Posts Tagged ‘geo’

From Where 2.0 To Just Where; With Meh 2.0 Somewhere In The Middle

And so, as Where 2012 draws to a close and the lobby of the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco fills with a slew of geo’d-out delegates waiting to check out, it’s time for the traditional post conference retrospective writeup. If you were at Where this year or in previous years you’ll probably want to skip ahead to the next paragraph, right now. Where, previously called Where 2.0, is one of the annual maps, geo, location conferences. Though it’s very Californian and eye wateringly expensive, it’s still the place to go to talk, listen and announce anything related to the nebulous industry we call Geo.

After skipping Where 2.0 last year, this year I returned as part of the Nokia contingent and found out that some things had changed.

Firstly, Where 2.0 was no more. O’Reilly have rebranded the conference as simply Where, with the strapline of the business of location. The conference had also moved from its traditional San Jose venue, via the soul desert that is the Santa Clara Convention centre last year, to a new home at the Marriott Marquis slap bang in the middle of downtown San Francisco.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, whilst Where was as slick and well put together as it’s always been, something was missing. It’s not easy to put my finger on what precisely was lacking. There seemed to be a lack of … buzz, for want of a better word. It felt … muted. Numbers were certainly down from previous years but that alone can’t account for the feeling, or lack of it, this year. Granted, the venue was excellent, the food was as well too. The coffee was … Starbucks. We can’t have it all. The wifi almost held up. I met up with a lot of old friends and colleagues, including some from Yahoo! and the after show parties were edgy and the bar was open, free and copiously stocked.

But it did feel more Meh 2.0 (to be said out loud with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders) rather than Where 2.0, and from speaking to other people, I’m not alone in thinking this.

So enough introspection, to the point of this post, which is retrospection. Let’s start with the high points.

Read On…

The Non Golden Rules of Geo (Redux)

Back when I used to work for Yahoo! I wrote a lot of posts for the Geo Technologies blog; for reasons partially explained in my last post, that blog is now offline, presumed dead. But one post that seems to keep catching people’s imagination is the one in which I, somewhat tongue in cheek, codified the Six Non Golden Rules Of Geo. Much to my satisfaction, it keeps getting mentioned, although the full original post is inaccessible, as is the rest of that blog. Nate Kelso reproduced part of it, as did John Goodwin but until earlier today I’d not been able to find the full post.

Step forward the aforementioned John Goodwin who, with a bit of internet detective work, managed to find a mirror of the post. While I much prefer to link to blog posts rather than reproduce them in full, in this case I’m plagiarising myself and making an exception on the ground of inaccessibility, and have mirrored the post in full here. It’s worth mentioning that this post was originally written in February of 2009, when I was still working for Yahoo! so it’s a little out of date and was originally posted as …

UK Addressing, The Non Golden Rules of Geo or Help! My County Doesn’t Exist

George Bernard Shaw once said the golden rule is that there are no golden rules and at Geo Technologies we understand that there is no one golden rule for geo and so we try to capture and express the world’s geography as it is used and called by the world’s people. Despite the pronouncement on golden rules, a significant proportion of the conversations we have with people about geo lend themselves to the Six Non Golden Rules of Geo, namely that:

  1. Any attempt to codify a series of geo rules into a formal, one size fits all, taxonomy will fail due to Rule 2.
  2. Geo is bizarre, odd, eclectic and utterly human.
  3. People will in the main agree with Rule 1 with the exception of the rules governing their own region, area or country, which they will think are perfectly logical.
  4. People will, in the main, think that postal, administrative and colloquial hiearachies are one and the same thing and will overlap.
  5. Taking Rule 4 into account, they will then attempt to codify a one size fits all geo taxonomy.
  6. There is no Rule 6, see Rule 1.

I codified these rules after a conversation last week, via Twitter and Yahoo! Messenger, with Andrew Woods, a US based developer who was, understandably, confused by the vagaries of the how addresses work in the UK. Andrew’s blog contains the full context but it can be distilled into three key questions:

  • If the country is The United Kingdom, how come the ISO 3166-2 code is GB?
  • If the country is The United Kingdom, is England a country?
  • If England is a country, do I use it in an address?

