Finding Inspiration And Teaching Myself Location History At The BCS Geospatial SG

With GeoBabel firmly put to rest, I was looking for inspiration when Andrew Larcombe asked me back to the British Computer Society’s Geospatial Specialist Group to speak. After a week of drawing a blank, with Andrew sending gentle messages of encouragement via Twitter Direct Message (OI – GALE. TITLE. NOW!!) inspiration finally arrived from a variety of sources. Firstly there was Mashable’s History of Location Technology infographic. Then there the brief history of location slides I’d used in a few of my previous talks. There was the rather fine 3D visualisation of geolocation history that Chris Osborne used at W3G and at GeoCom 2010. And then there were two questions that kept cropping up when speaking to people at conferences … “this location stuff’s only recent isn’t it?” and “I can’t keep up with this geo stuff, it’s all moving too fast, where’s it going?“.

So I started to research this. I knew that location had a long history but I was taken aback to find out just how long that history was. I’d tended to think of the human race using longitude and latitude to work out their location sometime in the 1700’s, about the same time as the race to make a working, reliable marine chronometer. It came as a bit of a shock to find out that longitude and latitude were first proposed in 300 BC and were first used to locate a position on the surface of the Earth in 200 BC. Focussing on use of location, on location sharing and on LBS/LBMS and putting GIS to one side I came up with A (Mostly) Complete & (Mostly) Accurate History Of Location (Abridged).

The first 15 of my slides takes the story of location from 3200 BC, with the first use of celestial navigation to 1960, with the launch of the first navigation satellites. That’s not the first GPS satellites, they didn’t come along until 1969.

And then things really start to accelerate with the headlong rush to the internet, to smart phones, to PNDs (Personal Navigation Devices), to online maps on phones, to LBMS (Location Based Mobile Services) to attempts to own the “Place space” from Facebook, Foursquare and Gowalla.

I finished my talk with an illustration of how services are frantically adding “check-in” facilties and how the early adoptors in the location sharing and check-in space aren’t necessarily the leaders now, some 4 years after they were first launched. 4 years is an awfully long time in technology and an awfully large amount has been launched, been shuttered, succeeded and failed over that time.

Post talk, a lively and pointed Q&A session ensued and I was asked to make some predictions for the location space in the coming year. As I’ve written about before, predictions are notoriously hard to make and even harder to make them correctly. Having said that, I can’t believe that check-ins are the nadir of the location space. The more services that add them, the more time it takes for the end-user to get a relevant experience … check-in fatigue. The end goal has to be increasing relevance in your online and mobile experience and that has to mean less fragmented apps (more GeoBabel) and more integration of location as a feature and not a business in itself.

Finally, an hour and a half after we’d started, the talk and the Q&A was over; there’s only one thing you can really do after that and that’s head out into Covent Garden in search of geo-beers and a geo-curry. Which is just what happened.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Written by Gary

Husband, Father, geotechnologist, map geek, coffee addict, Sci-fi fan, UNIX and Mac user.

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