Posts Tagged ‘berlin’

Putting The Tube On The Grid; A Geeked Out Cartographical Recipe

Here’s a simple, cut-out-and-keep recipe for making a very geeked out update on a cartographical classic. First, take a classic and iconic map which appeals to both the map geek in you as well as the Tube geek in you. Harry Beck’s 1931 reworking of the map of the London Underground system will do nicely.

Old School Tube

Next, take a classic, 1980’s movie which appeals to both the scifi fan and the computer nerd in you and classifies as a guilty pleasure as an added bonus. Disney’s 1981 Tron fits the bill here.

Tron Poster

Add the ingredients, mix well and serve. The end results might just look like Kevin Flynn’s version of the London Underground network on The Grid.

Tron - Tube Map

To paraphrase Kevin Flynn (the Tron character not the artist) … “Who’s that guy?“, “That’s Tron. He fights for the Tube Users“.

Photo Credits: thehutch on Flickr and Kevin Flynn on Deviant Art.
Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

“Ich Bin Geograph” – WhereCamp EU Is Coming To Berlin

In March 2010, Chris Osborne and myself transplanted the post-Where 2.0 WhereCamp from Silicon Valley and brought it to London. Judging by the feedback and comments we got during and after the event, it was a geotastic success and showed that Europe had an appetite for a 2 day, free, unconference on all matters geo. After a brief northbound sojourn as WhereCamp UK in November 2010, we're happy to announce that WhereCamp EU is back for 2011 and with a distinctly European flavour.

Ovi Maps. Made here. In Berlin

Whilst the venue is yet to be confirmed, WhereCamp EU will be taking place on the 27th and 28th of May in Berlin.

We'll keep you posted with more details on the WhereCamp EU blog , on Lanyrd and on our Twitter feed.

"Ich Bin Geograph" (as Google translate tells me).

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Talking About A Sense Of Place

As a precursor to last week’s mashup* Digital Trends event, I chatted to Paul Squires of Imperica about my location trends in more detail than the mashup* format would have allowed for. The write-up from that interview is now up on Imperica’s web site and, thanks to them adopting a Creative Commons  license, I’m able to reproduce it here.

A Sense Of Place

It’s going to be mobile’s year.

In fact, it has been “mobile’s year” for many years. Analysts have predicted that the following year will be the golden year of mobile, ever since WAP started to become generally available on small, monochrome screens.

This year, it might just be mobile’s year. Widespread adoption of geolocation, tablet computing and apps are transforming mobile from simply a mobile telephony handset, to truly mobile, experiential, computing.

The handset vendor that has been part of “mobile’s year” ever since the early days of such predictions, is Nokia. The journey from small, blue phones with Snake to technologically complex, Ovi-enabled devices has been fast and, at times, tough. Leading this continued evolution from the point of view of location, is Gary Gale.

Gale, as Director of Ovi Places, is continuing a life-long fascination with maps. From a deep fascination with Harry Beck’s Tube map as a child, he now runs a business which aims to meet – and exceed – the consumer expectations of what mapping can offer to mobility. These expectations are both, from the consumer’s perspective, urgent and complex.

Currently, location is often externalised, as demonstrated by the “world of check-ins” offered by Foursquare, Facebook Places, and elsewhere. Gale feels that location will simply bed into a wider context over time, leading to less specifically location-based applications, but more apps with location features. “The applications that we have, will do a much better job at predicting the information that we need, and delivering it – so it becomes less of a case of ‘app fatigue’. Currently, if you want to find a piece of information, you go to one app. It shows where the information you want to find is, so you swap over to another app, but then you realise that you’ve forgotten the time that the place you want to go to opens, so you have to go back to the previous app to find out. You then go back to the map app, and you find that it has lost the context, so you have to go through it again. It’s an immensely boring experience. Combining those pieces of information into something of use, is the challenge.”

