Posts about location

The Challenge Of Open

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.

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.

Slide01 Slide02

So, hello, I’m Gary and I’m from the Internet. I’m a self-confessed map addict, a geo-technologist and a geographer. I’m Geotechnologist in Residence for Lokku in London. I used to be Director of Global Community Programs for Nokia’s HERE maps and before that I led Yahoo’s Geotechnologies group in the United Kingdom. I’m a founder of the Location Forum, a co-founder of WhereCamp EU, I sit on the Council for the AGI, the UK’s Association for Geographic Information, I’m the chair of the W3G conference and I’m also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Slide03

There’s a lot of URLs in the slides to follow and rather than try to frantically jot them down, this is the only URL you really need to know about. If you go there right now, this link will 404 on you but sometime tomorrow this where my slides and all my talk notes will appear here.

Slide04

I've been in this "industry" for almost 25 years. I'm not quite sure what actually comprises this "industry" though; I think of it as a loose collection of software, data, geo, maps and location. Thinking back, maybe life was easier when everything was proprietary and locked up? You knew the boundaries, you knew what you could and couldn't do with software and data. You didn't need to be a part time lawyer.

Slide05

But this isn't 25 years ago, like it or not we're in the future.

Slide06

And the future is very much open.

Slide07

Whether it's the open source software that runs your laptop or desktop or the open source software that runs the vast majority of the internet and the web ...

Slide08

Or whether it's open data, such as OpenStreetMap or open government data, the concept of open is very much of the now and that means we need to be able to deal with both the benefits this brings as well as some of the pitfalls that lie in wait for the unwary

Slide09

One of those pitfalls is the license, that usually vast amount of frankly impenetrable legalese that is difficult to understand and seems to have been written for lawyers and not for mere mortals.

Slide10

This isn't a new thing. Think back to the days before we downloaded software in a blinking of an eye. Remember shrink wrapped software? Remember the catch 22 of breaking the seal meaning you accepted the EULA that was underneath the shrink wrap?

Slide11

No one read the EULA, we just wanted to get our hands on those brand new floppy disks and then patiently feed them, one by one, to our computer to get at our new purchase.

Slide12

Even in the days of the web, where downloads have supplanted floppies, CD and DVD ROMs, we just want to get to the "good stuff". We instinctively look for the button that says "accept" or "agree" and just ... click.

Slide13

We don't read the EULA, or the terms of service, or the terms of use, or the license. In essence we're blind to what we're agreeing to and sometimes what we do agree to can be surprising.

Slide14

If you use iTunes on your phone, tablet or computer you'll have agreed to the iTunes terms of service and in doing so, scuppered your plans for taking over the world by use of anything nuclear, chemical or biological.

Slide15

If you're using Apple's Safari browser on a Windows machine, you'll also be in breach of the license which you've accepted and which clearly states that you won't run Safari for Windows on a Windows machine.

Slide16

But you may be missing out on an unexpected treat. In 2005, the makers of PC Pitstop included a clause that promised a financial reward for reading the EULA and contacting the company. Five months after release and 3,000 sales later one person did read the EULA and was rewarded with a cheque for $1000

Slide17

But I am not a lawyer. I have no legal training whatsoever. With the proliferation of open source and open data it now feels that I have to be able to read the small print. If you don't read your open licenses then I would strongly recommend that you do.

Slide18

In doing so, you'll probably feel as I first did; that you're walking into a veritable minefield of clauses, exclusions and prohibitions.

Slide19

You'd be forgiven for thinking that if you're fortunate enough to be dealing with purely open licensing, with not even a whiff of anything proprietary, that everything is clear, it's all black and white.

Slide20

You'll start to become familiar with the GPL.

Slide21

With Creative Commons, with or without attribution and with or without non-commercial use clauses.

Slide22

And if you're using OpenStreetMap data, with the ODbL.

Slide23

You'd probably be forgiven to thinking that it's all cut and dried and no one can make any mistakes, especially not the big players in the industry, those with large amounts of cash and an equally large team of in house lawyers who specialise in this sort of thing.

