Imagery as Inspiration

Attending the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show (CES)—the largest trade show in the world, with over 2700 exhibitors and 150,000 attendees—was our kickoff to the new year. As a consumer trade show, it doesn't attract much attention from the I/RS community. However, the lines between business and consumer applications are increasingly blurred as consumer devices and software drive Enterprise 2.0 (the integration of Web 2.0 into business communication).

We attended CES in search of new consumer electronics devices and innovations that would impact the geospatial market. The connected digital life continues to be the central focus of CES and the consumer electronics industry, with high-definition flat screen televisions, Internet-ready televisions, 24/7 connected mobile devices, high-definition 3D that provides an immersive experience, and netbooks that connect to the cloud/Internet. The buzz in media and communications for several years now has been around convergence of the three screens—TV, computer, and mobile. The highlights at CES were 3D televisions in the home, netbooks, and in-vehicle navigation. So what does all this have to do with I/RS? Everything, if the goal is to grow beyond the core markets of defense, agriculture, and oil and gas.

In Culture Code: An Ingenius Way to Learn Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do, Clotaire Rapaille discusses the importance of being "on code" to effectively market products and services. In other words, he believes that what people and organizations think they are selling most often does not equate with the reason for which consumers/customers are buying. This misalignment is what limits the growth and marketability of products and services.

Among his many examples, Rapaille describes why Americans buy cars. His studies demonstrated that purchases have nothing to do with the conventional wisdom of gas mileage and safety, but instead have everything to do with a sense of freedom and a distinct experience. The gas mileage and safety, in his view, are commodities. A good example of this is the success of Toyota's SCION, a car that is "incomplete" and designed for the buyers to complete and customize to their liking, creating their distinct experience.

What is the "code" for I/RS and geospatial solutions?

The Inspiration Code

Over the last three years, we have written about new technologies and in particular how Internet distribution of imagery has created greater awareness and opportunities for new products and services. All true. However, what is needed for this market to really take off is a new marketing paradigm—a new way of looking at imagery. The "code" for expanding growth of imagery beyond its core market, we believe, resides in curiosity, inspiration, and context.

We have been reflecting on the global economic downturn of the past year, and, like many others, have been asking ourselves what is going wrong and what role location and imagery can play in resuscitating the economy. It strikes us, as people and organizations have been focused on executing plans that were based on bubble theory, the over-arching theme of the meta-narrative (also known as a ‘master' or ‘grand' narrative—an over-arching theme that influences behavior—for example, the mission to the moon, The Cold War, The American Dream, and The Civil Rights Movement), that a sense of value has been lost. In fact, a sense of inspiration in real value has been lost. There was a time when a satellite launch made front-page news and space missions captured the imagination. It was inspiring to watch a rocket blast off into space. Inspiration brings a deeper sense of meaning and value to the world at large, a drive that is founded on change to create something better. We can do better.

As the satellite imagery business emerged from military and intelligence roots, the industry marketed imagery as a monitoring, surveillance and control product/tool. While obviously a core business for the I/RS industry, there are alternative markets that have been touched by Google Earth and others. Satellite imagery has moved from the Pentagon to Main Street, literally. Google Earth's success is due to more than simply making imagery accessible to the masses. Its success lies in its connection to humanity; zooming into Earth from space and flying over specific regions has tapped into people’s inner curiosity and has inspired them to want to know more about their surroundings. Google Earth is on code!

Imagery is now part of the digital media landscape. It can be distributed and shared easily. As a digital asset, it can be viewed on any of the three screens—television, computer, and mobile. This means it can be used for many life-changing, world-changing, and business-changing messages. A new marketing paradigm based on curiosity, inspiration, creativity and innovation is critical to building the new imagery value chain and to ensuring that the imagery industry does not become simply the backdrop for next-generation geo-platforms that are energized to create and drive new value.

Therefore, the innovation in consumer electronics becomes more important to the future of I/RS. How can the I/RS industry leverage distribution across three screens? Currently the industry is dependent on the computer screen and is slowly moving to the mobile screen. How could the market be expanded if people were able to stream imagery from their computers to their 50-inch high-definition plasma television screens?

Figure 1 The famous "EarthRise" image taken from Apollo 8 on Dec. 29, 1968 by Bill Anders. The Earth is rising over the horizon of the moon.

Imagery as Inspiration

Inspiration comes in many forms, some that may escape the traditional I/RS market focus. Many of the most inspirational images have been taken from space, such as this very famous image called "EarthRise" taken from Apollo 8 in 1968 (See Figure 1). All pictures tell stories. All pictures are art. Pictures tell and reflect the story of life from evolution to revolution, from beginning to end, from the mundane to the eccentric. A picture taken from space that captures the progress and setbacks of the planet—that captures our humanity—is surely worth more than the proverbial 1,000 words, and it most certainly merits being more than a snapshot that maps, tracks, and monitors people and assets.

