When you are building your list of books to read in 2020, Never Lost Again by Bill Kilday deserves to be near the top of that list. It’s the inside story of Keyhole, Google Earth and now Niantic. An incredible set of accomplishments for a relatively small team of digital mapping visionaries that earned every inch of their success.
Peter Batty recommended this book during his keynote at ILMF2019. Having been involved with GIS and digital mapping since the early 1980’s, reading this book is like reading my career diary.
In the mid – to – late 1990’s a partner and I were trying to launch a consumer digital mapping product that used the USGS DRG’s as the base maps and included support for a NMEA signal from a handheld GPS so that you could see your location in real time on the DRG. Amazing, but it still required a laptop computer – a huge limitation for an outdoor recreation product, but not for the Keyhole team, who were not concerned with real time navigation, in the beginning.
As soon as the aerial mapping firms saw our product they did not hesitate to buy the software and the maps. We had fun for a year or so, but our vision was too small, unlike the Keyhole team led by John Hanke, who were building a world scale imagery viewer. We knew there was going to be a digital mapping revolution, driven in part by the availability of GPS. We just didn’t think big enough which of course has never been a problem for Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google.
The author is not very kind in his portrayal of Esri and Jack Dangermond. Bottom line – the Esri legacy code was too slow for the “globe to your face” seamless zooming that the Keyhole team was building. Had Jack realized that the consumer digital mapping market was a different beast, he might be the $50 billion man today, but it was not to be.
I could go on and on, but I don’t want to spoil your fun – it’s a great read with many lessons being learned.
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