NECC ’09: Nystrom Maps

The silver medal from my ventures into the Vendors Hall at NECC goes to Nystrom, which produces maps.  They’ve taken Google Earth, wedded their proprietary content to the Google Earth globe, and then modularized it.

What does that mean?  It means that they’ve chopped the program up into smaller bits. So if you’re a particularly unusual school that only does Grade 3, and only does Latin America, you can buy the Latin American module for Grade 3.  You only pay for the content that you actually plan to use.

Then, the next year, you expand to grade 4, and you’re doing China.  so what do you do? You buy the grade 4 module for china, and so that kids can look ahead in third grade, you buy the grade 3 module for china, too.

We’re going to see a lot of these sorts of things in the future.  Not enormous school-centric tech systems, like elaborate digital sketch pads wedded to voting systems wedded to smart boards and special digital stylus pens, but rather content packaged in small chunks from existing libraries of intellectual property, designed to be used with whatever hardware the school happens to have already.

Because schools are going to be financially strapped.  They’re going to be losing students to homeschool, charter school, unschool and personalized learning over the next decade.  As school choice and voucher movements gain popularity, those other options are going to strip dollars from school budgets like skilled exotic dancers — two at a time all night long, with nothing given in exchange but a peek a boo.  TeachPaperless‘s “homebases of learning” are going to take off from renovated one-room school houses and pinprick-storefront schools, and traditional schools are going to get hammered.

And Nystrom will still be marketing digital content in this way: in small doses to the right grade in the right amount for the right purpose and with the right goals in mind. Why? Because maps will still be important in a digital age.  Kids will need to see the places they’re going; they’ll need to design their routes and fill out their paths, and have a sense of what the world’s borders looked like long ago.  All that content has been developed through the decades, over and over again, and open-source isn’t going to finish duplicating it for Creative Commons or other licenses for a long time.  Cartographers and their paid products are going to be in high demand in educational circles for a long while.

And who really has the expertise to build open-source globes?  As Martin Behaim would tell you, building globes is a rather specialized skill, and you should expect that you will have to pay for a good one.

It’s an interesting business model, excellent content, and worthy of the second place finish behind Animation-ish’s stellar first place performance.

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