.
In addition to using TomTom data, Apple are also using OSM, albeit from a vintage prior to OSM’s change of licensing from CC-BY-SA to ODbL.
Foursquare’s maps are OSM based …
OpenCage are building geo services on OSM data …
and both Craigslist …
and Wikipedia are using OSM maps.
Then there’s MapBox …
and CartoDb, both building a business on OSM.
So this is OpenStreetMap’s B2* scorecard …
So does my theory of B2* being the new reality for the maps industry make sense? Does it hang together coherently? Obviously I think it does, for several reasons, but also that even if you’re a mapping company that manages to cover all of the bases that B2* currently stands for, that’s not necessarily grounds for congratulating ourselves and resting back on our laurels.
As some of the early market leaders got acquired, there were fears around uncertainly of map data supply and the explosive growth of the dashboard top satnav box slowed to a trickle, supplanted by free offerings on people’s smartphones. Surely there would be winners and losers and this would affirm my theory of B2*. Maybe. None of the players in this space have gone out of business … yet. But it’s too early to be sure and when disruptive change happens in an industry it happens fast and it’s easy to be complacent and not spot a trend.
Accuracy always matters for a map, not just for how accurate the map and its data is, but also for where the map is. Consider this for a moment, the duo of TeleAtlas/TomTom and Navteq/HERE have a pedigree steeped in the automotive industry, in satnav and turn-by-turn navigation. Their maps are road heavy, sometimes to the detriment of other forms of transport. The national and cadastral mapping agencies, including Britain’s Ordnance Survey, on the other hand, map everywhere within their territory regardless of whether it’s a road network, a metropolitan or urban area or the remotest and sparsely populated areas. And then there’s OpenStreetMap which maps everything it can, anywhere it can. Accuracy definitely matters and all the organisations I’ve talked about claim to have accurate maps and most of the time these days they have.
In addition to accuracy, depth also matters but several mapping companies have discovered to their cost that not everyone needs depth. Classic B2B players, such as utility companies and fixed lines communications providers definitely need depth, as do governments, especially when it comes to marking out electoral boundaries or calculating taxation. But not all use cases demand the most detailed map.
As I mentioned earlier, disruption happens and it happens in such a way that the market leaders often don’t notice. Any company active in the mapping space ignores the encroachment of Google into it’s heartland or the uptake and adoption of OpenStreetMap at their peril.
All the companies that make their own mapping data, that’s TeleAtlas/TomTom, Navteq/HERE and the Ordnance Survey rightly pride themselves on the accuracy of their map and the depth of their map (in other words how detailed the map is). For a lot of use cases, maybe for emergency service routing, deep and accurate is what you need. But for other use cases, you just need good enough and good enough either comes for free or at a substantial discount.
So who wins and who looses. All the companies try hard to tick as many of the B2* boxes as they can. But there will be casualties. Google’s march towards domination seems unstoppable, but any company can make a wrong move or ignore an upstart competitor snapping at their heels. TomTom and HERE rely on big licensing deals to justify the costs of map data acquisition but this is the classic long tail model in action, the head is mined out and the tail is starting to be explored. Those big licensing deals are getting fewer and fewer and come with less revenue. HERE’s deal with Samsung is a clever move which may just be enough for a company which effectively was acquired for $9 billion and is now valued at $6 billion. There’s little doubt in my mind that owning your own mapping data gives you a position of strength and stability that being a licensee just can’t. Of all the companies I’ve mentioned, MapQuest gives me the most concern. They continue to be reliant on licensed data, even though they’ve embraced OpenStreetMap, and licensed data costs continue to rise. I have to wonder if their parent company, AOL, will make a decision that there’s just not enough revenue coming in and will decide to close MapQuest down. For companies lucky enough to continue to own their data, the challenge is no longer to make a map or keep it fresh and accurate. The challenge and the reality is to expose the map and the map data to as many channels as they can. This is what B2* is all about. It means own your data, monetise it, make a balance between free and paid offerings and keep making your map ubiquitous.