As a US developer, Andrew is naturally fluent with the US style of addressing, with all of its’ localised and regional exceptions. This is a good example of both Rules 3 and 4 in the real world; most people in the US will use number, street, city, State and ZIP for specifying an address. But how does this transfer to the UK? What’s the equivalent of a State … England, Scotland or Wales? Let’s try to answer some of these problems:

Middlesex In 1824

If the country is The United Kingdom, how come the ISO 3166-2 code is GB?

The UK’s full name is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and although the United Kingdom and Great Britain are used interchangeably, Great Britain really refers to England, Scotland and Wales. At the time of writing, both GB and UK are formal ISO 3166-2 codes for the United Kingdom with GB being the assigned code for Great Britain and UK being exceptionally reserved by the United Kingdom.

If the country is The United Kingdom, is England a country?

To be formal and precise, the United Kingdom is a unitary state, not a country, with four “member” countries; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

If England is a country, do I use it in an address?

Normally, no. A full UK address consists of the following:

  • The addressee’s name, if known or applicable
  • The company or organisation, if known or applicable
  • The building name; optional if the building has a number
  • The number of the building and the name of the street
  • The locality name;optional
  • The Post Town
  • The county; optional if a Post Town and Postcode are supplied
  • The Postcode

… for example, take our office address of Yahoo! Geo Technologies, 125 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8AD. This address has no building name, a building number and street, no locality name, a Post Town, no county as we have a Post Town and a Post Code, and a Post Code.

Which brings me neatly to another example of Rule 4 and the missing county of this post’s title. The UK’s postal hierarchy and administrative hierarchy are not the same. Since 1996 the first half of a UK postcode, known as the outward code, has been used to help in the sorting of mail but prior to this a set of postal counties were used as part of addresses and these frequently do not match the current set of administrative counties. For example, the county of Middlesex was formally abolished in 1965 with the majority of the county becoming part of Greater London. Despite this and despite the 1996 postcode changes, Middlesex lives on as a postal county and as informal area name with the side effect that it is still possible to send mail, and have it delivered, to places in a county which hasn’t existed for over 40 years.

Oh, and Yahoo! GeoPlanet, naturally, recognises Middlesex and correctly identifies it as a Historical County.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Paleo vs. Neo – A Final Word (Plus A Helpful Venn Diagram)

When you’re on the inside of an industry looking in, you take a lot of things for granted. You fling terminology, acronyms and slang around, safe and secure in the knowledge that your audience knows exactly what you’re talking about. But when you’re on the edges of an industry, or even on the outside, looking in, all of a sudden that terminology becomes opaque, those acronyms obscure and that slang becomes misleading. When you’re on the inside, looking in, you forget all of this and sometimes all it takes is a simple question to ground you and remind you of this.

And so it was with my post on neogeography being removed from wikipedia; a flurry of email conversations with friends and colleagues resulted which can be paraphrased succinctly as “neo? paleo? WTF?“. I tried to write down the background to all of this geographic storm in a teacup, but that only served to confuse matters. So, with the caveat that this may end up fanning the flames rather than putting them out, in the end I came up with the following venn diagram to explain.

Paleo vs. Neo - A Helpful Venn Diagram

It goes something like this.

Paleotard and neotard are both pejorative terms. Paleotards are what neotards call practitioners of paleogeography; not the study of ancient geographies but users of traditional GIS techniques who look down their noses at the upstart Web 2.0, mashup and LBMS communities. Neotards are what paleotards call practitioners of neogeography; those same Web 2.0, maps, data and LBMS combinants.

Both look down their respective noses at each other mudslinging neotard and paleotard around disparagingly. But in reality neotards and paleotards are a minority. Both neogeographers and GIS users both intersect with the wider web mapping discipline and with the use of geographic data. It’s all just “geo” really.

So there we go; paleotards vs. neotards explained. Now hopefully we can all move on and forget about this.