“Industry commentators have been excited about the number of apps downloaded through app stores. It’s a nice infographic, but how many of them are usable? How many of them are used and reused on a daily basis? The challenge is less about the 30 billion mark; it’s much more about making my life easier.”

While Gale acknowledges that location is important – it’s rich, timely, and vital – but the important piece to remember here it is context. Gale’s view, which might challenge some current startups, is that as location does not fundamentally make an app in itself, it should also not be a rationale for a business.

Smartphones continue to occupy a minority share of overall mobile ownership, although this is growing quickly. As more and more consumers exchange their old handsets for sophisticated, GPS-enabled devices, the way in which we understand and use geo-locative data will change. We are still scratching the surface.

Privacy Area

“Despite the meteoric rise of the check-in economy, a lot of people are very uncomfortable with the concept of sharing their current location with a company. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable premise, as a lot of the ways in which this is messaged, is ambiguous and unclear. My fear is that there will be a big tabloid media crash involving this technology; all of a sudden, this is brought to the public, and they will sit up and take notice. In a high-profile divorce between B-list celebrities, if one claims that they weren’t somewhere and the app says that they were, then the press would have a field day. It would be thrust into the public’s attention. The challenge for the location industry as a whole, is to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

Gale points out the undercurrent of apps that, without the consumer knowing it, sends their location data back. While such references are often buried in a terms and conditions page that we all have the tendency to ignore until clicking Accept, the point is made that location information sharing is still oblique, with an insufficient level of clarity and understanding on the part of consumers.

This mismatch of delivery and experience extends to geotargeted advertising. As Gale’s history includes leading Yahoo’s UK Geotechnologies group – which developed the world’s first geotargeted advertising network. However, as he illustrates, geotargeting means, and results in, different outcomes in different environments. Different countries treat IP addresses in very different ways; regional IP allocation based on the Baby Bell network allows for reasonably precise targeting in the US, where many European countries make targeting more difficult, due to dynamic allocation. Such variations, and their impact on message delivery, are lessened with a greater degree of location information – although not without its dangers. “You have a trinity of mobile phone triangulation, GPS lock, and public wi-fi points, for information. They’re pretty accurate. Even without GPS, when someone is running a map application on an iPad even without GPS, just through just public wi-fi, you’re able to work out where you are. The key is to engage the customer, so that they think it’s a really handy feature, rather than “that’s creepy, how the hell did they know that?” – and that’s a big challenge.”

“People are happy with ads on mobile and the web, as they either consciously or unconsciously understand that there isn’t such a thing as a free lunch. What they’re less comfortable with, is the perception that there is someone watching them at that precise minute in time. That’s not the case; with the vast majority of information, apart from that which you sign on and participate in things, is utterly anonymised. You are just one point in a mass from which you can draw trends and plot nice graphs. There is a perception of ‘hell, how did I know that?’ and that’s very scary.”

More Than The Map

The other side of this coin, in terms of experience, is the quality of the information being presented. If your location can be pinpointed, then it means nothing unless there is good information – a good context to surround it. Gale makes the point that we are now at the point where it’s commonplace to use a GPS-enabled smartphone to find your way around a new place, where previously it used to be an A-Z, and latterly printouts of online maps. Neither are really seen in public any more, resulting in an expectation of not only “the now”, but “the what” and “why”. “We have had to go from the static, updated-twice-a-year view of the world, to a view where people have come to expect that the map which they are experiencing, is accurate, all of the time. If there’s a new housing development, footpath or a closed road, they get quite frustrated if they can see it with their own eyes, but the map doesn’t show that. There’s a fundamental change in the way in which we undertake mapping as a professional discipline.”

