Historical background Edit

The detailed, digital street maps that support Web-based mapping applications and in-car navigation systems can be traced to the innovations made by the U.S. Census Bureau approximately forty years ago. Since the initial creation of digital street maps, designed to support the 1970 Decennial Census, the street map data industry has evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry.

The initial experiments were expanded in the mid 1980s when the Census Bureau teamed up with the U.S. Geological Survey to generate the first nationwide digital street map with address ranges. This became the TIGER system that supported the 1990 Census and forever changed the way we interact with maps.

In 1996, MapQuest leveraged these intelligent street maps to build a Web-based system that could determine the geographic location of a street address and display it on a map. MapQuest was an overnight sensation that received 1 million hits in its first 30 days (now 40 million per month). The sale of MapQuest to AOL for $1.1 billion in 1999 represents a landmark in the evolution of the geospatial technology and marks the date when location-based services officially became part of mainstream Internet business.

The need to keep street map and address data current resulted in the creation of Geographic Data Technology (GDT) and Navteq, which have been acquired by European companies. GDT was initially purchased by the Belgium company TeleAtlas in 2004, and is now owned by TomTom, a Dutch personal navigation supplier. Navteq was purchased by the Finnish telecom giant Nokia for eight billion dollars. The fact that a major telecom company would place that kind of price tag on geospatial data and technology demonstrates the value of these assets and points toward further vertical integration of location-based services, especially on cell phones and PDAs.

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