You be forgiven, but it's not black and white nor is it clear cut. Let me give you an example of this.

Slide24

This example hinges around TechCrunch, the sometimes scathing tech blog started by Michael Arrington in 2005.

Slide25

One of the by products of TechCrunch is CrunchBase, which is a freely editable database of companies, people and investors in the tech industry.

Slide26

It will probably come as no surprise that in 2007 the CrunchBase API was launched, providing access to the whole of the database under a CC-BY license.

Slide27

It's worth looking at the human readable version of the CC-BY license.

You can share - in any way, in any form You can adapt - remix the data, build a derived work, transform it You can make money - this is for any purpose, even commercial endeavours

Slide28

Then in 2010, TechCrunch plus CrunchBase was acquired by AOL for an undisclosed but estimated figure of $25M.

Slide29

In July of 2013 an app called People+ launched using the CrunchBase data set to "know who you're doing business with".

Slide30

4 months later this comes to the attention of CrunchBase's new owner who promptly send a serious of cease and desists for all the wrong reasons, displaying a stunning lack of how open licenses work and what they mean.

Slide31

The first cease and desist makes the following assertions. All of which are true. Yes, People+ replicates what CrunchBase does, after all it's based on CrunchBase. Yes, People+ exposes the CrunchBase data in a way that's far more intuitive and valuable than CrunchBase's own (web based) search.

All of this is true. Except that none of this is in breach of the CC-BY license that AOL clearly doesn't understand. AOL may not like that fact that someone is making a better job of their own data than AOL is having hurt feelings is irrelevant in the context of whether a cease & desist is valid and this one is clearly not

Slide32

The second cease and desist makes AOL's hurt feelings clear. The second clause here is completely wrong. AOL can decide to forbid someone from using the API if they feel it violates their terms, but they cannot "terminate" the license to use the content. The content is free to use under the license, and there's nothing AOL can legally do about it.

Slide33

As an interesting footnote to this tale, if you look at the CrunchBase terms now, you'll note that AOL have, as of December 2013, reissued the CrunchBase data under CC-BY-NC, but they also seemed to have learned a valuable lesson, noting that any data that was created before this date remains under CC-BY.

Slide34

So even the big players can and do get open licensing wrong. That example was just over a single data set, covered under a single license and one where the license contains both the full legal terms as well as a human readable form, for those of us who aren't lawyers.

Things get much more fun when you start to try and mix open data licenses, to produce a derived or co-mingled work.

Slide35

Actually this is where the fun stops. Whilst there are co-mingled works out there on the interwebs, they are few and far between. Finding the correct path to take when attempting to rationalise two open licensing schemes is incredibly difficult. Most legal advice is to just say no.

Slide36

To take a slightly contentious view, this may be one of the reasons why none of the big players have never produced a derived work that contains OpenStreetMap and this may also be one of the biggest single barriers to adoption of OSM. From speaking to various lawyers, all of whom actually specialise in IP and in data licenses, the main stumbling point is the "viral" nature of the share alike clause in most open data licenses. Large companies, who have invested a considerable amount of time and effort in making their proprietary data, are unwilling to add in a data source which effectively means they have to share the derived work with the public ... and their competitors.

Slide37

Another stumbling block, admittedly one which is more down to the creators of an open data set rather than the license, is that of provenance. If you take a data set, can you really be certain where all of the data came from. Did some of the data come from another source? Do you know what that source is? Do you know what license that other source is under? Do you know if the licenses are compatible?

The answer to most of these questions is usually "no". It's a truism of some members of the tech community that an approach of "sue first, ask questions later" is often used. Taking all of this into consideration it get easier to see why the default legal answer to "can we use this open data set" is often "no".

Slide38

If there was a concerted effort on the part of the organisations behind open licenses to make their licenses compatible, to set aside or work together on differences, then maybe we'd see more widespread adoption of open data outside of the existing open data community.

