Posts Tagged ‘location’

The Challenge Of Open

One of the great things about the combination of maps, geo, location and London is that roughly once a month there’s some kind of meetup happening in the city on these themes. One of the longer running players in this space is the Geospatial Specialist Group of the British Computer Society which is being relaunched and reinvigorated as the Location Information SG. Earlier this week I gave a talk, but what to talk about?

It didn’t take too long to come up with a suitable theme. In my current day job, consulting with open data specialists Lokku, I come across the benefits and the challenges in using open data on almost a daily basis. One of the earliest lessons is that nothing is simple and nothing is straightforwards when you bring licensing into a field and open data is no exception.

Read On…

Farewell Ovi, Nokia And HERE; It’s Time To Open The Next Door

This may be a personal foible but when I join a new company I mentally set myself two targets. The first is what I want to achieve with that company. The second is how long it will take to achieve this. If you reach the first target then the second is a moot point. But if the first target doesn’t get reached and your self allocated timescale is close to coming to an end, then it’s time to take stock.

Sometimes you can extend that timescale; when reaching your achievement target is so so close and you can be happy to stretch those timescales a little. Sometimes though this just doesn’t work, not necessarily for any reason of your own making. Large companies are strange beasts and a strategic move which is right for the company may not align with your own targets and ideals.

In 2010, I left the Geo Technologies group at Yahoo! and departed from a very Californian large company to take up a new role with a very Finnish large company called Nokia. Though Nokia started life as the merger between a paper mill operation, a rubber company and a cable company in the mid 1800’s, by the time I joined Nokia it was best known for mobile and smart phone handsets and the software that makes these ubiquitous black mirrors work.

In addition to mobile data connectivity, apps and GPS, one of the things that defines a smartphone is a maps app and the suite of back-end platforms that drive that app as well as all of the other APIs that enable today’s smartphone location based services. Just as TomTom acquired digital map maker Tele Atlas in 2008, Nokia had acquired rival maps provider NAVTEQ in 2007, putting in place the foundations for Nokia’s maps and turn-by-turn navigation products, part of the company’s Ovi brand of internet services.

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I spent the first 18 months of my time with Nokia commuting weekly from London to Berlin, where the company’s maps division was based. The pros of this weekly commute of almost 600 miles each way was rapid progression through British Airway’s frequent flyer program, getting to know the city of Berlin really well and developing deep and lasting friendships with my team, who were behind the Ovi Places Registry, but more about them in a moment. The cons were living out of hotels on a weekly basis and the strain it placed on my family back in London.

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In 2011, Nokia pivoted its strategy as a result of new CEO Stephen Elop’s infamous Burning Platform memo. The company’s NAVTEQ division finally started to be integrated into Nokia, resulting in the rebranding of Ovi Maps to HERE Maps, by way of a brief spell as Nokia Maps and just before we were ready to ship the next major revision of the Places Registry, effectively powering all the data you see on a map which isn’t part of the base map itself, the project was shelved in favour of NAVTEQ based places platform. This was probably the right thing to do from the perspective of the company, but it had a devastating effect on my Berlin based team who had laboured long and hard. The team was disbanded; some found new roles within the company, some didn’t and were laid off and after spending several months tearing down what I’d spent so long helping to create, an agonising process in itself even though it was the right thing to do, I moved to help found the company crowd mapping group, driving the strategy behind the HERE Map Creator product. Think of a strategy not dissimilar to OpenStreetMap or Google Map Maker, only with a robust navigation grade map behind it.

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All of which is merely a prelude to the fact that after almost 4 years with Nokia I’ve been taking stock and it’s time to move on. The door marked Nokia, Ovi and HERE is now closed and it’s time to look to the next adventure in what could loosely be termed my career. The metaphor of doors opening and closing seems fitting as Ovi just happens to be the Finnish word for door.

There’s been a lot of high points over the past 4 or so years. Launching Nokia’s maps and location platform at the final Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco. Negotiating the places section of Nokia’s first strategic deal with Microsoft in a meeting room set against the amazing backdrop of Reykjavik in the depths of an Icelandic winter. Judging the World Bank’s Sanitation Hackathon in Dar es Salaam.

