Open source and innovation

To what extent does our software have to be free or shareware to encourage innovation and research? This NYTimes article points to the new phenomenon called map mash-ups that has arisen because of Google’s free api.

What I find exciting is the “meta-multiplier” effects. It’s happened in the growth of third party value-add ons. In the US, the inexpensive and broad-based distribution of Census data made much of GIS software development (read-survivability) possible; without this easily accessible digital data, we wouldn’t have seen the advent of digital gazetteers. Basic map api’s such as Google maps build on this data availability and have created a platform for new companies such as These api’s also have created new opportunities for public participation GIS. Think of, an application to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina. This interface was built on top of Google maps in 1 1/2 hours.

Obviously Google has a very different business model from ESRI. However, even ESRI has made its modeling interface “open source”. What’s next? ArcIMS?

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