Slide39

For open source licenses things are a little clearer; lots of work has been done to rationalise between GPL, lGPL, BSD, MIT, X11, Apache and all the other open licenses that are focused on code and on software.

Slide40

But for open data licenses, the picture is anything but clear. Yes, there's loads of commentary on how to approach open data compatibility but nothing that's clearly and humanly readable.

Nowhere is this more apparent in the admission from Creative Commons that the number of other licenses that are compatible with CC licensing is ... none

Slide41

Maybe to bring agreement between the differing parties and factions where open data licensing is concerned we need to put disagreements behind us, maybe the way forward is a new open licensing scheme, where attribution is maintained but with the viral element softened or removed.

Slide42

Maybe, but that day has't yet come, though there have been some attempts to do this, but strangely they've yet to see widespread adoption

Slide43

Finally, a shameless plug …

Slide44

If you like the topics of maps, of geo, of location and all points inbetween, then you'll probably like #geomob, the roughly quarterly meetup of like minds. The next event is on 13th. of May at the UCL Campus.

Slide45

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

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.

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.

IMG_1559

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.

IMG_0593

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.

Gary-Gale

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.

8239688161_a4267c0d8d_b

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.

The Problem With Location Based Mobile Services

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.

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 ...

Of Digital "Stuff" And Making Your Personal Interweb History

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.

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.

[scribd id=111913058 key=key-15vmdecagp3xopiyihgt mode=list]

Slide 2

So, hello, I’m Gary and I'm from the Internet. I’m a self-confessed map addict, a geo-technologist and a geographer. I’m Director of Web & Community for Nokia’s Location and Commerce group. Prior to Nokia I led Yahoo’s Geotechnologies group in the United Kingdom. I’m a founder of the Location Forum, a co-founder of WhereCamp EU, I sit on the Council for the AGI, the UK’s Association for Geographic Information, I’m the chair of the W3G conference and I’m also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.   Slide 3

There are URLs in this talk but this is the only URL in the entirety of this talk you might want to take a note of. Although if you go there right now, it'll 404 on you, later today or tomorrow, this is where this slide deck, my notes and all the links you'll be seeing will appear on my blog. That’s an upper case “I” and a zero at the end of the URL by the way …   Slide 4

This is not a talk about GIS. This isn't even a talk about GI or geographical information in the usual sense of the words. Nor is this the talk I sat down and started to write. That talk was going to be about how maps are now mainstream and how we’ve managed to find ourselves in the middle of something that could be called a ‘map war’, with Nokia, TomTom, Google, Apple and OpenStreetMap battling it out for overall geospatial supremacy. But I didn’t write that talk. The topic reeked of far too much schadenfreude for me to be comfortable with the topic. So I stopped writing that talk and started to think about another suitable theme. Then something happened.   Slide 5

A while back I’d written a talk about the digital history that we are currently creating on the internet. The talk was called ‘Big Data vs. My Data’. I gave the talk at two conferences and it seemed to go down well, which is always gratifying.   Slide 6

So I filed the talk away, wrote a blog post on it, and considered the topic pretty much finished. It wasn’t.   Slide 7

Then Eric van Rees, the editor of Geoinformatics Magazine got in touch. He said that he’d liked the blog post I’d written and the slide deck notes and would I be willing to convert the talk into a magazine column. So I sat down and tried to condense a 3000 odd work talk, spread over around half an hour into a 750 word printed column. Eventually I succeeded, it got published and people seemed to like it. This was also gratifying.   Slide 8

So now I really considered the topic pretty much finished. It still wasn’t.   Slide 9

The topic ended up spawning one of those long conversations on Twitter, where some people agreed with me and some …. didn’t.   Slide 10

So I went back and revisited the topic and decided it really wasn’t finished. Hopefully this version is the final definitive finished version.   Slide 11