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But most of the high points have been people.

Someone who leads a team is only as good as the team and in the original Ovi Places Registry team and the subsequent Nokia Places team I found an amazing group of individuals, who made a roving Englishman feel very much at home in Berlin.

There’s also been a lot of lows over the past 4 years, but I don’t want to go into them here.

Instead, I want to close the door on the Nokia chapter with a brief mention to five people who made my time in Berlin so rich and rewarding. There’s Aaron Rincover, HERE’s UX lead, who taught me so much about the user experience in a relatively short period of time. There’s also four members of the Places Registry team, Enda Farrell, Jennifer Allen, Mark MacMahon and Jilles Van Gurp, who made me welcome in a new city, who it was an absolute pleasure to work with and who will, I hope, remain close friends. Enda and Jennifer are still both at HERE as Senior Technical Architect and Product Manager and a damn fine ones at that. Mark and Jilles were amongst those who moved on when the Places team was disbanded and are now the founders of LocalStream. Thank you all of you.

So where next? My last two companies have been large multinational affairs, but to open 2014 I’m looking to keep things a lot smaller and more agile. I’m going to take some time to do some freelance consulting, still in the maps, location and geo space of course; this industry continues to grow and innovate at an astounding rate, why would I want to work anywhere else?

For the first quarter of 2014 I’m going to be joining London’s Lokku, consulting for them as their Geotechnologist in Residence. Since 2006, Lokku have built up an impressive portfolio of geospatial and geotechnology assets under the lead of Ed Freyfogle and Javier Etxebeste, both alumni of Yahoo! like myself. Through the success of their Nestoria and Open Cage Data brands and the #geomob meetup, Lokku are in a great position to take their expertise in open geospatial data, OpenStreetMap data and open geospatial platforms to the next level. My role with Lokku will be to help them identify where that next level will be and what it will look like. It’s going to be a refreshing change to move from the world of a large corporate, with staff ID badges and ID numbers to a world where everyone fits into the same, albeit large, room and where everyone literally knows everyone else. So say I’m excited by this challenge would be a massive understatement. If you want to know more about Lokku, check out their blog, Twitter feed or come and say hello.

As for the rest of 2014 and beyond, it’s time to follow up on all those conversations that you tend to have about the next great thing in maps and location. Who knows precisely where 2014 will take me, but no matter where, it’s going to be geotastic and I can’t wait.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

The Problem With Location Based Mobile Services

There’s a problem with today’s crop of location based mobile services, commonly referred to as LBMS; those little apps which sit on our smartphones and allow us to geotag status updates or photos, find relevant local place information or check-in at a place.

The problem isn’t one of privacy or tracking. Nor is the problem one of an LBMS dying and going away. The problem isn’t whether I can get a good location fix or whether the results I get are accurate or not. The problem isn’t even of the value of the data we, the customer, put into a service and whether we can get it back again.

The Internet Connection Appears To Be Offline

No, the problem is whether we can actually use the service from our smartphone at all.

It’s 2013 and I live in the suburbs of the capital of the United Kingdom and this happens all the time. Not in the uncharted wilds of the UK. Not in obscure regions of the world. But in my local neighbourhood and in the heart of London. And it’s not just a problem with Vodafone, my current cellular provider. Over the last few years I’ve been on T-Mobile, on Orange and on O2 and all the cellular carriers seem to have exactly the same problem; one which makes a mockery of their coverage maps. According to Vodafone’s map, I should be getting high or at least variable 3G data coverage where I live, but instead I get variable or no coverage at all when walking in my local neighbourhoods.

3G data coverage that drops in and out; that’s the problem with today’s location based mobile services.

I’m getting off of my soapbox now …

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Of Digital “Stuff” And Making Your Personal Interweb History

Back in July, I wrote about Big (Location) Data vs. My (Location) Data, which was the theme for a talk I gave at the AGI Northern Conference. The TL;DR premise behind the talk was that the location trail we generate on today’s interweb is part of our own digital history and that there’s a very one sided relationship between the people who generate this digital stuff and the organisations that aim to make money out of our digital stuff.

