Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Commoditization of Mapping

The Benefits of Doing Nothing

The longer you stay in software, more technologies you’ll likely see become commoditized. Things that once used to be quite difficult, specialized, and costly inevitably become simple, accessible, and cheap (if not free).downward

Some examples of capabilities that have been commoditized might include:

  • Antivirus
  • CMS’
  • Source Control
  • Advanced hosting/infrastructure (e.g. Geo-redundant storage, elastic computing, CDNs)
  • Many tools in the Business Intelligence space (i.e. early BI maturity technologies like charting/reporting, analytics, visualization) 

The Sweet Spot

In consulting, this usually means there’s a period of time when technologies are recently commoditized and cost effective to implement, but that still provide strong differentiating value to customers.

You could even say that it’s the job of a good vendor to help you identify some of the high value, lost cost capabilities that have recently matured in their space, and help you understand if it’s likely to help you accomplish your goals.

Commoditization is also a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand, you as the developer have the chance to look like a rock star using new tools and libraries to efficiently solve what used to be intractable problems.

On the other, as these solutions start to permeate the marketplace, customers will eventually cease to see high value in these efforts, and will be more interested in the next greatest thing (which means you have some reading to do!).

Mapping on the Cheap

Some would argue that the emergence of high quality open source libraries are a notable milestone in commoditization. If that’s true, then client side mapping is well on its way. In 2005 when Google Maps first emerged, there wasn’t much competition in this space and it was mostly dominated by ESRI. Now, mapping is teeming with offerings from many providers, and open source components are becoming some of the most popular tools used to solve these once very specialized challenges.

Leaflet

I’d like to use Leaflet as an example. With 27KB of minified/gziped javascript, devs can now solve what used to be some pretty troublesome mapping problems. This includes things like:

And that’s just scratching the surface! Leaflet’s plugin inventory alone offers some compelling evidence that accessible client side mapping is pretty well solved.

Keeping Up

Regardless of how we feel about it, capabilities in IT will continue to commoditize over our careers. Regardless of how deep we get in a particular skillset, the value it adds will eventually diminish and we’ll have to either get deeper, or pick up some new tricks (ideally both).

Even though our old tricks will eventually cease to impress anyone, hopefully you’ll feel like you’re getting more done with fewer keystrokes.