This is a talk that goes off in lots of different directions but fundamentally it’s about these two sets of geographical coordinates. Most people here should recognise them as two sets of latitude and longitude. Some of the frighteningly scary people I’ve worked with could probably tell you what country they’re in, just by looking at them. A few, really frighteningly scary people that I know could probably even tell you what city they’re in. But I won’t make you do that. The first coordinate is where I live, near Twickenham Rugby Stadium in West London. The second is pretty much where we are now, in the Old Library in the University of Edinburgh. Why this talk is about these two sets of coordinates, and quite a few other coordinates besides, will, I hope become clearer over the next half an hour or so.   Slide 12

One of the things I love about writing a talk is how the things I hear and the things I read and write get mentally stored away and then, somehow, they start to draw together to form a semi-coherent narrative around the talk title that I inevitably gave to the conference organisers around 3 months prior. So it is with this talk, which in Sesame Street fashion, has been unknowingly brought to you by ...   Slide 13

Kellan Elliott-McCrea, previously at Flickr and Yahoo! and now at Etsy ...

Aaron Straup Cope, previously at Flickr and Stamen Design and now doing stuff at the Smithsonian ...

... and my children. No, really. This isn't just an excuse to put a photo of my family up on the screen behind me so you can all, hopefully, go "awww".   Slide 14

But before I get into anything to do with making history, big data, my data or anything interweb or social network related I want to try and frame the context of my thoughts by talking about communication, or to be more precise, the way in which we communicate. We are, politics and warfare aside, a social species and communicating with each other is something we do a lot of, although the manner in which we communicate has changed a lot.

A lot of our communication is both verbal and non-verbal and relies on face to face, person to person, proximity so that the verbal and non verbal approach comes together to express what we intend to say.   Slide 15

Some of our communication is written, the old fashioned way, using pen and paper, although a lot of commentators have called out the "death of the letter". Whether that's true or just good headline making hyperbole remains to be seen, but to be fair, I can't remember the last time I actually sat down and wrote a letter.   Slide 16

A lot of our communication is still verbal but via a phone, be that a land line or a mobile. We call and we text. A lot.

Slide 17

But be it talking face to face, texting someone or even writing an email, the intended audience is still narrow, person to person, or person to small audience.

But the interwebs have added to this sphere of communications and now we broadcast our thoughts, feelings and experiences, sometimes regardless of whether we think anyone will see this, let alone empathise or communicate back.   Slide 18

While we still talk, meet, engage and sometimes broadcast, like I'm doing right now, this human-to-human interaction has been augmented, maybe complimented by electronic communications.

Slide 19

We're as likely to post a Tweet on Twitter or a status on Facebook or Google+ or another social network as we are to speak face to face.   Slide 20

And because this type of communique is electronic, that means it generates data as we go. Today we generate lots of data, big data, on a daily basis. It's probably not unfair to say that there's data being generated in this very auditorium, right now, as I'm saying this.   Slide 21

We all seem to be doing this, though ‘all’ is a sweeping over generalisation, but enough of us are making digital ‘stuff’ for it to start to matter and for it to start to be significant.   Slide 22

Some of this data is implicit. A by-product of what we're doing. Whether it's our cell phones loosely mapping out where we are, not a privacy invasion I hasten to add, but the simple way in which cellular networks work, but that's a topic for another talk on another day, or our GPS navigation, be it built into our car or our smartphone, providing anonymised traffic data probes to show where freeway congestion is, we don't consciously set out to generate this data. It's a by product of what we're doing.   Slide 23

But a lot of this data is very much explicit. We type out a status update on our phone, our tablet, our laptop and we tap or click on the button that says "go" or "submit" or we take a photo, maybe add an image filter or a comment and tap or click the button that says "share" or "upload".   Slide 24

By doing this we're explicitly communicating, explicitly broadcasting and sharing with our friend, family, followers and the interwebs in general ... and in doing so, we're playing our part in generating more and more data.   Slide 25

And generate it we do. Lots of it. We call it big data, but massive data would be a more accurate definition of it. Whilst our own individual contributions to big data may not be that big, when you put it all together it's part of an ever growing corpus of big data and there's companies that both provide the means for us to broadcast and share this data as well as, hopefully, providing a means of revenue for them to enable them to keep doing this. The amounts that get generated each day is almost too much for us to think about and comprehend. Once a number gets that big, we can't really deal with it. We know it's a big number but what that actually represents is hard for us to get our head around.   Slide 26

