ESRI’s brilliant marketing move and what Open Source GIS can learn from it

ESRI has announcedESRI Maps for Office”, an Excel add-in which will be available in public beta the first half of 2012. So imagine: You have all your Excel data, all the power of Excel for analysis and now, you can also display this data on a map WITHIN Excel to explore and analyze it in a whole new way.Fantastic – no?

It probably is. ESRI hasn’t released any information about pricing or licensing (e.g. would you need to have ArcGIS installed on the desktop to use the add-in?) but this is beside the point. In this post, I would argue that the real story here goes far beyond of having another tool in Excel. It brings “GIS” or at least thematic mapping, to thousands (millions?) of new users who till then probably didn’t have anything to do with maps or “GIS” (btw, the quotes are because we still don’t know what kind of spatial/mapping functionality will be available).

This move by ESRI, penetrates -in a big way- a previously untapped market. And this is a lesson Open Source GIS companies can learn a lot from.

In a recent blog post, Sofia Parafina, argues that the release of TileMill for Windows will be the game changer for the adoption of open source mapping. Why? Because, she says 84% of the computers in the world run some variant of Windows (actually in the link she provides this is higher-85%). And also because till now, there was a lack of good cartographic tools for open source programs running on Windows.

I beg to differ. In her own post she states that:

…it’s rather bare bones in that there is no tool to select a feature and set the line style, color, or fill in a menu. You have to create each style using MSS in a TileMill editor, …

So here we go. Another glorified notepad. Don’t get me wrong. I have played with it, its great and I am sure it will help. You can now create thematic maps more easily. But I very much doubt that will be a game changer and people will suddenly queue to download open source GIS.

BUT, providing a –say- QGIS add-in for Excel might do the trick. Do you want some more stats? According to Microsoft, 500 million people worldwide use Microsoft Office. Although this claim may be rather excessive, even empirically, if 85% of computers run windows, most new computers come with some version of Microsoft office, and even WITHOUT including pirated copies, well… you get the picture.

So to finish the same way I started, imagine: You have all your Excel data, all the power of Excel for analysis and now, you can also display this data on a map WITHIN Excel to explore and analyze it in a whole new way by downloading an add-in for Excel for free! .

Now, this IS a game-changer!

Free map services for environmental data in Europe

imageThis is just a note for a little gem I just discovered. The European Environmental Agency (EEA) has made available a set of map services for environmental data. Coming under the interesting name of Discomap (??) this free service is described as:

The EEA provides geographic information system (GIS) application programming interfaces (APIs) to obtain a wide range of environmental data for Europe, and helps users create their own map services. Map services available from Discomap are freely available for reuse. EEA content can be integrated in many different ways by developers or by end users who wish to combine EEA’s information with their own or other public map services (mash-ups).

You can find it at http://discomap.eea.europa.eu/