Category : Geo

Looking for patterns in the geography of map use and folksonomy map making

Today, I read a blog post on folksonomy mapping on the United Maps Blog, which triggered me to think about how the geography of map use may relate to the geography of map making, especially with regard to projects such as Open Street Map. Are there patterns that may suggest that the most popular areas that people look at on Google Maps or Microsoft Virtual Earth are also the areas that are best mapped by folksonomy mappers worldwide?

There is an interesting research paper (pdf) on hotmaps (more commonly known as heat maps these days, I guess) by Danyel Fisher, available from Microsoft Research. The paper provides insights into the geography of map use, for instance, with regard to a tourism context. The areas, in which map tiles are most frequently requested are the „hot“ or „heat“ areas. These places are often popular tourist attractions.

I thought it would be interesting to overlap these heat maps or hotmaps with maps showing the degree of completion and coverage in the Open Street Map geodata. I haven’t really looked closely, whether someone may have already done this. If so, please let me know. Otherwise, maybe someone is keen for a mashup, maybe as a little research project in a geography or a GIS related course at university? I think it would be interesting to find out if there are distinct patterns. It seems obvious that an overlap will show that the big cities are most popular in terms of map access and also in terms of completion of coverage in Open Street Map. But what other patterns may be found? And how may they be explained?

Real estate search on digital earth a few years down the road

Finding a flat for rent or the right house to buy is actually quite a challenge. Just think about what would be important to you. Close to public transport, walking distance to the bakery (very important!), a supermarket not too far away. How about something green when you look out of the window? Or some mountains, a park, a lake or even the coastline close by. Would be nice, when you want to go for runs, wouldn’t it? Or do you prefer the city centre? Being close to where stuff is happening? I guess you also want to live in a certain kind of neighbourhood, where you feel safe and happy. Not far away from work. You don’t want it to be noisy. If you have kids, how about a child-friendly environment and a kindergarten in the vicinity? Now the favourite place will probably differ, depending on your individual needs, likes and constraints. So how do you go about finding that favourite place? A real estate agent? The newspaper? A map? A walk around? Maybe you’ll combine different strategies to come to a conclusion.

With the new digital earth applications, it has become a whole lot easier to explore and discover places virtually. Plain maps, aerial photographs, birds eye imagery, socio-demographic overlays, Points of Interest such as the bakery, the bus stops, the train station – just select what you want to have displayed in context with other bits of information. However, finding that favourite place is still far from being really straightforward and convenient.

Now take birds-eye imagery and current 3D-City models a little bit further and combine them with the sophisticated databases that already exist and enable you to filter a 3-bedroom place built in the last 5 years within your budget and in a certain area. Imagine, how you walk around in a virtual 3D-landscape, being able to view everything from many different perspectives. Some computer games these days will give you a good idea what will be possible for the „real“ mirror earth. With your preferences defined, you start walking around the virtual town. You see the free apartments highlighted in some way and the houses that are yet to be sold. Of course, you can walk inside and have a 360 look around.

Has this potential to disrupt the real estate industry? Introducing Google Earth Real Estate or Microsoft Virtual Earth Flat Finder. Of course by then, anyone will have a digital camera that will output stitched panoramas straight away, ready to be uploaded into digital earth from the mobile device. It will be as easy as just taking a photograph and sending it to someone. Next to no effort required.

I guess efforts are under way to make all this happen, and there will be people claiming that we can already do this. However, I still think the real estate agents will have some more time to prepare… Can’t yet find that place that I am looking for!

Google Maps and the Crowdsourcing Geocoder 2.0

The Google Lat Long Blog posted some exciting news today. People can now edit locations on Google Maps and, for example, adjust the position of a marker on the map to provide more accurate positioning information. Some of the interesting questions that arise in context with this new feature concern Google’s backend geocoding database. Google need reference geo-datasets to do their geocoding. Let’s assume that almost all of the marker positions are at least slightly off – let’s assume that heaps of people will love to help out and correct these marker positions. When Google serves geocoding requests, they will use the updated information to provide more accurate results for the user. Some of the businesses that sell geocoding reference datasets charge customers by the amount of geocoding requests to the reference database. Does Google have to count when someone searches for an address that has been manually corrected? Does this need to be logged as a normal geocoding request? Will this „enhanced“ and crowdsourced geocoding reference information flow back to the original data providers? Who owns the coordinates? Besides the issue of reliability, isn’t that a great new dataset that will emerge? Or am I missing that the providers of geocoding reference databases still have street name information and the like, which kind of „belongs“ to them and is still needed for geocoding? Any chances of Google freeing themselves more and more from huge geocoding bills?

More details about the new feature can also be found in a post on the Understanding Google Maps and Yahoo Local Search Blog

Free geodata for marketing the long tail of tourism

Today, I came across an article called Free Entrance, Free Coffee, Free WiFi…Free Rooms, which was posted on the Tracking Tourism Blog. Stephen, the author, picked up on Chris Anderson’s article Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business, which was posted on Wired about two weeks ago. Steven offers some thoughts on how the idea of Free may apply to the travel and hospitality market, for instance, in the case of accommodation providers, who may decide to offer you a bed for free. Something along the lines of „Stay for free, but please spend enough money on food, drinks and activities that in the end, it will pay off for me“ may best describe the guts of tourism service providers‘ prayers then.