“The map’s not enough any more. You want a rich experience on the map, to avoid this disjointed app experience from earlier. You want the information represented on the map, to be available to you in a very easy-to-consume form which gives you the key facts that you need, and also to have it updated and be relevant. If you are looking for a place to get a cup of coffee, you want to know where those places are; you then need to know what time it opens; whether it serves food; whether there are nearby transport facilities. We expect that experience, no matter where we are. It’s a global marketplace, but everywhere in the world is local to somebody. It could be your local neighbourhood, or having got off the plane in a new city, you want to find somewhere to go out.”

You Are Here

“You expect that information to be made available in the same level of timeliness and freshness and accuracy as we do in your own local neighbourhood. That’s a significant swing from the two-editions-a-year, to a new place which has just opened up, and it should be on the map on my handset.”

Behind all of this, is place. “The spatial map still remains one of the best ways of visualising information. It’s visceral, visual, and the best way to impart this information. The map is not going anywhere, other than forward. People have predicted the death of the map, but it’s still the best way of representing that data.”

The point is strongly made that “hard data” – such a full address – is no longer enough, in terms of how to present location information. Our interaction with maps is similar to the historical use of search engines: based on hard syntax. “You have to know about informal places; you have to know about colloquial neighbourhoods, which don’t formally exist, but everyone knows where they are – like in London. Soho, Chinatown, the West End… are all ambiguously and vaguely defined, but everyone knows where they are. And you have to be able to understand that. But you also have to be able to understand in the same number of languages that there are in the world. People expect these services to respond to them in their mother tongue. You have to build internationalisation and localisation in, from the ground up. That’s a massive challenge for the industry. There’s still work to be done.”

As we finish, Gale makes the point that capability still needs information. While the UK and many other developed – and developing – countries have an abundance of mapping data to offer, this is not necessarily the case for every country. Essentially, this is about a quality, consistent experience – and for app developers, geotargeting-based businesses, and mapping agencies, to listen to consumers that pick holes in it. “They have the right to say that they were on location, and the experience was appalling. That will act as a significant nudge, in the direction of making the ability to have a complete map from different sources. People are coming to the conclusion that there needs to be a bit more sanity in this.”

Gary Gale is Director of Ovi Places at Nokia. Gary blogs at, and he is @vicchi on Twitter.

Photo Credits: Mark Barkway and Isma Monfort on Flickr.
Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

Airport Security X-Ray Oddness

Since I started my role at Nokia in Berlin in May of last year I’ve swapped the daily commute from home to work by train to a weekly commute by plane. This means I have to pass through airport security at London’s Heathrow and Berlin’s Tegel airports around twice a week. I tend to travel as light as I can, with a hand baggage sized suitcase so I can get off the plane and out of the airport as quickly as I possibly can, something Tegel airport excels at.

Taking the law of averages into account, I should be subject to random additional security searches and although the law of averages is generally considered a fallacy, about once a month my hand baggage gets that extra special level of attention. But it always seems to be for the same thing.

These Are Identical ... To Airport Security

The security staff at Tegel are terribly polite and ask me in the nicest way possible whether I wouldn’t mind if they took a look in my suitcase (of course, although it’s phrased in a way that appears I have a choice in the matter, I really don’t). Whereas the staff at Heathrow are a lot more brusque, with the conversation much more along the lines of “open your suitcase please Sir“.

At Tegel, the security staff at least tell me what they think we’re looking for … “do you have a can of drink in your suitcase?” … something I don’t try to carry onto a plane as it’s not permitted under the current “100 ml of liquids and gels in a clear plastic ziplock bag” rule. At Heathrow, they merely frown and poke around in my luggage.

So at both airports, the X-Ray machine seems to show a can of drink in my suitcase. But why? Each time this has happened the root cause is the same; a small, rectangular plastic box which holds my spare business cards, which when found in my suitcase elicits a confused frown, a brief inspection and muttered apologies and I’m sent on my way, sometimes with a “have a good flight” (Tegel) or a curt “thank you” (Heathrow).

I wish I could understand why a small, rectangular object should be mistaken for a significantly larger, cylindrical object under airport security X-Ray, but I can’t. Oddly enough, this never seems to happen with airport security in the US; maybe they have different X-Ray machines.

