The waves created by Google’s announcement that it will stop supporting Google Earth Enterprise (GEE) in the spring of 2017 continue to ripple through the geospatial community. For this third installment in this series, I interviewed Andrew Hill, Chief Science Officer at CartoDB, a software vendor; John-Isaac Clark, Director, Product Management – Geospatial Big Data at DigitalGlobe, a satellite imagery and information vendor; and Lt. Col. Michael Russell, GEOINT Visualization Services (GVS) Program Manager at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), one of the largest users of GEE.
3D GLOBE Several geospatial companies offer partial replacements to GEE, though their offerings differ somewhat from each other and from GEE. The biggest difference between CartoDB and GEE is that the former lacks a 3D globe. Instead, like Google Maps, it is focused on flat projections. CartoDB and GEE, however, share many features, Hill points out, including the ability to create multiple maps from a single dataset and for teams to collaborate around geospatial data. “GEE’s portability is a very valuable feature for enterprise users,” says Hill. “Many GIS tools are pretty heavy. They have many requirements about where they can be installed. Many of them don’t work very well on mobile devices. CartoDB solves many of the same problems [as GEE].” CartoDB is a software-as-a-service, so it enables users to build apps and analyze data directly from their browsers, without installing any tools, and to access their work from mobile devices.
Both GEE and Esri’s ArcGIS Earth are built around the idea of presenting geospatial data on a 3D Earth and allowing users to navigate on its surface. By contrast, Hill says, “CartoDB is focused around drilling down into geospatial data and then gathering insights from that, but then also sharing those insights with other people.” He points out two important differentiators between CartoDB and the other two platforms. First, that the data in CartoDB resides on “a powerful back end” that can analyze that data and perform filtering, measurements, and other GIS functions. “Combining those features is what allows enterprise users to tap into and gain insights from their data,” says Hill. Additionally, he says, CartoDB’s ease of use allows people with very different backgrounds, including many without training in GIS, to look at their data, find patterns and outliers, and make some predictions.