Once I’d given that talk, done the usual blog write up and posted it, I considered the topic done and dusted and I moved onto the next theme. But as it turns out, the topic was neither done, nor dusted.

Firstly Eric van Rees from Geoinformatics magazine mailed me to say he’d liked the write up and would I consider crunching down 60 odd slides and 3000 odd words into a 750 word maximum column for the next issue of the magazine.

And then a conversation on Twitter ensued where some people immediately saw the inherent value in their personal location history whilst some people … didn’t.

That conversation was enough to make me go back and revisit the theme and the talk morphed and expanded considerably. Fast forward to this week and I’ve given the talk in its’ new form twice, once at Nottingham University’s GeoSpatial faculty and once at the Edinburgh Earth Observatory EOO-AGI(S) seminar series at Edinburgh University.

Maybe now this topic and this talk is finished and it’s time to move on. But somehow, I think this will be a recurring theme in talks to come over the next few years.

The slides from the talk are below and the notes accompanying those slides are after the break.

Read On…

Where You Are Isn’t That Interesting But Where You Will Be Is

Every once in a while the thorny topic of location privacy rears its ugly head, often in tandem with a new location based service or the discovery of what an existing one is really doing. There’s often cries of “Big Brother” and “company X is tracking me” as well. But lost in the rhetoric and hyperbole around this subject is a well hidden fact … your current location isn’t actually that interesting to anyone apart from yourself.

For most of the day we tend to be on the move so even if a service does know your location that fact becomes irrelevant almost immediately. Intrusive location based advertising is normally held up for inspection here but without context a location is just a set of longitude and latitude coordinates, coordinates that are out of date and no longer relevant almost as soon as they’ve been detected.

Maybe a location based service I use does want to target me with location based ads, but for example, if I’m on my irregular commute from the suburbs to the centre of London on a train, I challenge anyone to find an ad, intrusive or not, that would be contextually relevant to me in sufficient detail that would warrant an advertiser paying out the not insignificant sums that such ad campaigns cost. Unless maybe, just maybe, it’s an ad that offers me a viable alternative to SouthWestTrain’s execrable and expensive train service, but that’s just in the realms of fantasy.

You are here.

Now it’s true that if you gather enough data points you can start to infer some meaning from the resultant data set. You can probably determine the rough area where someone works and where they live based on their location at certain times of the day. But in today’s connected world of the interwebs, with their social networks and uploaded photographs, that level of locational granularity can be inferred fairly easily without the need to explicitly track the location of an individual.

All of the above can be summed up as something like …

Where you are right now isn’t that interesting. Where you were is slightly more interesting. Where you will be is very interesting.

I’m sure I’ve said words to this effect before in a talk at a conference but try as I might I can’t find a reference to back up this assertion.

What’s even more interesting is that a recent research study at the UK’s University of Birmingham took 200 volunteers who agreed to have their phones track them, added in the locations of their friends in their social graphs and produced an algorithm that was able to predict where a participant would be in 24 hours time, sometimes with accuracies of less than 20 meters and with an average accuracy of around 1000 meters. The full research paper makes for fascinating reading and shows that the real key to location technologies may not be where you currently are but may be much more about our predicability and daily routines for ourselves and our friends.

Now that’s interesting.

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

Big (Location) Data vs. My (Location) Data

For a pleasant change, the guts of this talk didn’t metamorphose oddly during the writing. Instead, it geolocated. This was originally planned to be my keynote talk at Social-Loco in San Francisco last month. But I wasn’t able to make it to the Bay Area as planned for reasons too complex to go into here. Suffice to say, the slide deck languished unloved on my laptops hard drive, taking up 30 odd MB of storage and not really going anywhere.

Then I got an email from Stuart Mitchell at Geodigital asking me if I’d like to talk at the AGI’s Northern Conference and thus, after a brief bit of editing to remove the conspicuous Silicon Valley references, this talk relocated from San Francisco to Manchester. As per usual, the slide deck plus notes are below.