So let's look at just a small sample of what gets generated on a daily basis from the social big data, communicating, sharing and broadcasting services I tend to use, if not on a daily basis then at least on a weekly basis. I Tweet and update my Facebook status at least once a day, sometimes up to 20 times a day. I check-in to places on Foursquare at least 10 times a day and take and upload photos to Instagram and Facebook around 3 times a week. That's just my contribution, think how many people are doing the same thing to get to the sort of volumes you can see on the slide behind me.   Slide 27

As a specific example, I post a single Tweet on Twitter. Weighing in at 72 characters, including spaces and punctuation, it’s only just over half of Twitter’s 140 character maximum. That Tweet is assigned a unique identifier by Twitter, which forms part of the unique URL to that single Tweet. From visiting that URL I can see that Twitter has added who I am, when I posted that Tweet and because I geotagged the Tweet, also where I was when I wrote it. So that’s a little more additional metadata than the 72 characters of the Tweet itself.   Slide 28

But if I then take that unique identifier and fire it back at Twitter’s API, I start to see just how much metadata has been added.   Slide 29

115 lines of JSON come back to me from that API call, making up 3,338 characters. There’s metadata on the Tweet itself, when it was created, the text of the Tweet, what app I was using to Tweet with, there’s information on my Twitter account, my name, my Twitter name, my account’s unique identifier, my general location, my biography, all the stuff that’s in my Twitter profile. There’s how many Tweets I’ve posted (14,811 at the time), how many followers I have, how many favourites I’ve flagged, how many Twitter lists I appear in. There’s the details of my profile on Twitter’s web site, HTML colours, profile image URL and the like. And because I’ve geotagged the Tweet, there’s the full geographic information about where I was including a bounding box of the locality.

All of a sudden I can see just how Big Data got its name.   Slide 30

But how long will all of this continue? Remember the people I spoke about right at the start of this talk, some 16 slides back? It's time to bring them into the picture. Firstly, my children, although this applies equally to pretty much all children. Remember when you were a child? The summer holidaywas endless. The skies were always blue and the sun was always out (remember, I'm from the UK where Summer and sun do not always go together, in fact it was pouring down with rain as I wrote this at home last week). And just like the summer holidaywas endless, so were your parents and the people around you, they were eternal and would always be there. Remember feeling like that? But then the inevitable happened. We grew up and we discovered, often the hard way, that the summer wasn't endless and that almost everything is finite.   Slide 31

Social networks aren't finite either. They get born, if they're lucky they grow and then at some time or other they ... stop. If it's a social network you don't use then it doesn't really bother us much.

Slide 32

But if it's a network you've shared a lot of content through, what happens then? A lot of people, myself included, immediately get into "I want my data back" mode.   Slide 33

But is it your data. Of course it is. You made it. You composed that Tweet. You shared that link. You took that photo. You were at that place you checked-in at. Of course it's your data.

But there's a point to be made here. You may have created that data, you may own that data, but the copy of that data in that social network is just that. It's a copy. It's not necessarily "your" data and because most of us don't preserve what we send up into the cloud on its way to our social networks, you may have created it, but the copy in the cloud isn't necessarily yours.   Slide 34

It's an easy mistake to make. I may be a geo-technologist and many more things besides, but I am not a lawyer, and apart from the lawyers in the room, more of you aren't and most of the people who use social networks aren't lawyers either, unless it's DeferoLaw, which is a social network for the legal profession.   Slide 35

... we see phrases like "you retain your rights" ...   Slide 36

… another favourite is “you own the content you posted”   Slide 37

... and "you always own your information" and immediately the subtleties and complexities of data ownership, licensing, copyright and intellectual property are cast aside. We say to ourselves, "it's my data dammit, I own it, I want it".   Slide 38

