Blog Post

Sunday, March 11 at SXSW

The GIS and mapping panel provided a small overview of spatial technologies. The panelists hoped for a visually-defined landscape of the web, something that we?ve been mostly living without until recently, attempting to adapt our minds to the concept of virtual spaces and containers where our ?stuff? (and some ways the world as a whole) is: friends, files, photos, and more. This angle of investigation is similar to work revolving around interface.

Dan Dubno is really taken with this idea, and wants to have a geographical browser, a re-embodiment of virtuality in effect, although how this would function in the real world internets (what with millions of pieces of data and web pages in one place, Duke for example) he didn?t say. His company works on earthquake data (as does the other panelist Frank Robles) and so is understandably interested in such a niche use of the web.

John Hanke of Google Earth fame delivered an interesting overview of their phased release and development of their eponymous desktop (networked) product. Currently they (or we?) are in the last three steps below, as they are all ongoing, but

  • Step 1 was buying a company (typical for a corporation in this day and age as all the big software companies are doing it).
  • Step 2 was building the community tools to let users tag locations, as Google provides no location information, only maps. This has led to 1.5 million places in the world mapped by users.
  • Step 3 was connecting the app to other sites: geo-referencing other data on the web, such as photos, wikipedia entries and restaurant reviews.
  • Step 4 is 3D collaborative modeling of the world. Sketchup was an acquisition to move this along, and the city of Berlin has just launched 40,000 modeled and textured buildings [ download the Googe Earth plugin here: ].

will Step 5 be the introduction of heavy advertising?

And fascinating figures for Google Earth: 200 million downloads (and users?), 30,000 mashup participants, 1/3 of the Earth?s land surface mapped to 15 meter per pixel accuracy.

All is not coming up roses, however, and Gina Bianchini reminded us of accessibility issues around the world, in Bahrain for example the government bans its use , and there are also real privacy issues that will need to be dealt with (mapping someone?s house to find out when they are gone, following a persons public profile to learn confidential information about them, etc.)

MIT is pioneering location-based storytelling tools that unite GIS and mapping, blogging, commenting and tagging into one interface to pioneer a new form of tour and site specificity to an otherwise site-neutral web. Allan Doyle of the MIT Museum Without Walls Project is interested in bringing virtuality in geospatial referencing into connections with the real world (that is, away from the computer). Their project allows users to build their own tours complete with bookmarks, media, locative social networking, stories, ratings and more in order to make the experience of local searching more interesting through narrative.


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