Written and posted from the Intercontinental Hotel, Chicago IL (41.891017, -87.62403)

Two Weeks In; Of Dog Food, Mobile Handsets and Finnish Doors

Two weeks into the Nokia and Ovi experience and I can finally pause and catch my breath. It’s been an intense two weeks and asking me what my impressions are of Nokia are akin to putting someone at the top of a very large, very steep and very fast roller coaster, watching them plummet down and then, before they’re even out of their seat, asking them to comment on what the scenery was like. So I won’t even try to comment on the scenery and will instead merely record the four things that have stuck in my mind.

I’ve been busy. I’ve been very busy. I’ve also been at home for all of two days in the last two weeks and whilst video chatting with my family over Skype is better than a plain old fashioned voice call it’s no substitute for being at home more; but things will settle down into a more manageable routine over the coming weeks. Being busy has meant that I’ve kept my head down and tried to assimilate all the new information with which I’m being bombarded, a fact that’s not gone unnoticed by Chris Osborne … “severe drop off in @vicchi’s bloggage and tweetage levels, means that maybe, just maybe, he is actually doing some work these days“. Quite.

Nokia gate5 GmbH

I learnt today that Ovi is Finnish for door, proving for once the adage that you learn something new every day.

At Yahoo! we used to talk about eating our own dog food a lot; thankfully meaning that a company should use the products that it makes rather than that the employees develop a predilection for Pedigree Chum. Although it took me the best part of the first week to notice, Nokia certainly eats its own dog food; apart from the ever present starfish style conferencing phones in meeting rooms, there’s no desk phones at all. None. But everyone has a mobile, and uses them a lot, either over the cellular network or hooked up to the internal VOIP system through the office wifi. Actually everyone seems to have more than one mobile handset, two, three and even four handsets doesn’t seem to be unusual.

I can haz new badge pleez?

In a previous role I seemed to spend a lot of my time talking about why location and all of the many geo facets it encompasses is important. Many was a meeting with a senior exec which started with the depressing question “so .. location … is it really important?“. Nokia gets location; there’s absolutely no doubt about that. The question is now how do we deliver real value and real market share with location … and that’s half the fun and half the challenge.

New Job. New City. New Desk. New Country

Written and posted from the Radisson Blu Hotel, Berlin, Germany (52.519426, 13.403229)

Your Place Is Not My Place; The Perils of Disambiguation

We take the art of geographic lookup for granted these days; type a place name into a form on a web site or feed it into a web service API and hey presto! Most of the time you’ll be told whether or not the place name is valid or not and, in case there’s more than one place with the same name, either asked to choose which one you mean or be presented with the most likely place.

Most of the time … but not all of the time.

Which Way To The Town Centre?

The hey presto bit of the process seems at first glance to be relatively trivial but isn’t. Just ask anyone who’s had to implement a system that handles place names. Actually, the hey presto part is actually two discreet processes in their own right. First of all we need to identify a place, or whether indeed there’s a place at all; this is usually called geoidentification.

identify; verb; establish or indicate who or what (someone or something) is

This is the thing that determines that there is a place in “I’m in London today” but not in “I do love Yorkshire Pudding“.

Once a place has been identified, we need to work out if there’s more than one place of the same name (which is more than likely as we’re stunningly unimaginative where place names are concerned, duplicating and reusing the same name all over the world) and if so, which one. This is usually called geodisambiguation.

disambiguate; verb; remove uncertainty of meaning from (and ambiguous sentence, phrase or other linguistic unit)

Some places are pretty easy to disambiguate; as far as I know there’s only one Ouagadougou and that’s the capital of Burkina Faso. Some places should be easy to disambiguate, least at first sight; take London, that should be easy. It’s the capital of the United Kingdom. Well that’s true but it could also be the London in Ontario, or the one in Arkansas, in California, in Kentucky or any of the other 22 Londons that I’m aware of.

The gentle art of disambiguation is critical to the act of geocoding, geoparsing, geotagging and any of the other words the the location industry chooses to tack geo on as a prefix. Get disambiguation wrong and you fail on two counts.

Firstly, you’re showing your audience that you don’t know or don’t care about what they’re trying to tell you. Secondly, you allow your users the opportunity to specify the same place in a multitude of conflicting ways.

This is part of the problem of GeoBabel; your place is not my place.