And it's this belief that we really are lawyers in our spare time that makes people think that somehow the data they've shared via a social network is physically theirs, rather than a bit for bit perfect copy that we've licensed to that social network. We forget for a moment that we're using that social network as a cloud based backup, in some cases the only backup, of our creations and we mutter darkly about "holding my data hostage".   Slide 39

The blunt, and often harsh reality, is the age old adage that "you get what you pay for". If you pay, you're probably a customer. If you're using something for "free" (and I say free in very large italics and inverted commas here), then you're probably, unknowingly or unwittingly, the product. Harsh. But fair. It's our content that the social networks monetize and that allows them to keep their servers and disk storage up and running. You might have seen that previous slide with the Tech Crunch post and be thinking "ah, but Flickr Pro is chargeable and if my subscription lapses I can't get my photos back". That's actually not really true, if not particularly simple, but bear with me for a few more slides.   Slide 40

Now let's forget "big data" for a moment and think about "your data" instead. Actually, let's think about "my data" for a moment. As of last week, my social media footprint on Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and Flickr looked something like this. Facebook's numbers would be up there too, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Now in the grand scheme of things, in the massive numbers thrown about around about "big data" this is but a drop in the ocean. But ...   Slide 41

I created these check-ins, status updates, tweets and photos. They're important to me. Very important to me.   Slide 42

And as Aaron Cope pointed our earlier this year, my small, insignificant contribution to big data is part of my own, very subjective, very personal, history.

Slide 43

As I may have mentioned before, I'm a geo-technologist and a high percentage of my explicit big data contribution has a geo or location component to it. I'd like to map our where I checked-in, I'd like to see where I was when I Tweeted or what photos I took at a particular location. Some of this "mappyness" already exists in some of the big data stores where my contributions live, but not all of it, it's far too niche and personal for that. But it's still important to me.   Slide 44

Remember, in 99% of the social networks I use, I'm not the customer, I'm contributing to the product. But how do my regularly used social networks fare here. Regardless of whether I own the data I put up there, how easy is it to get a copy of?   Slide 45

Firstly, what about a one click solution? Can I go to a particular page on the web and click the big button which says "give me a copy of my data".   Slide 46

Facebook is the only one of my 5 social networks that does this. Well, it almost does this. At least I'm sure I used to be able to do this.   Slide 47

I can still request a download of my information. But it now only seems to give me my status updates since I enabled Timeline on my account, though I can still get all of my photos and messages since 2008. Rather than say that this doesn't work, I'll just file this under "needs further investigation" and move on.   Slide 48

Sometimes this lack of a one button download of contributed data is a deliberate decision on the part of a given social network. Sometimes, it's a hope that with an API, some enterprising developer will do this, but most of the time, that doesn't always happen.   Slide 49

So talking of APIs, surely the remaining social networks will have an API and let me knock up some code to get a copy of my data contributions. Surely?   Slide 50

Not all social networks do. An API tends to come after a social network's launch, if it comes at all, and often it doesn't let me do all that I want to do.   Slide 51

Thankfully, all the networks I used, with the exception of Twitter not only provide an API, but let me use that API to get my data. All of my data.   Slide 52

This is a good thing and meets the requirements for an API to meet what Kellan Elliot McCrea calls "minimal competance". He went on to say

"The ability to get out the data you put in is the bare minimum. All of it, at high fidelity, in a reasonable amount of time.

The bare minimum that you should be building, bare minimum that you should be using, and absolutely the bare minimum you should be looking for in tools you allow and encourage people who aren’t builders to use."   Slide 53

Kellan was behind Flickr's API and his sentiments are, to my mind, admirable.

