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ESRI's Jack Dangermond has brought the concept of mapping to a completely new level. Photo: ESRI

From humble beginnings in 1969 as a small consulting firm for land use analysis, ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) now employees nearly 3000 people and is the world standard in geographic information system (GIS) technology. As president and principal owner of ESRI, Jack Dangermond leads with a low-key but inspirational style. ESRI grew, in part, because of its connection to its users. Its annual user conference draws more than 12,000 attendees, all of whom are enthusiasts for GIS and geography.

Using the success of ESRI, Dangermond has pushed geography and GIS into the mainstream of society. In joint operations with the National Geographic Society, ESRI powers the Map Machine (www.nationalgeographic.com/mapmachine), a free online atlas of street maps, topographic maps, conservation maps, and other geographical information. This tool is powered by ESRI's Arc Web service, a Web-accessible bank of geodata.

At ESRI's most recent user conference in July 2005, Dangermond teamed with officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Geographic Society to announce a new collaboration to make sophisticated geospatial resources accessible to everyone. This agreement will bring GIS and 3-D interactive technology to a global audience, enabling the public to use their computers to “fly around the world” and better understand and protect the planet.

“This exciting partnership presents a tremendous opportunity to expand the data and resources available through the Geospatial One-Stop, the new portal of the E-Government initiative,” said Scott Cameron, deputy assistant secretary at the Department of the Interior. “Private citizens may virtually explore the geography of their neighborhoods and planet through the portal.”

“ESRI is proud to be a part of this collaborative effort that allows people who have had little exposure to maps to use simple tools to see their world and explore the rich content that the GIS community maintains,” said Dangermond. “By combining National Geographic's MapMachine and the Geospatial One-Stop Project, we will increase the capability of the technology and provide users with free access to more maps and tools.”

ESRI and National Geographic will soon launch a new capability within MapMachine based on ESRI's ArcGlobe technology to help people visualize and integrate geographic knowledge from many sources in 3-D.