Imagery is being used in ways never before imagined. Leah Evans is an artist who uses GIS and imagery as inspiration for new textile art. Her work combines aerial photography, maps, and satellite imagery. She says that she is inspired by "the use of maps in organizing our ideas of land and explores map language and imagined landscapes. Through my research and experience I have decided that maps create more questions than they answer." See Figure 2.

Figure 2 Textile art from Leah Evans incorporating imagery and fabrics includes "Alluvial Fields", 24"x27", which is appliqued silk, velveteen, and hand-dyed cotton with embroidery -

Ms. Evans speaks with many geospatial professionals who come across her work at trade shows, or conferences where she is asked to present. "Geospatial professionals view imagery as art and they are so excited to see someone capture the images from an artistic perspective," she said. Curiously enough, when asked if she uses Google Earth she responded in the negative. She relies on images she finds in books or at the library. She feels that the beauty of the imagery is lost when viewed on the computer. Ms. Evans is expressing a high-tech product through a low-tech medium. Perhaps there are lessons here.

Another artistic example is the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who are known as the wrapping artists (though they resent this characterization), for "wrapping" the Reichstag in Berlin, for surrounding Florida islands with floating fabric, and for installing 7,503 gates with billowing orange fabric panels in Central Park, New York. Their most recent work in progress, "Over The River," involves suspending horizontal fabric panels over 8 selected areas of the Arkansas River in Colorado. At the risk of interpreting their artistic motivation, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are in our view geographic artists. They are inspired by the beauty of life, and the contrasts of geography and location.

Figure 3 CHRISTO, "OVER THE RIVER," PROJECT FOR ARKANSAS RIVER, STATE OF COLORADO. Drawing 2008 in two parts: 38 x 244 cm. and 106.6 x 244 cm. (15 x 96" and 42 x 96"). Pencil, pastel, charcoal, wax crayon, enamel paint, fabric sample, aerial photograph with topographic elevations and technical data. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. Ref. #68. COPYRIGHT CHRISTO 2008.

After the artists have selected the site, their professional engineers and survey teams use aerial photography to further define the technical details necessary to realize the temporary work of art. For "The Gates," aerial photography provided an additional tool for the artists showing the 23 miles of walkways they selected. Original preparatory drawings and collages, sometimes incorporating aerial imagery, such as those in Figures 3 and 4, are sold to finance their projects. More examples of Christo and Jeanne-Claude illustrations incorporating imagery may be seen at their website:

The ROI Issue

Managers, and in particular MBAs, have been trained in ROI (return on investment) calculation and look at every cost from an ROI perspective. GIS has traditionally struggled with the ROI issue (see also our Summer 2008 column) because of the high total costs associated with ownership of a system. Managers look for the cost justifications in terms of cost savings or revenue growth. Geographic people, like Carl Reed, CTO of the Open Geospatial Consortium, see it from a different perspective. "Instead of looking at it as an ROI, we should look at it in terms of risk management. Geospatial information saves lives, and should be used to improve the planet." With a contextual geospatial view, we are more informed, and therefore become more responsible.

Figure 4 CHRISTO, "THE GATES," PROJECT FOR CENTRAL PARK, NEW YORK CITY. Drawing 2004 in two parts: 38 x 244 cm. and 106.6 x 244 cm. (15 x 96" and 42 x 96"). Pencil, charcoal, pastel, wax crayon, aerial photograph, fabric sample and hand-drawn technical data. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. Ref. #47. COPYRIGHT CHRISTO 2004.

Imagery is informational and communicates much more than the pixels and x/y coordinates. It tells a story; it provides context when combined with other data, and especially when compared over time. A new acquaintance described the use of satellite imagery in moving from London to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While not "GIS" experts, the family used Google Earth and (a real estate application) to better understand, not just the house as a residence, but the environment—the neighborhood, the trees, the streets… all the things that inspire a family to decide "this is the place."

A series of poor management and policy decisions has been made over the last several years due to a lack of transparency, which we believe includes a lack of understanding of the bigger picture—a lack of context—which brings us back to the need for using location and imagery to resuscitate the economy. Using imagery and maps to inspire creativity; identify issues, challenges, and market gaps; communicate context; connect the dots; and build sustainable value chains are surely better ways of making money than securitizing bad mortgages. The geo-view is the path to the long-view and can help in reversing the short-term thinking that has destroyed value and companies over the last three decades. It is time for the industry to reach for the next marketing paradigm, not as a "commodity," but as an inspirational piece of a true value chain. Put CES on your calendars for 2010, and focus on the new imagery "code."

By Natasha Léger & Craig Bachmann


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