Slide 54

Sadly, Twitter doesn't let me do this and fails the minimal competence test miserably. Deep in their API documentation I found the justification for this as being essential to ensure Twitter's stability and performance and leave it as an exercise to you the audience to work out what I think of this excuse.   Slide 55

The sad truth here is that when it comes to our own individual online data history, there's not always a willingness to make it easy for us to get copies of our history, if it's even on the radar at all.   Slide 56

But if we can't always get our data history back, maybe the solution is to make an archive of it before it goes in or keep that archive up to date as you go ... a personal digital archive or PDA (and not to be confused with personal electronic organisers, or PDAs, such as the Palm Pilot).   Slide 57

Thanks to web APIs and another social network, admittedly one for people who know how to code, a lot of this is already possible and the scope, range and functionality is growing by the day. The irony that I can build my own personal digital archive out of code found on another social network, which itself is built around a source code archival system is not lost on me either.   Slide 58

So, firstly, there's my own Instagram (and no, I'm not going to share the URL of where this lives I'm afraid. The idea here is that this is a personal archive, not a clone of a social network).   Slide 59

My own Instagram is called parallel-ogram. It's on GitHub; you can download it, configure it, run it. For free.   Slide 60

Parallel-ogram works as well on my phone as it does on my laptop, showing me exactly what I've uploaded to Instagram. Indeed, it goes one step further than Instagram as currently there's no way to see what you've uploaded other than through their mobile app. Parallel-ogram doesn't allow me to take photos or upload them, at least not yet, but it does allow me to go back to the day I first uploaded a photo, grabs copies for me and twice a day it uses the Instagram API to see what I may have uploaded and quietly grabs a copy and stashes it away for me.   Slide 61

There's also my own archive of Foursquare ...

Slide 62

It's called privatesquare and it's also on GitHub   Slide 63

Like parallel-ogram, privatesquare quietly uses the Foursquare API to go back to my first check-in and twice a day quietly synchs my check-ins for me. I can go back and look at them, see maps of them and browse my check-in history. Unlike parallel-ogram, privatesquare also allows me to check-in, even if I don't want to share this with Foursquare. In short it allows me to use it both as an archive and also as a check-in tool, and if I want to use Foursquare's official mobile app, I can do that, safe and secure in the knowledge that privatesquare will keep itself up to date.   Slide 64

My photos also end up on Flickr and there’s a private archive of that too   Slide 65

It's called parallel-flickr, it also lives on GitHub and it's also filed under "something I really must install, configure and get running when I have some spare time".   Slide 66

So I have my own archives of Instagram, Flickr and Foursquare. I sort of have my own archive of Facebook. But what about my Tweets?   Slide 67

Well until Twitter decides that their site is stable enough to let me grab my Tweets through their archive, the next best solution is to archive by another means. I've put the RSS feed to my Tweet-stream into Google Reader, which helpfully never throws anything away. I did this a long time ago and I have almost all, but 100% all of my Tweets. Now all I need to do is write some code to read them from Google Reader and then get the Tweet data from Twitter, which then do allow via their API. Sadly, this is also filed under "something I must do when I have the time". It's not perfect, but then again, none of what I've discussed is, but it's a start and that's good enough for the time being.   Slide 68

Finally, you might have noticed the links in my slides look sort of like bitly links, only on the vtny.org domain. That's because I've been archiving my short links for a few years now   Slide 69

Using my own short URL archive and my own, self hosted, URL shortener. I just thought I'd mention that.   Slide 70

So, my big data contribution, my personal online history, is important to me. Yours might be important to you too. We're often told that we can't have our cake and eat it, but with the advent of the personal digital archive, maybe we can thanks to the enterprising people who create APIs in the first place and those who not only use these APIs but also put their code up for all the world to use, free of charge. Your online history may not be that important in the grand scheme of things, but it's your online history, it's personal, you made it. When social networks go the place where software goes to die, you might just want to preserve that personal history before the servers get powered off forever. Maybe the geeks will inherit the Earth after all.   Slide 71

I want to wrap up with a slightly cautionary tale, which highlights why our digital stuff and interweb history might just be important in ways you might not immediately think of. A friend of a friend, called Claudio, received a call from the British Transport Police in June of last year. There'd been an assault at Leicester Square Tube station in which an unfortunate individual ended up with broken ribs. The Police had evidence that placed Claudio at the Tube station at the time the assault took place. Could he explain what he was doing at that place and time. It's worth noting here that the assault had taken place in December of 2010, almost 7 months prior.

