Microsoft outlines plans to build a 'world graph' for geographic data

Microsoft, HERE, TomTom, and Esri are collaborating on building a world graph of geographic data that's integrated with Microsoft's Azure cloud.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is building out a number of "graphs," or data indexes, across the company. There's the Bing knowledge graph, the Office Graph, and now, the LinkedIn professional graph.

This week, the company announced plans to add another graph to its stable: A "world graph." It's partnering with HERE, TomTom, and Esri to build this geographic data index.

The data in the coming world graph isn't just about mapping data for cars or other kinds of navigation. It will provide "a full suite of location capabilities across the company and Microsoft's developer ecosystem," a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed.

Will the world graph simply be a replacement for the data currently powering Bing Maps? The Microsoft spokesperson said it goes beyond that.

"Bing APIs (application programming interfaces) are used by multiple businesses to provide location based functionalities. With the broader adoption of Azure across manufacturing, transportation, and smart cities we see the need for a tighter integration with cloud functionality for some of the emerging scenarios and use cases. Conceptually, we believe our Azure location-based services will be a superset of the Bing APIs we offer today."

The world graph "will be built in collaboration with each of these partners (HERE, TomTom, and Esri) under the premise of extensibility to other 3rd party graphs," the spokesperson said when I asked about Microsoft making the data in this graph available outside the company.

Microsoft and partners are in the development stage "and not ready to commit to a timeline" as to when the world graph data will be available, the spokesperson said.

Microsoft already had a decade-plus-long partnership with HERE (and Nokia, previously) for mapping/location data that Microsoft uses across Bing, Cortana, Windows, and Office.

On December 15, Microsoft and HERE announced a "multi-year strategic commercial agreement" between the two companies. Via this agreement, HERE will continue to provide Microsoft with its mapping data for some non-publicly specified amount of time. (I asked; all I could get was for multiple years.) The extension of the HERE agreement specifically allows Microsoft to use HERE data and services in cars.

Microsoft's new partnership with TomTom is about integrating location-based services into Azure. The target market for the resulting services are developers building location-aware enterprise, mobile, web, and Internet of Things applications, according to Microsoft. TomTom will contribute maps and technologies like its High Definition Map and RoadDNA technology for autonomous driving, Microsoft officials said this week.

Microsoft announced a makeover of its connected car strategy a year ago. Instead of trying to embed Windows in cars, the company is now working to provide auto makers with its productivity suite and other services for use in cars.

Esri has geographic information system (GIS) technology that runs on Azure. That system takes location-based data inputs like weather data, social media feeds, and live sensor data (including data from HERE and TomTom). Esri and Microsoft have integrated some of their products, such as Esri's ArcGIS Maps with Microsoft's Power BI.

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