Read On…

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…

Check In, Get Acquired, Check Out. Farewell Gowalla

With the benefit of hindsight, it was probably inevitable but 5 years after the location based, check in social network we know as Gowalla launched and 3 months after they were acquired by Facebook, Gowalla is no more.

Despite launching in 2007, 2 years prior to Foursquare, Gowalla never seemed to be able to capture attention from either users or from the media in quite the same way as Foursquare. The similarities were many; both social networks used location as a key facet, allowed users to check in to locations they were at or near and to share those locations with other users and other social networks. But while Foursquare’s game mechanics of badges and Mayors seemed to hit the right note with users, Gowalla’s ill explained and ever morphing system of virtual items, spots and trips never seemed to make sense. No-one I’ve ever spoken to could explain exactly what the point of Gowalla was, whilst Foursquare’s mechanics were simplistic and easy to grasp.

After loosing ground to Foursquare, Gowalla tried to act less as a sole source of checkins and more as a central aggregator of the disparate checkins from itself, Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter, amongst others, but this move did little to slow Foursquare’s ascendancy.

And now, 3 months after they were acquired by Facebook in December 2011, both the Gowalla smartphone app and website started to announce

Thank you for going out with Gowalla. It was a pleasure to journey with you around the world. Download your check-ins, photos and lists here soon.

So long Gowalla. You were one of the first movers in the so called check-in economy. It was fun while it lasted. Only time will tell whether Foursquare’s seemingly unbeatable lead will continue.

Wikipedia’s Gowalla entry has the final word on the subject.

Gowalla was a location-based social network

The past tense says it all.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

GeoCommunity and LocNav; One Talk, Two Audiences

You can argue that it’s cheating or you can argue that there’s a vague degree of ecological-friendliness but sometimes you just end up recycling and repurposing a conference talk deck for more than one conference. So it was with my keynote at GeoCommunity in Nottingham last month and my keynote at the Location Business Summit in San Jose. One deck, two audiences. As it turns out, taking this approach can yield unexpected benefits.

Firstly there’s the UK audience at GeoCommunity, the Association For Geographic Information’s annual get-together and all round geo shindig. GeoCommunity is probably the closest the UK has to California’s Where 2.0, but with a very different audience and a very different accent. The AGI still draws the bulk of its membership from the GIS heartlands of the GI community, although in recent years the association has dramatically expanded its reach into the web, mobile and neogeography domains.

The Location Business Summit, on the other hand is firstly in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley and secondly has a very pronounced American accent and draws the bulk of the audience from the Bay Area where web and mobile, both from a developer and from a business perspective, hold sway.

One deck, two audiences.

The slide deck is above, plus there’s a PDF version with the talk notes.

As previously mentioned, the GeoCommunity audience hails, in the main, from the GIS heartland. A talk which deals with context, with search, with relevance, with LBS and with maps and mobile got a great reaction and fitted well with the other closing keynote from the British Library’s Kimberley Kowal who put together a gorgeous deck full of beautiful maps, ancient, old and not so old. Steven Feldman has put together a list of these cartographical wonders, if you’re interested. Following up old maps with new, digital maps seemed to be a good segue and bridge between printed maps and digital maps. After the talk, people came up to me and said nice words and overall, the reaction seemed to be that this was an area of geo and location that didn’t normally appear on their professional radar. That’s a sweeping generalisation of course but it was also immensely gratifying.

Fast forward to today; not in the UK but slap bang in the middle of San Jose. Same talk. Same deck. Same sentiments. But a vastly different, though equally good, reaction from the audience. This time the questions and comments focused not on the map, not on LBS but on what the next major step in sensors would be after GPS and on what sources of data LB(M)S needs and lacks.

One deck, two audiences. Even in the same industry, albeit the vague and nebulously fuzzy grouping that we call the location industry, two very different audiences can give two very different reactions. One day, reaction will probably be the same, but today, geo and location really is a very broad church indeed.

Written and posted from Location and Navigation 2011, Convention Plaza Hotel, San Jose (37.3301, -121.8916)