As I continued reading, I thought that the whole travel and hospitality industry is already making great use of the idea of „free“. How about Google Earth, Google Maps, Microsoft Virtual Earth, Yahoo Maps… I could go on and on. I work in the geospatial industry and I can assure you that the costs of geodata offered on these virtual globes and mapping sites are very high. I guess most people using these earth viewer applications may not even think about this, when they zoom and pan around to view the beach resorts around the world in sub-meter resolution, with all the roads and nearby points of interest, which are also just a click away. It’s all for free – doesn’t cost a penny – just enjoy! Sponsored by some companies with big wallets and business models that somehow make it possible to fund the construction of the digital tourism earth. For the geospatial industry, which lived a cosy niche life for a long time, it was an earthquake welcome to the world of disruption. Disruption for free!

The companies, which pay the bills for geodata, the technology to make it available to a world-wide audience in a user-friendly way, and the staff to actually make it happen…. – these companies provide people with the tools to put stuff on the map and to tell map stories. The tourism industry was among the first to embrace this offering and began to put hotels, tourism activities, photographs of tourism places and many other tourism related content on the map – for free. No payment required for geodata. No payment required for technology. Anyone who could do it by himself or herself even got the mash-up for free. Great, isn’t it? Especially for the Long Tail of tourism – places, which were off the map until just a few years ago – the white spots on the tourism maps you may call them – are now filled with a wealth of geo-content. Want to know what the most remote places on earth look like? Go and see on Flickr, Locr or Panoramio. No big deal – for free! Want a route description to prepare and print out, to help you find your way around? Easy and free! Travel tips, recommendations, travel podcasts, travel videos… all free. How many tourism websites did you come across recently, which had a map embedded in one way or another.

So how can these companies afford to pay for all this free stuff? Have you noticed the almost hidden advertising links that you get when you search for a place to stay or even just a website, which will help you find a place to stay. What a fantastic money loop!

I am sure that the travel and hospitality industry will find many more ways to pick up on free. Free-based business models are somewhere out there – waiting to be found, to be talked about, to be realised – and I’m sure not all of them will depend on advertising. Leaves me curious to hear where they are, how they work, if they are digital and if they are real yet!

Geographic brushing 2.0

Quite a while ago, in 1989, Mark Monmonier used the term „geographic brushing“ in the context of exploratory geostatistical analysis. When one specific representation of data is highlighted, another representation of the same data also gets highlighted. While Monmonier can be regarded as a pioneer, working with scatterplots and maps to reveal insights, today the geographic brushing and linking method is widely used in the Geoweb-World of Google Maps mashups and virtual earth applications – Try either or both of the websites and locr – you can bring up a set of thumbnails and a map with markers for each of the images on it. By moving your mouse over any of the thumbnail photographs, the corresponding location marker gets highlighted and you gain a much better understanding of how the images relate to the map and different places on that map. The same idea works for videos, comments, panoramas… Now if I am planning a walk and want to prepare myself by studying the route, I quite like to have a view where I can get the full context. I want photographs to give me a vivid idea about the landscape I can expect, I want to know where the photographs were taken by having the location markers highlighted on the map. Then, I want to see the location of the places on an elevation profile line to give me an idea whether I will be about to climb or descend when I get to the viewpoint. I also want to hear a sound taken at that location and how about some comments that other people left there? I want the full context and I want it all in one place, all in view! – I want geographic brushing to the max!

Digital Earth, now with its own international journal

After the metaphor turned into something real that we can witness growing bigger and bigger every day, a dedicated journal was well overdue. So here it is: The International Journal of Digital Earth. Some good reading by Prof. Michael Frank Goodchild and Timothy W. Foresman.

These two were among the first to deal with the digital earth topic way back, when Google Earth, Microsoft Virtual Earth and the increased public interest in the digital earth idea hadn’t taken off yet. Well worth having a look at some of Goodchild’s previous presentations, in which he covers the subject. For example, have a look at Digital Earth – Recent Technical Progress or What does Google Earth mean for the Social Sciences. A more recent presentation to look at is The Spatial Web – Visions for a Geographically Enabled Future.

You can also read one of Goodchild’s earlier papers on the topic. In Discrete Global Grids for Digital Earth Goodchild already envisions that the digital earth will provide a „one-stop shop for geospatial data„. We aren’t yet shopping for geodata in Google Earth, but who says we won’t be soon…?

Temporal tags

Tagging has not just become popular – tagging is often described as a very important concept to enable a successful transition from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 (whatever both of these terms may actually mean to Joe Public). There are a lot of interesting discussions about multi language tags and geographic tags already – at the moment, I’m quite interested in practical applications of temporal tags. Consider temporal tags as tags with some kind of time stamp. There could be temporal tags for birthdays and other calender events – tags could also be generated based on weather reports. Or how about tagging a big sale in a local store – tagging a scheduled airline flight with „cheap seats“ – but only as long as there are actually still cheap seats left…. I think this may have some interesting applications in location based services applications – combine it with the geo bit and you can think up all sorts of cool Google Earth applications or Google Maps and Virtual Earth mash-ups, which could display spatio-temporal information based on an analysis of geo tags and temporal-tags. Geotagging ourselves as fit or exhausted based on a just-in-time analysis of our heart rate monitoring device with the information from the device automatically generating tags and and feeding them straight into the web to let all the people know that, on my daily run, I’m on my last leg 2km away from home – the ultimate exhibitionism, tagged for the Web 3.0 world right in place. Hold on – would I be tagging myself then? More thinking and research to be done before this can go into production…