So far, so theoretical, but let’s look at a concrete example of this. A few weeks back I added my Twitter account to the Twitter directory site wefollow.com. The first thing you’re asked to do is to supply your location, or to “Type Your City” as wefollow.com phrases it. So I type London and the site starts to attempt to disambiguate on the fly; so do I mean “London, United Kingdom” or “London, Ontario“? But wait, what about the other options?

wefollow.com - London geo disambiguation fail #1

Which “London” is the one tagged by 436 people but with no indication of which country? What’s the difference between “London, United Kingdom“, “London,UK” and “London England“. Space and punctuation, or the lack of it, is obviously important to wefollow.com here. So let’s try and give the system some help and start to type United Kingdom …

wefollow.com - London geo disambiguation fail #2

Oh dear. The “London, United Kingdom” still shows up but because I’ve put a space in there I don’t get offered “London,UK” anymore but I do get offered the London in the lesser known country of “Uunited Kingdom” and also “London, Ub2“, which one assumes is the UB2 postal code which specifies the London suburb of Southall.

Your place is not my place.

To be fair, I’m not singling wefollow.com out for attack here; this is just one of many examples of sites who try to use geographic lookup but end up making life difficult for their users (but which London do I pick?) and for themselves (now, how many users in London in the UK do we have?). I’d happily offer to help them; if only I could find any contact information anywhere on the site …

Photo Credits: foilman on Flickr.
Written and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006)

Retiring The Theory of Stuff; But First, A Corollary

It’s time to put the Theory of Stuff out to pasture. It’s had a good life. It’s appeared in 5 of my talk decks (or so Spotlight tells me), in 3 of my blog posts and continues to generate hits on my blog (or so my analytics tells me).

When I tell people I’m going to talk about my theory, a Mexican wave of shoulder slumping passes through the room, coupled with a prolonged sigh from an audience who’ve just resigned themselves to a slow painful death over the coming minutes. Luckily things perk up when my introductory slide of Anne Elk (Miss) and her Theory appears but even so, it’s time to quit whilst you’re ahead.

You may well ask, Chris, what *is* my theory?

But before I do …

One of the great thing’s about O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 conference is the vast number of people you meet who just fizz with ideas and intelligence in this somewhat nebulous space that we call location, place or geo. One such person is Sally Applin; she owns the domain sally.com so that’s got her off to a good start. After Where 2.0 she pointed me to her own theory that voyeurism and narcissism sell software.

People like to look at themselves and at other people. If they can do it at the same time–then the application will succeed! Look at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Skype–basically any software that allows for both looking at others and self viewing, self reading, self posting etc…will sell. We’re on the chimp ladder. We like to compare ourselves and compete.

If you generalise software out to the slightly more generic terms ofservice or product; you’ll see that Sally’s theory complements the Theory of Stuff quite nicely and even provides an exemplar of those businesses and ventures that prove the theory.

Korean unisex toilet?

This is especially interesting when you look at the success (to date at least) of ventures in the social space, such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. What else are these is not an online way of saying “look at me, here I am, this is what I’m doing” and in doing so generating a vast sea of highly localised and personalised data into the bargain?

Photo Credits: wili_hybrid on Flickr.
Written and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006)

(Geo) Chicken and Egg (The Problem with Press Releases)

There’s a danger in looking at too many press releases; you can easily come to think that the view of the world that these pieces of writing portray are a fair and accurate representation of the real world.

Thus both myself and the ever readable James Fee were vastly amused to see Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch refer to CloudMade’s OpenStreetMap.

Many people describe CloudMade’s OpenStreetMap project as “Wikipedia for maps,” and they aren’t far off. The project allows anyone to add and edit map data around the globe, and the project is now a viable open and free source of mapping data for third party developers.

Now is probably a good point to mention that CloudMade was founded (by OpenStreetMap founder Steve Coast amongst others) in 2007 and OpenStreetMap launched in 2004. Geo chicken … meet Geo egg.

Chicken Egg

I look forward to reading about other TechCrunch exclusives including the discovery of RedHat’s Linux and British Airway’s airplanes.

Photo Credits: The Eggplant on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Geo on the Horizon at Horizon Geo

Last Friday I ventured north to Nottingham, along with Ed Parsons, Steven Feldman and Muki Haklay to attend the one day Supporting the Contextual Footprint event run by the Horizon Digital Economy Research institute at the University of Nottingham. Along the way I discovered a manner of tracking my journey that I’d hadn’t previously considered, but that’s covered in a previous blog post.

