Some terms start particular and become generic. “Chesterfield”, “kleenex”, “hoover”. Marketers love it when things move the other way, co-opting generic terms. One that drives my up the wall is the shortening of “Microsoft SQL Server” to “SQL”. As in, “we use SQL, what do you use?”. Or “UNIX” to refer to the full sweep of systems, from Sun, IBM, HP, SGI, “that program runs on the UNIX”. I have also spotted “let’s go get a Starbucks” in the wild, which is a disturbing innovation.

Update: In fairness to ignorant abbreviators of “Microsoft SQL Server”, every individual component of the term is pretty generic. Microsoft. SQL. Server. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that “SQL” was the particular portion of the phrase. However, that just proves you don’t know any better. “SQL Server” or “MSSQL” is as short as it goes, suck it up.

Googlesoft Redux

Some might think that there is a subtext (Microsoft is Evil! Google is becoming like Microsoft! Ergo! Google is Evil!) underlying my previous post, so let me disabuse that now: Microsoft is not Evil. Follow the reasoning from there.

However, Microsoft is Big. And Microsoft has a Lot of Money. And Microsoft is looking for New Sources of Earnings. Because Microsoft makes all of its money in One Place (well, two). Sound familiar?

When an organization gets as successful as Microsoft or Google in one market, it has lots of cash and time on its hands to play around in other markets. Ever see a cat play with a mouse? It’s fun… for the cat.

What twigged me was the Google Latitude announcement (incidentally, thanks CBC, for the scary technology story last night). Hey, mobile social networking… just like Loopt!

How did it go down? Like this?

Google: Hm, we’ve got maps on Android and iPhone, we can get location, we should use this for social networking. Hmm, Loopt is already doing that.
Google: Hey Loopt! Wanna be bought?
Loopt: Sure, that’ll be $100M.
Google: Are you insane? In this market? Try $10M.
Loopt: But our investors are already into us for $10M…
Google: Sorry, thems the breaks. We can build it ourselves for less than $10M, if you know what I mean, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, say no more.
Loopt: sob

Or maybe like this?

Googler A: Let’s build a mobile social networking site!
Googler B: And then play some beach volleyball!
Googler A: Yeah!
Loopt: sob

Really, no matter how the story goes, it ends up with the notional value of Loopt shares falling by 50-80% on the day Google Latitude is announced.

And the investors who dropped their millions into Loopt? What are they going to think the next time someone comes with a great technology idea, maybe a little ahead of its time, but a chance to build out and be ready to rock when the pieces fall into place. Maybe they’ll think: yeah, this could grow into something huge, but as soon as the market matures enough to be valuable, Google is just going to steal it anyways. Pass.


It’s been obvious for a while, but it took the release of “Google Latitude” to finally shock me into conscious awareness. Google is now the Microsoft of internet services. (Microsoft remains the Microsoft of desktop software. Apple hopes to be the Microsoft of smart phones.)

I’m not referring necessarily to full-on bring-in-the-DoJ monopoly here, but to a level of leadership in market consciousness, and the bottomless pockets, that allow for a form of monopolistic behavior. I remember reading articles in the late nineties about the death of innovation in desktop software, and one of the factors blamed was the “Microsoft effect” – investors stopped supporting innovative new desktop software out of fear of Microsoft. Microsoft would allow you as a third-party developer to have a neat little application, to write some shareware, but if you invented anything strategic of of potentially large market, Microsoft would make its own version, inferior at first, but would eventually crush you and take your market.

And now we have Google, doing the same thing. It’s been a while since Google brought out anything truly innovative, but they sure have shown themselves willing to copy the services of upstart companies and try to snatch their markets away. Sometimes they win (Google Docs) and sometimes they lose (Google Video, Orkut) but this kind of aggressive barging in will eventually dry up the investment ecosystem for web services.

PostGIS and the Public Sector

The EU’s Open Source Observatory and Repository reports on the ESLAP conference in Portugal. Looks like some big public agencies are moving to PostGIS as their spatial data store. We already knew about France’s Institut Géographique National, but to that add Portugal’s Instituto Geográphico Português.

Data is a Long Lived Investment

Technology is not.

Double-plus super-terrific hands-on-the-ceiling support to Sean Gorman’s take on the various self-serving NSDI proposals circulating the internet.

Someone posted this link to the story of the rescue of the Canada Land Inventory recently, and I really enjoyed it. Note that, a decade after the program wound down, the technology value had declined to zero. Less than zero, actually, since it was now an impediment to accessing the data. Meanwhile, the data, some of it 25 years old, had retained its value.

Here in my neighborhood, British Columbia has no unified parcel inventory / ownership inventory. The ownership database is separate from the parcel information (which is incomplete and out of date). Bits and pieces, hither and yon. Modernization talk always tends to focus on the technology, but the real project is a big, expensive, labor intensive slog through the data, to apply consistency rules to the ownership database, and complete the parcel data. Make sure all the work is done here in BC, and it’s a 100% stimulus that, like building a bridge, will create an asset with a multi-generational life-span.

(Speaking of multi-generational, the Patullo Bridge in Vancouver recently caught fire and a section burned to the ground. It’s a four-lane free-way bridge, how did this happen? Turns out, it’s really old, older than most people think, and one section was built of wood! In 1936. In the Depression. Call your representatives, tell them you don’t want tax cuts, you want bridges, you want basic scientific knowledge, you want railways, you want power lines, you want dams, things that will still be around when your grandchildren have grandchildren.)