At the Where 2.0 conference in San Jose--which, like every other web-related conference these days, is jammed. "Geospatial" content and tool companies have developed into their own micro-economy, and Where is the center of it.
The big fight, here as elsewhere, is between Google and Microsoft, over who can produce the coolest 2D and 3D global mapping platforms. The startling news is that, in this arena, Microsoft appears to be holding its own. Google's new "block view" feature is cool (put yourself on map, look at buildings around you, walk down street, etc.), but Microsoft's new "Virtual Earth" project is even cooler. The latter is powered by high-res photos taken from low-flying planes, and the reported $150 million the company is spending on geospatial content is paying off (at least in the "wow" department).
As with many of the companies here, Google Earth and "Virtual Earth" appear to be cooler than they are commercial, at least for now. The most obvious source of revenue on the consumer side of the geospatial business would seem to be local advertising and logo/placement, but if this opportunity is producing meaningful numbers, no one is discussing them. The CEO of Platial, for example, Di-Ann Eisnor, raved about how much money there was to be made in made in mash-ups, but offered exactly zero details. The same went for a company that provides "soundscapes" (click on a place, listen to what it sounds like) and Garmin, which has some cool "make your own trail maps with your GPS device" technology that mountain-bikers and joggers are reportedly bananas about. Garmin's model is obvious--sell units--but the gravy train that will eventually have to support the rest of this exploding industry is still unclear.