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Subsidiary of public company (Stewart Title)
Aerial Photography
Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
FoundedWalnut Creek, California (1999)
HeadquartersWalnut Creek, California, United States
Key people
Rob Shanks, Co-founder/President
Paul Smith, Co-founder/COO
Majid Azad, CFO
Chris Nicholas, Co-founder/System architect

GlobeXplorer (Now part of DigitalGlobe Inc. (NYSE:DGI)) was an online spatial data company that compiled and distributed aerial photos, satellite imagery, and map data from their online spatial archives. Based in Walnut Creek, CA, GlobeXplorer has been credited as the first company to establish a business around compiling and distributing online aerial and satellite imagery.


GlobeXplorer’s primary products were the ImageAtlas viewer and ImageBuilder web developer toolkit. They also provide ImageConnect extensions and web services for GIS and CAD.


GlobeXplorer was founded in 1999 by Rob Shanks, Michael Fisher, Chris Nicholas, and Paul Smith (former executives at HJW GeoSpatial, Inc.) through partnerships with Sun Microsystems, NASA, and Oracle. It grew from a NASA EOCAP project of HJW's to place ready-made orthophotography online, and an internal project of Sun Microsystems and Oracle to counter the Microsoft "Terraserver" technology demonstration. The EOCAP project concluded with the creation of an 'earth imagery' searchable website in 1998. HJW was acquired by Harrods of London, who provided financial backing to spin out the online effort into GlobeXplorer, which launched its public website in September 2000. An article entitled "Now you, too, can be a Spy" appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal's business section, and traffic reached nearly 4 million page views the first day. In 2005, GlobeXplorer acquired AirPhotoUSA, one of the nation’s leading providers of aerial imagery. Previous owner Stewart Title (STC) sold the company to Digital Globe in early January 2007.

GlobeXplorer's defensible core competence was its ability to meter custom profiles of content for consumers and pay royalties to providers based on 512x512 "standard image units" (SIU). This was accomplished through content hosting, delivery via APIs and application plugins, and building a custom billing system modeled around TELCO call rating and inter-bank settlement accounting. Beyond imagery, the billing system also supported metering of vector data and usage of floating license tokens for programs such as Arc/INFO, PCI and ERDAS.

Another pioneering aspect was using the Sun GRID Engine to perform CPU intensive operations, particularly color balancing and JPEG2000 compression, on its server farm. This was in keeping with the design philosophy of establish a "commercial DAAC", on a par with the USGS EROS data center, that could perform distributed batch processing across federated supercomputing sites using the Globus framework.

Prominent customers[edit]

In addition to its own website, GlobeXplorer's imagery and property data was licensed to,, National Geographic,, and the Germany-based, as well as inside various professional real estate services like CoStar, eNeighborhoods, and Rappatoni MLS. It also provided Mapquest with imagery in 2001 and 2002.

Partner relationships[edit]

GlobeXplorer obtains its content through online distribution relationships with about 30 of the world’s top acquirers of aerial, satellite, and property data.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]