There has clearly been a great deal of interest in getting simplified yet powerful mapping capability into the hands of the masses. Microsoft has tried to fill this gap in MS Office twice, first with the excel mapping tool and later with MapPoint. It’s never really worked. My experience with this sort of thing is that I can easily whip out simple point plots based on zip codes, but these tools break down when you want do anything a little more sophisticated. They’re decent at visualization of static data, but not so good at helping you to spot or predict trends.
Enter Mud Springs, which was founded in 1999 as a GIS consulting company. It’s a familiar story – some really cool tools come out of consulting companies who build stuff just because they needed it and couldn’t find it (which, of course is how many successful companies get started). Mud Springs is re-inventing itself and is trying to bring their product (aWhere) to the broader market. aWhere is all about ease of use, and it’s evident when you get the product demo.
“AWhere is designed for ease of use and specifically for data dissemination (our patent-pending Exchange technology – one file containing all shapefiles with color rending, projection, metadata etc.). In this way, I can send a gigabyte of simulation results (> 50 shapefiles) to a user all bundled in one file. With MyMaps, I can ‘save’ and deliver through AWhere Exchange the exact views of the data I want my client to see – and with these views, our clients are exploring their data in minutes.” – Founder, John Corbett.
I also really liked that you can just throw an excel spreadsheet at it, and it immediately visualizes the relevant data and automatically updates as you change the underlying spreadsheet (sort of like COM/OLE that just works like you’d expect).
I think that mapping users fall into three categories today. Consumers, who use simple tools like MapPoint or Google Maps, those using vertical solutions (such as the public safety system that my previous company built), and those who use sophisticated systems like ESRI. Mud Springs believes there’s a whole class of under-served people like you and me who need more power than simple consumer tools provide, don’t use a vertical solution, and will never invest the time and money in high-end GIS but who still have reasons to visualize their data in order to spot important trends or arrive at actionable conclusions.
aWhere sells for about $700 per seat. At this price point, it’s still an investment for the “every man.” I suspect that Mud Springs will find pretty good success in first attacking specific verticals that know they want these types of solutions but don’t want to have dedicated GIS staff and mess with the hard to learn high end tools like ESRI provides. Hopefully they can focus there and learn more about what it takes to bring mapping to the “non-specialists” of the world. I think they’ll need to get the price point down to a hundred bucks to really make it interesting to everyone.
Mud Springs is currently raising angel investment in advance of a planned venture round.