Photo Credits: Vicchi on Flickr.
Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

Lachrymose Cartography

After yesterday’s admittedly bleak look at how not to use a map, I thought it worthwhile to look at a far more upbeat use of a map. This particular gem has been doing the rounds for a long long time, but I’ve no idea where it originated from (if you know, then please let me know in the comments).

As a map it’s a fairly simple affair, inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s 1978 musical Evita, showing which countries should and which countries shouldn’t cry for you.

So now you know.

Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

Just Because You Can Put Something On A Map …

A quick review through last year’s posts shows a fairly consistent theme of mine; that despite the absence of the map in many of today’s location services sometimes the map is the best way of simply presenting information in a readily accessible and understandable form.

But a map is much more than just a visualisation for overlaying data upon, a map says as much about the fears, hopes, dreams and prejudices of its target audience as it does about the relationship of places on the surface of the Earth.

Sadly, as the background to the tragic and disturbing shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 20 other people in Tucson, Arizona on January 8th unfolds, some commentators are linking a map to the shooting, with some going so far as to say that a map either directly or indirectly contributed to the motive behind the shooting.

The map in question is one that appeared on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page over a year ago and shows the 20 Democrat Representatives who had voted in favour of US health reforms. The key feature of the map was not that it showed the United States, nor that it showed the districts and their Representatives, but that each district was indicated not by the usual map push pin but by the cross-hairs of a rifle sight. Whether this was or wasn’t a contributory factor behind the shooting is open to interpretation and debate, a lot of people have interpreted the map as being a direct call to action which influenced the person or persons who perpetrated this act.

Don’t Get Demoralized! Get Organized! Take Back the 20!

Sometimes the map is the best way of showing information, but sometimes just because you can put something on a map doesn’t mean you should.

Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

Remapping The World By Population Size

From the department of cartographical curiosities comes this wonder; a map of the world but with the countries changed so that their population size corresponds to the size of each country. It’s a map of the world; but not as we know it and has cropped up in several places online, including Frank Jacob’s excellent Strange Maps blog.

World Map By Population Size

In this new world order, the United Kingdom now sits, landlocked, in the middle of Africa, where the Republic of Niger is usually found and Germany has migrated in a South Easterly direction and now sits where you’d expect to find Saudi Arabia. The map also notes the interesting coincidences that the United States, Yemen, Brazil and Ireland don’t actually move and correspond precisely to their place in the population ranking.

Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

Another Category Of Place You Really Don’t Want To Check In To

There are some places you really don’t want to check into using one of the many location based social networks. There’s a variety of suggestions of this nature on the web including funeral homes, an ex-partner’s house, jail or the same bar (every night). It now seems you can add military bases (when you’re in a war zone) to the list.

Camp Phoenix

A recent report highlighted concerns that the US Air Force has over troops using location based apps, with the Air Force posting a warning on an internal web site on the matter.

“All Airmen must understand the implications of using location-based services,” said a message on the internal Air Force network.
The features, such as Facebook’s ‘Check-in,’ Foursquare, Gowalla, and Loopt “allow individuals with a smartphone to easily tell their friends their location,” it said.
“Careless use of these services by Airmen can have devastating operations security and privacy implications,” said the message, which was posted on November 5, according to spokesman Major Chad Steffey.

The age old adage about Military Intelligence being an oxymoron springs to mind.

Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

A First Step Towards Indoor Navigation. Literally

The problems started the moment GPS became a commodity and made the transition from the car to the mobile device. Nowadays, GPS can be found in a vast range of smartphones and navigation is possible without being confined to your car. Of course, it’s not always a great experience. GPS works best when there’s a direct line of sight to the satellites whizzing around over your head and there are times when you just can’t get a GPS lock. A-GPS was devised to help with such situations, allowing your location enabled to device to take advantage of a variety of other sensors, such as cell tower and wifi triangulation technologies.

