Where 2.0 Overload (in a good way)

Author: [ trailpeak ]   Contact Author: trailpeakThu May 21 04:06:12 UTC 2009

Where 2.0 Conference 2009 Attending O'Reilly's Where 2.0 is like no conference I've ever been to. It's a mix of map geeks and internet geeks, as well as the product managers and CEOs of startups, government groups, NGOs, and basically anyone with an interest in location.

And this is no different for me. At trailpeak, we're all about place, and we've been that way since day one and we like to report on where all this location technology is going from time to time. It's hard to get one's head around just how many map applications, internet startups, and mobile device makers are here or on their way. I'll touch on some of them, and, of course, mention the ones that make most sense for consumers interested in travel and the outdoors. It gets better, there is more geographic data than ever entering the public domain, enabling all kinds of new internet services that will help you to shop for a home like never before, find out about local crime, tell you where your friends are at, get highway visuals for offramps before you see them, weather like you've never seen it, street view maps of most cities, and more.

Mostly though, I'll report on technologies that excite today's map makers and try to put in plain words how that will affect all of us.

I've attended two and a half days now, one day of workshops, and, one day plus of the conference. In the conference, the heavyweights such as Google, Nokia, and Yahoo all made important announcements, such as new map or API related services. In the case of Google they announced a new Google Maps Data API (Application interface). APIs are important because of course that's how mashup services display data over maps. That's how trailpeak creates a satellite image backdrop for the GPS data we show. This API is different than the Google Maps API in that the Data API is for groups to upload and store map data such as roads (lines), areas (polygons), and more. They also reviewed some of their newer tools, such as Google Mapmaker, a service where the world can correct and update their basemap. They gave an example of how tiny remote Island residents, or far off countries like the Congo, have been filled in by locals. Of course with Google, many fear that by using these services, they lose ownership of the data or are restricted in it's use, but one has to admit that the geoweb is here to stay and Google is a big player. As the geoweb emerges, the traditional map making companies (traditional GIS) face competition as less expensive or free services become ubiquitous, and as ordinary citizens join in. Geoserver is an example of an entirely free open source GIS platform with a reference platform no less (java).

Another group is attempting to make street data far more open than Google's license, and that group is www.openstreetmap.org, a very significant project run by volunteers all over the world to make map and street data open. Truly open. You can bet that whether it's Google, Yahoo, or another's, more and more applications will be sprouting up all over the world for things like; urban mapping and pedestrian ways, the outdoors, non-profit work, e-democracy, voter reports, social, crime reports and so on. The pace is quickening and it's a matter of time before significant world changing social tools emerge. A simple example is how developing countries bootstrap their economies because street maps are created where none existed previously. This helps business function and enables the social fabric itself. Services that promote peace and social cohesion. Services that make our life easier. Maps are a communication tool and we all relate to maps. 80% of business data has location tied to it and excel spreadsheets just aren't cutting it anymore as one speaker claimed.

Some new terms have crept in, like 'staycations' reflecting the trend of people to stay home and explore their own backyard, and Mapquest reported on their efforts to improve their local content by incorporating geoRSS feeds. They found they could incorporate already geotagged content from sites like flickr, AOL autos, cityguide, when, moviefone, topix, tour tracker, twitter, citysbest, when, yelp weatherbug (Trailpeak uses it), topix, and kaanga. What's more, users like the content from these sites because they've come to trust those names. So Mapquest local could be a real hit.

There is definitely a trend to local and 'clickstreaming', and here twitter has paved the way in the new hyperlocal content world. Many other sites take data from twitter and agreggate, filter and extrapolate real-time events for things like voter activity.

What's more, many of the mashups unveiled were developed in 2-3 weeks or even days. With the large amount of US government (and hopefully Canadian, but we're always a bit behind) data being made open, the question will be: how to deal with all this data? There's no lack of it, from census data that 'socialexplorer' site works with, to the datasets available now from Google, and, in various formats to boot. And that's the other challenge, how to deal with legacy formats like ESRI shapefiles which many NGO, commercial, and, municipal groups have collected, to the more recent formats like KML and the Google Maps Data formats. And that's where metadata comes to the rescue, but we'll leave that for another report.

What I like about Where 2.0 is that one minute you've got Google unveiling a new API, and the next, Arial from spacehacks.org talking about what amateur astronomers are doing to map space and find alien life or create mashups based on a lot of new data coming out of NASA. Many of the presentations make us laugh, with humour such as the social experiment to attach a GPS to an emotion recorder and let people walk around town mapping out where they felt most happy (favourite places) or most sad (an ex-girlfriends block perhaps). The audience at Where 2.0 is in fact a mashup of people from all walks.

One very engaging discussion came from a group that had detailed, using postal data, the number of people who left after Hurricane Katrina and never came back. Collecting the data was difficult, however, not once they found a company to sell them postal data. Since mail carriers take note of which addresses are no longer inhabited, the challenge was to get this data and map it. The result, very accurate data on where the most devastated neighborhoods were, and who returned. Maps make it all easy to understand, we all relate to maps, such as the voter maps of the recent US election and how Obama took key districts.

And so it went. I felt overloaded. It's one thing to be a map geek in the first place, there's a lexicon of terminology to get to know, now add on internet technology, and the slew of API's coming from groups like Yahoo and Google. What does all this mean? Location is very, very important. And it is, from mashups that are pure fun, to the marketers who want to know your consumption patterns, to crime mappers or the next best real estate website like Trulia.com. We will all consume more location based internet content, we'll provide it whether we like it or not. We'll also need to keep an eye on privacy all the while.

Location is important because we live and work and travel, and yes, hit the trails in real places. And that brings us to the outdoors. For us it means the way you visualize where you go to play outdoors will continue to get better, and at www.trailpeak.com, we'll be on it and by being efficient and keep our service free in the spirit of open data. You'll see more tools to help you find others like you based on location, or which nearby events may be of interest to you. We'll track the trends in mapping, and we'll report on them, but more importantly, integrate as many of these new services as possible so you can see first-hand what it's all about.

Just today, you may have noticed how we've integrated Panoramio images, Youtube, and wikipedia content into the GPS maps we provide in order to give you more context. If you submit an event to trailpeak, we'll ask you for an address so we can reverse-geocode into a lat/long so that we can plot it on the map. Soon (as soon as Apple approves it), our iPhone app to find trails nearest your location will be available. We already integrate driving directions right to the trailhead, the Google Earth 3D plugin for Google Maps so you can see a trail area in 3D from Google Maps without firing up Google Earth. In many ways, the new geoweb has facilitated the "Rise of the Enthusiast Network" as ordinary citizens armed with GPS units take to the trails and streets.

Kurt Turchan
Founder, www.trailpeak.com

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