March 3, 2023

GIS in the early 2000s — A look back at the early years of Blue Marble Geographics

Written by: Cíntia Miranda


If you are reading this blog and are young enough not to know what Y2K means, let me introduce you to the stress that the older folks in the technology industry had to deal with before the millennium rang in. Y2K (a cool, millennium way to say ‘year 2000’) referred to potential computer errors related to the formatting and storage of annual calendar dates as two digits instead of four, which at the turn of the year 2000 would be indistinguishable from dates from 1900. It was thought that computer systems’ inability to distinguish dates correctly had the potential to bring down worldwide infrastructures for many industries. As a result, most companies rushed into ‘Y2K compliance’ to ensure their systems and custom codes would continue to operate correctly on the first day of the year 2000. It all sounds silly and overly dramatic now, but it was a big deal at the time! Blue Marble Geographics, a small company with only a few developers, was able to make sure the Geographic Calculator (our flagship product at the time) was ready to take on the challenges of the new millennium without a hitch!

In the early 2000s, most companies were still doing business the ‘old-fashioned’ way – even tech companies!  To give you an idea, we used to mail our product catalogs to people in the industry, hoping they would mail us an order form with a check for $399 enclosed (the price for a perpetual license of Geographic Calculator in those days!) or if they were really techy, fax us an order form!  Yes, our products were proudly mailed out in a CD set! There’s more; some folks had slower computers, so we had two versions of Geographic Calculator – a 32-bit and a fast and furious 64-bit for the forward thinkers in the industry! 

As you can imagine, we were very small and very frugal. Our Chief Technology Officer, Victor Minor, was hired in 2002, and he remembers how we had four rack mount servers that ran the entire company’s internal and external websites. These servers were purchased used from eBay, which was not a bad deal since one of them was still running two years ago as our FTP server!  We didn’t have a server rack to store the computers, so we stacked them on top of each other using wood blocks to keep them from overheating. Our office was in a three-story old building, and the development team was on the top floor (with the servers), making the room incredibly warm. We didn’t have air conditioning (a luxury we couldn’t afford), which meant the windows were often open. Someone started lifting the screen and feeding the pigeons nearby for some reason. Well, the screen was not adequately shut one weekend, and the window was left open. It seemed that the warmth of the servers and free access to the office was precisely what a cadre of the local pigeons was looking for. They had a great time ransacking the place and leaving what pigeons leave behind until they were evicted Monday morning. Needless to say, there was a “closed window” policy that followed the incident.

Our old office building in Gardiner, Maine, where the pigeons had a weekend party!

With the start of the new decade, Blue Marble launched several new software tools. One of them was a very early internet mapping service named BeyondGeo. By 2004 a new competing offering was taking the world by storm. Google acquired Keyhole and released Google Earth. This new way of viewing maps online was revolutionary due to its seamless streaming and rendering of imagery and data as the user zoomed in. Google became very focused on developing Google Earth and later released a free version of its API, squashing Blue Marble’s foray into internet mapping solutions for good.  A few years later, Google approached the Blue Marble team about potentially including the GeoCalc SDK in their Google Earth program; however, that effort lost out to the release of the Night Sky features in 2007. Nevertheless, Google’s investment in Google Earth and Maps was instrumental in pushing GIS and mapping into the mainstream. In 2019, Google announced it had mapped 97 percent of the world and captured ten million miles of Street View images. It’s hard to imagine life without Google Maps today and all the GPS functionality we use in our everyday life, but at that time, Google’s move hurt us big time!

In 2003, our current president, Patrick Cunningham, was hired. Patrick was instrumental in assisting with selling Blue Marble Geographics to a Canadian investment firm in 2004, and he is still at the helm of the company today. After the sale, Patrick and our Vice President of sales, Kris Berglund, who has been with the company since 1999, were focused on business development and growing Blue Marble’s business beyond North America. It was an exciting time for the entire GIS industry. While data management remained a strong point, more emphasis was placed on GIS use cases. In addition, system integration became a key area of interest then. Users worldwide started adopting digital mapping and analysis, and universities began incorporating GIS technology into their curricula. As a result, Blue Marble saw enormous growth potential and sought to increase our footprint outside the United States through resellers in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

In 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the very first iPhone. Although smartphones already existed, and BlackBerry had that corner of the market, Apple created a product many of us thought we didn’t need until we got our first one and realized how powerful that tool could be.  Today, we don’t use our smartphones to make phone calls as much as we use them to access our apps, embedded GPS, and take photos. Smartphones have become accessible and ubiquitous everywhere on Earth, allowing us to take GIS into the field!

Join us at our next blog, where we’ll bring back memories from 2010 to 2020 to celebrate 30 years of Blue Marble Geographics!



Lovell, John. “A Dress Rehearsal for Y2K: Are You Ready?”. Directions Magazine.12 July. 2019, Accessed 3 Mar. 2023.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Google Earth.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Feb. 2019, Accessed 2 Mar. 2023.

Companies using Blue Marble’s geospatial technology