MapBrief Geo Predictions for 2014

by Brian Timoney

Soothsaying is so much part of the human condition that, like so many pointless pleasures, ancient scripture took a very dim view of it.

But for us in tech glib optimism is the default setting.  Piggybacking on the predictions of others in the geo industry, I offer the following the prognostications based on little other than personal bias:

1) Geo Will Continue to Grow; GIS Market Share Will Continue To Decline

Geographic data, spatial analysis, and cartography will all enjoy an increase in financial investment and general public awareness in 2014.  But the percentage of this content generated by traditional GIS software will decline.   The spatial-isn’t-special mantra becomes entrenched as interesting geo applications increasingly “happen” elsewhere such as

  • in databases unmediated by geo middleware,
  • custom search applications powered by Solr/ElasticSearch et al
  • statistical analysis packages such a R and the emerging Python ecosystem
  • purely in the browser via Javascript APIs and visualization libraries

Even better from the end-user perspective, instead of the brickwork of cryptic icons that passes for UI in the GIS realm, mobile apps will demand of their users little more than having their phone turned on.

But worry not GIS worker: spatial might no longer be special but projections, datums, and legacy file formats will continue to be very, very special.

2)  Remote Sensing Becomes Something Other Than Background Images

All hail the Geo-Panopticon.

Check out this image of Singapore harbor (2nd image down):  it’s a little bit cool.  But the quicker re-visits promised by newcomers Skybox Imaging and Planet Labs mean new products to tell us just where each of those ships in the harbor has been and help us track where they’re going to. Or at least that’s the hope for an industry that’s still all-too-dependent on government clients.


3)  Postgresql Becomes the Default Choice
2014 is when conventional wisdom catches up to what we PostGIS users have long known:  PostgreSQL is the sh#t.  As platforms such as EC2, OpenShift, and Heroku make it dead easy to spin in it up, we’ll look on with abject pity at the devs making do with MySQL on their $3.99/month commodity shared hosting.

4)  The “Enterprise” Won’t Move As Fast As You Want It To

Sure, they’ll continue to say the right things: “breaking down silos”, “getting smarter with data”, etc., etc.  But you know what’s more powerful than the new possibilities unleashed by technology?

Human inertia.

Or, more specifically, the entrenched interests embedded in a calcified org chart.  Thus the magical thinking of “we’re going to do all these wonderful things with data that will increase profits and efficiency without threatening the status quo.”

Because “disruption”, like “minor” surgery, is best experienced by others.   When you are a middle manager being kept up at night by the ghosts of Future College Tuitions, non-threatening nibble-around-the-edges small improvements expensively offered up by your friendly long-time vendor are preferable to anything that has even a whiff of cutting-edge.

5)  Hadoop Will Become Even More Beloved Among Those Who Don’t Have Big Data Problems

The vast majority of organizations do not have Big Data problems.

They have small and medium data problems.

These everyday small and medium data problems usually aren’t difficult technical problems per se: they’re often solvable with database and ETL tools already on hand, perhaps with a dash of statistical analysis.  But like in #4 above, they face the formidable foe of status-quo processes and the executives that cling to them.  Om Malik has a wonderful post about how everyday customer experiences remain un-informed by the unsexy data that companies have been collecting for years.

All that said, we’ll grant you that ‘Hadoop’ is still a fun word to say.

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On the other hand, the combination of the Apple iWatch and the next iteration of Google Glass could be the game-changers that we’ve all been waiting for.

If so, I’ll gladly issue a breathless retraction of all of the above.


—Brian Timoney

Crystal ball photo courtesy of   spratmackrel’s Flickr stream
Elephant watercolor courtesy of ‘s Flickr stream