The focus of the Horizon event was to discuss the infrastructure needed to support location in its role as a key context and to identify any research theme that came out of the discussions; a classic case of the ill defined and fuzzy interface between the commercial world and that of academia.

The day was split into three thematic tracks:

  • The Location Challenge
    • What are the challenges specific to the capture and management of location data?
    • What is the state-of-the-art in the technologies available to store, query and present location data?
    • How do we understand location in context, especially in real-time, on the move?
  • Whose Data Is It Anyway?
    • What data should be considered “personal”?
    • Should I “own” data about me, such as where I am, my home electricity usage, my bank transactions?
    • How can users be enabled and encouraged to manage this data?
    • What technologies are available to do this?
    • How, when and by whom should “personal” data be exploited?
    • What checks and balances should be in place to protect all stakeholders, including both citizens and service innovators?
  • Can Crowds Be Authoritative?
    • Crowd sourcing is a powerful technique for data collection enabled by modern handheld devices, but how far can user-contributed data be trusted?
    • What are the processes required in order to meld crowd-sourced data with existing, authoritative, datasets?
    • What are the legal implications of generating, combining and using such user-generated datasets?
    • For example, what environmental details could citizen sensors collect?
    • How might this change our understanding of the live state of the world?

Take A Little Time With Me

Read On…

Deep In The Twitter (Developers) Nest

The last week has been crammed with planning for and finally realising the first WhereCamp unconference to be held in Europe. More of that later but before WhereCamp EU, there was the London Twitter Developer’s DevNest.

Angus Fox, one of the organisers of the DevNest, had first got in touch with me last year after the launch of the Yahoo! Placemaker web platform that allows recognition of place references in unstructured text. Placemaker plus Twitter status feeds seemed an ideal candidate for a mashup and Angus was keen to get me to talk to his hard-core Twitter and social media literate developer audience.

Twitter Developer Nest

Then in November 2009 Twitter announced their use of WOEIDs, the language neutral geographic identifiers that underpin Placemaker and the other Yahoo! Geo Technologies platforms, in their new Trends API. Naturally all of the Geo group at Yahoo! were excited, verging on ecstatic, at this. But getting our respective schedules in synch with each other wasn’t the easiest of things and 2009 came to a close without getting a firm date in the diary.

2010 arrived and Twitter launched their Trends API and exposed WOEIDs to the world and Angus got in touch again and we both put the seventh DevNest in our respective schedules.

Come the evening of Wednesday March 10th and I made my way to the Sun Microsystem’s Customer Briefing Center, just north of London Bridge where I was joined by Ewan MacLeod, the straight talking and highly entertaining and informing editor of Mobile Industry Review,  Paul Kinlan, Developer Programmes Engineer at Google and a plentiful supply of beer and pizza.

Ewan went first and you knew he was tapping into a rich vein of mobile geekery when a slide of his tee shirt drew such loud chuckles and guffaws from the audience, myself included.

That's a Shit Phone

Ewan’s deck is on SlideShare.net here and it speaks for itself even without an accompanying video; I strongly urge you to browse through his deck for some fascinating stats on mobile phone usage, breakdown and penetration and for the low down on exactly how much impact the iPhone is, and more importantly, isn’t making.

I was up next and gave a talk on (Almost) Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Geo (with WOEIDs), which attempted to give this tech savvy audience a background on what geocoding, reverse geocoding and geoparsing are, why this isn’t a trivial task, what WOEIDs are and why they’re important for geo and for deriving meaning from content, such as Twitter status updates.

My deck accompanying the talk is above and there’s also a (slightly shakey) video to accompany it as well.

Closing the talks was Google’s Paul Kinlan who gave us the low down on Google’s Buzz and showed that the adage of never work with children, animals and live demos still has life it in.

Accompanied throughout by beer and pizza courtesy of the event’s sponsors, the Twitter DevNest was thoroughly enjoyable, a bit of a revelation in places and showed that Twitter has a deep and very enthusiastic developer following.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)