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Happy Birthday, CommunityViz!

On December 17, 2011, we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the first commercial release of CommunityViz.  It was the perfect occasion to TimeScope ourselves back through the past and ahead into the future.

At the time, 2001 felt like a golden year for technology.  The Y2K bug had been vanquished, everyone was learning what giga- meant, Windows XP was taking over desktops, and human transportation was about to be transformed with something called a Segway.  But at the same time, darker clouds were gathering over the heady mood of the dot-com boom.   9/11 had just happened, the stock market was starting to jitter, and citizens were increasingly worried about what the future might hold.

At the Orton Family Foundation, excitement was in air.  After more than 3 years of development, pilot testing, study, and refinement, the groundbreaking CommunityViz software project was about to go public.   The first general release, dubbed Version 1.2, ran on ArcView 3.2 and included a “suite” of three components:  Scenario Constructor (the predecessor of today’s Scenario 360), SiteBuilder 3D (presaging Scenario 3D), and an agent-based forecasting component called Policy Simulator.  It cost $5000 and came in a thick box with three volumes of documentation.

Moving the time slider quickly forward (you can read a longer history here), we land 10 years later here in 2011, with Placeways now spun off from the Orton Family Foundation and CommunityViz thriving.  Nowadays, people are learning what tera- and peta- mean, Windows is up to version 7, and human society is about to be transformed with something called… well, that’s not clear yet.  Facebook, maybe?  iPad?  Whatever that latest is, CommunityViz is right here in the thick of the technology explosion, riding a wave of ever-faster computers and doing our part to push the envelope of scenario planning and visualization tools.

Today’s CommunityViz 4.1 costs far less and offers far more than that original Version 1.2.  Years of R&D investment have given us leaps forward in the software’s friendliness and performance, plus an ever-growing library of useful and powerful wizards, presentation tools, and more.  From the first dozen or so earlier-adopter communities that piloted CommunityViz before its general release, the user community has grown to thousands of towns, cities, regions, universities, agencies and organizations all over the world.  This year’s book from APA Planners Press, The Planners Guide to CommunityViz, chronicles real-world successes from all over North America and across the spectrum of planning applications.  And as a fitting match to the ESRI Regional New Business Partner of the Year Award that CommunityViz received 10 years ago, this year Placeways was honored with a 2011 International Business Partner Award as well.

What does the next decade hold for CommunityViz?  Even our best scenario planning analysis can’t quite predict that just yet.  All we can say for now is that the trends are positive, technology is on our side, and the world needs our capabilities more than ever.  And, after peta- come eta-, zeta-, and yotta-.

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