But even then, GPS just doesn’t work indoors most of the time and indoor location and routing has become something of the Holy Grail for navigation technology vendors. Granted there have been lots of technologies developed which use non A-GPS technologies such as RFID and other near field sensors. But so far these all require a not insignificant investment to install and require specialist devices to take advantage of; none of which are as ubiquitous as the combination of smart phone and GPS.

Maybe we’re looking too deeply at this challenge. Take a category of location that lots of people go to, such as shopping malls, where GPS usually isn’t available, and map each mall to a high degree of accuracy, both in terms of the layout of the mall and in terms of the stores and concessions in that mall. Add in key features, such as multiple levels, staircases, escalators and lifts and you can build a spatial map of the mall which doesn’t need sensors. Simply tell your phone where you are and where you want to go and you can provide simplistic directions, without the need for GPS.

FastMall - Mall Overview

It’s obvious when you stop to think about it.

Whilst it’s not the voice guided, constantly updated, turn by turn navigation that we’re used to in conventional satnav, as a technology it’s simple to implement and FastMall, an iPhone app, has done just that.

So how does it work? Like most location based apps, FastMall taps into your iPhone’s onboard GPS allowing you to search for malls near to you (as a side note, this location based search isn’t geofenced at all, searching for malls around me in Berlin returns a huge list of European malls). Select the mall you’re either at or are going to and you download the mall’s map and data to your device. At this stage your need for GPS or even for a cellular signal is over. The locations of each store in the mall (even including toilets, staircases and escalators) are now on the phone. Navigating to the store you need is elegantly simplistic; simply tell the app where you want to go and tell the app where you are and you get a (literally) step by step guide to reach your destination.

FastMall - Navigation Setup

Let’s take an example of a mall I know reasonably well; the Westfield Valley Fair mall in Santa Clara, California. I’ve parked my car in the car park next to Macy’s and I want to get to the Apple Store. Assuming I’ve downloaded the mall map data (and this is in the US so there’s no guarantee I can do this in the car park as this is AT&T territory) I simply search for the Apple Store as my destination and then search for Macy’s as my starting point and I’m presented with precise walking directions on how to get there.

  1. Exit Macy’s
  2. Walk until you see Nine West and go straight
  3. Walk until you see Marc Ecko Cut & Sew and turn slight left
  4. Walk until you see Jessica Mcclintock and go straight
  5. Walk until you see MAC Cosmetics and go straight
  6. Walk straight until you see your destination on the right
  7. Enjoy. You have reached Apple Store

FastMall - You Have Reached Your Destination

I’ll forgive the app’s designers the slightly stilted phrasing in the directions but overall the experience is simple and seamless. It doesn’t take a vast leap of the imagination to see this sort of hybrid A-GPS and spatial map technique extended to other types of location, such as railway stations, conference centres and other pedestrian areas.

Now yes, I know this is iPhone only, yes I know this needs a high end smartphone and yes, this would really benefit from being integrated into an overall maps and navigation experience. But it’s a significant step towards real world, usable indoor navigation. Sometimes the simple approach outpaces the technological sensor driven approach we’ve become used to. Expect to see this sort of technology coming your phone in the not too distant future.

Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office, Invalidenstrasse, Berlin (52.53105, 13.38521)

Through The (New Office) Window

At the weekend myself and the rest of the Ovi Places team found ourselves re-geolocated from the Nokia office in Invalidenstraße in the Mitte district of Berlin to a new office in Schönhauser Allee in the Prenzlauer Berg district. While the office coffee hasn’t improved, the view from my desk certainly has.

Through The (New Office) Window

From left to right the view takes in the Fernsehturm, (East) Berlin’s TV tower, Schönhauser Allee, looking towards Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz U-Bahn station on the U2 line and the dome of the Berlin Cathedral, better known as the Berliner Dom. I could get used to this view.

Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)