Tags: location



One week of Map Tales

It’s been just a week since Clearleft unveiled the Map Tales project that we built at Hackfarm and there have already been some great stories told with the site.

Paul documented his 2009 road trip to South by Southwest.

Alessio put together a photographic guide to his adopted home, showing the secrets of Barcelona.

Andy told two tales of two different trips: wine-tasting in California’s Dry Creek Valley and hanging with the hipsters in East London.

Fellow Brightonian Tom Prior has recreated the story of the famous Stirling Moss victory at the 1955 Mille Miglia, the legendary open-road endurance race in Northern Italy.

I love the simplicity of Oliver and Peter Walk to School that Peter Ruk has embedded on his site—beautifully simple .

I’ve made a map tale of the voyage of The Beagle with material fromAboutDarwin.com.

Meanwhile Anna is putting together the tale of the Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole because—get this—a relative of hers was part of Scott’s team!

There’s plenty of room for improvement with Map Tales. It would be nice to have customisation options at some point—colours, fonts, maybe even map tiles. Some narratives would probably work better with aerial imagery, for example. In fact, that’s something that Andy has been tirelessly tinkering with. To get a taste of how that looks, check out Britain From Above, the epic map tale of the 2008 BBC documentary series.


We have some new location-centric toys to play with. Let the hacking commence.

Flickr has released its shapefiles dataset for free (as in beer, as in it would be nice if you mentioned where you got the free beer). These shapefiles are bounding boxes that have been generated by the action of humans correcting suggested place names for geotagged photos. Tom put this data to good use with his neighbourhood boundaries app.

Speaking of excellent location-driven creations by Tom, be sure to check out ; a little OS X app that updates your FireEagle location every five minutes by triangulating your position with Skyhook.

Meanwhile, in another part of Yahoo, has been released in Beta form. It looks very nifty indeed. Pass it some human-readable text and it will try to figure out what physical locations are mentioned in the text. You can help it along by using structured data like the and microformats, but it seems to be pretty good at natural language parsing. Christian has put together some good examples to illustrate his JavaScript Placemaker/YQL mashup.

Slowly but surely we’re heading towards a future where everything is geotagged.


There’s been some really interesting stuff coming out of Mozilla Labs lately. The latest toy is a plugin called Geode.

It’s based on the W3C editor’s draft geolocation API. In a nutshell, it allows you to provide your location to a website at the click of a button. You can try it for yourself on Pownce.

Now, I have no idea where it’s getting the location data from—probably a mixture of WiFi and network information a la Plazes—but I don’t need to know or care. What’s important is that it works. It works to such an extent that it’s close to being indistinguishable from magic. Sitting in the Clearleft office at 28 Kensington Street in Brighton, Geode updated my Pownce location as 9 Kensington Street in Brighton. That’s pretty damn close.

Little by little, we’re getting there:

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.

Automatic eagle

I’m looking forward to getting to San Francisco this weekend. Mostly that’s because I’ll be seeing so many of my friends there. But there’s a lesser reason that’s so geeky I’m almost ashamed to admit it…

At some stage while I’m online in San Francisco, I will, no doubt, visit my Pownce profile—where I post something almost every day—and I will take great delight in seeing my location listed as San Francisco, CA rather than the usual Brighton, UK because that’s what Fire Eagle will have told Pownce. Fire Eagle will know this because my visit to San Francisco is listed on my Dopplr account. Dopplr talks to Fire Eagle. Pownce talks to Fire Eagle. In a roundabout way, Dopplr talks to Pownce.

In case you missed it, Fire Eagle is out of beta. Go forth and explore the apps.

What’s missing from that list is a kick-ass iPhone app that would do its this app wants to know your location trick to update Fire Eagle (and therefore Pownce, Dopplr and soon, Twitter) on the go. I hereby invoke the LazyMobileWeb to build such an app. I wish I could offer some kind of modern day version of a for geeks on the move.


At this year’s dConstruct, George treated us all to a sneak peak of a new location-based feature on Flickr designed to solve the sunset problem with Interestingness®. It’s launched a few weeks ago. It’s called Places and it’s basically a mashup of location and interestingness®. Kellan has written about it—revealing a nice secret feature—and Dan has given us an insight into the design of the URLs.

Like most people, the first thing I did was to look at my own town. I really like the “Featured Photographers” bit. That turns out to be especially useful or those places that bear watching for topical, rather than personal, reasons. Take a look at the page for Baghdad. It’s not quite citizen journalism—soldiers belong to a narrow band of citizenry—but it’s a great way of seeing pictures from the ground without the intervention of a media filter.

self portrait: convoy New shoes Playing Soccer in Iraq by Elisha Dawkins, US Army, May 3, 2007 (DOD 070403-A-3887D-139)

Speaking of interesting locations, Dopplr has now officially left Beta and opened up its doors to everyone. Like Tom, I’ve found it to be surprisingly useful. It’s already got some nice Flickr integration and Aaron has been playing around with some automated tagging between the two sites.

Brighton, mapped

Today I travelled from home to work, from work to band practice, from band practice to an educational celebration: OpenStreetMap Brighton 1.0.

Ever since the mapping workshop after dConstruct 2006, Mikel and others have been out and about improving the mapping data for Brighton from the ground up. While a map can never be truly finished—it is, after all, a representation of a changing, evolving place—the data is now remarkably complete.

There’s a natural tendency for us to think in our own domains of experience so I usually only see the potential for OpenStreetMap data in web applications and mashups. But the launch event showed some wonderful use-cases in the real world: local councils, public transport… these are organisations that would otherwise have to pay very large sums (of taxpayer’s money) to the Ordnance Survey just to display a map.

OpenStreetMap is one of those applications of technology, like Wikipedia or BarCamp, that fills me with hope. On paper, the concepts sound crazy. In reality, they don’t just compete with commercial services, they surpass them.

I really need to get myself a GPS device.

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.