Location, location, location

A couple of months ago I wrote:

Jessica speculated a while back about reverse Google Maps. Suppose that when you entered an address, instead of just showing you the top-down view of that point on the planet, you also got to see how the sky would look from that point. Enter a postcode; view the corresponding starmap.

It isn’t in Google Maps yet but it is in Google Earth. The newest version features a button labeled “Switch between Sky and Earth”. This new Sky feature allows you to navigate photographs of space taken from the Palomar observatory and the Hubble telescope. It’s just one more example of what you can do with geodata.

Location information is the basis for a lot of the mashups out there—of which, Overplot remains my favourite. The possibilities in mashing up geodata with timestamps are almost limitless.

Getting datetime information is relatively easy. Every file created on a computer has a timestamp. Almost everything published on the Web is also timestamped: that’s the basis of lifestreams.

I look forward to the day when geostamps are as ubiquitous as timestamps. If every image, every blog post, every video, every sound file had a longitude and latitude as well as a date and time… I can’t even begin to imagine the possibilities that would open up.

I’m not the only one thinking about this. Responding to the question, what parts of the Web need to be improved or fixed in order for the Web of today to evolve into the Web of the future?, Jeff Veen writes:

I wish every device that was capable of talking to the network could send its geolocation. I’d like this to be fundamental—let’s send longitude and latitude in the HTTP header of every request. Let’s make it as ubiquitous and accessible as the time stamp, user agent, and referring URL.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that every electronic device needs to be geo-aware. As long as devices can communicate easily, you may ever only need one location-aware device. Suppose my phone has GPS or some other way of pinpointing location. As long as that device can communicate with my computer, perhaps using Bluetooth, then my computer can know my location: a very short string of two numbers. Once my computer has that data, my location can be broadcast and a whole ecosystem of services can be enhanced. Sites built around travel or events are the obvious winners but I can imagine huge benefits for music sites, photo sharing or any kind of social networking site that boils down to real-world activity.

The technology isn’t quite ubiquitous enough yet and there are privacy concerns (though the granularity of geodata negates a lot of the worst fears) but I hope that as the usefulness of geodata becomes clearer, location enhanced services can really begin to bloom.

Have you published a response to this? :



Word. When + where = lots of information for humans, and a unique point in spacetime.

I’m not sure that a unique point in spacetime actually means anything, but it sounds important.

Add in who, and you’re laughing.

# Posted by pauldwaite on Thursday, August 23rd, 2007 at 10:46pm

Ben Buchanan

I like the simple brilliance of the idea of "looking the other way" with Google maps. So many huge ideas have a brilliantly simple core.

re: geodata… Privacy (or perceived privacy) will be the biggest thing which will stand in the way of user adoption, I think. For mobiles particularly, I can see users wanting to only broadcast geodata to third parties on command. Obviously it already goes to the telcos, but that’s (at least slightly) different from letting everyone else have access to the data.

As a total aside, the latest William Gibson has some cool geodata-based ideas… I think you’ll dig it :)