I wonder how many of us could say with certainty where we were, what we were doing and whether there was anyone to corroborate this without recourse to some form of aide memoire.

For Claudio, it was entirely feasible that he was at Leicester Square on the night of the assault but worryingly, there was large gaps in his recollection and that of his friends.

Thankfully, by mining his web history and that of his friends he was able to piece together the events of the night, with some additional proof in the form of geotagged photographs.

As the cliche goes, Claudio was eliminated from the enquiries but what I find particularly telling about this anecdote is the strong web history and Big Data elements to it. The initial accusation was built on Big Data, namely Claudio was one of those people who used his Oyster Card to enter the Tube station, which left a date and time stamped record. In fact, the date and time that he entered the station was precisely the same time that the person, captured on CCTV, entered the station. Once the full picture was in place, it could be seen that Claudio was not the suspect that the Police were looking for. But not only was the potential accusation built on Big Data but the defence, the alibi and the proof of his innocence were built on Big Data and people's web histories as well.   Slide 72

It wouldn't be an outrageous prediction to see that this sequence of events might start playing themselves out a lot more in the not too distant future as we grow ever more reliant on web based services, Big Data stores and as those data stored start to be interlinked.

The whole tale is worth a read; you'll find it at the end of the URL on the screen behind me.   Slide 73

Thank you for listening.

Work+ - A Fantastic Idea For A Location Based App; Shame About The Metadata Though

mistaking the context (location) for the end game and that location is (also) a key context, but most people don't know this. Two years or so after I wrote those posts, the concept of location based mobile services and location based apps shows no sign of dying off. I see lots of new location based apps and whilst they're almost always nice and glossy, not that many of them really grab you as a neat and innovative idea. But every so often, one does come along which makes you slap your forehead, like the scientists in the 80's ads for Tefal, and mutter under your breath ... that's so obvious, why didn't I think of that?

I once wrote two posts saying that people are mistaking the context (location) for the end game and that location is (also) a key context, but most people don't know this. Two years or so after I wrote those posts, the concept of location based mobile services and location based apps shows no sign of dying off. I see lots of new location based apps and whilst they're almost always nice and glossy, not that many of them really grab you as a neat and innovative idea. But every so often, one does come along which makes you slap your forehead, like the scientists in the 80's ads for Tefal, and mutter under your breath ... that's so obvious, why didn't I think of that?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWWbUd2CGCM&rel=0]

These days I tend to work as much out of the office than I do in the office. My needs for this are relatively few; somewhere to plug my laptop in, free wifi and a half-way decent cup of espresso now and again. Using local location based search services I can find places near me that meet these needs but it's a disjointed experience, using multiple apps to find free wifi, good espresso and so on. Maybe the recently launched Work+ can help me out here?

First impressions are good. I launch the app and connect it to my Foursquare account (the check-in feature within Work+ is a nice touch). Work+ also passes the first hurdle than many location based apps fail at; it actually works outside of the United States.

I install the app, tap on Work and then Go to launch the easy to use search interface. I need wifi ... tap. I need a table to put my laptop on ... tap. I need coffee ... tap.

Ideally I'd also like to see a search setting that says "by coffee I mean decent espresso and no, I don't mean Starbucks" but maybe I'm being overly picky here.

So I tap on Search and I get a list of places that are close by to me that meet my needs or I can view those places on (Apple's new) map. This is great. What is there not to like?

But wait, do all of these places actually meet my needs? The search results seem good, there's no duplicates or places that either don't exist or have since closed; problems which can plague location based services and which are by no means simple to solve. The results are also pretty close to where I am. But ...

  • The two hits for Costa Coffee are pretty good; as the name implies they both sell (reasonably passable) coffee and have (free-ish but time limited) wifi. Score, 2/7.
  • The same goes for Caffe Nero, another one of the big UK coffee chains. Score, 3/7.
  • Caffe Toscana is my local neighbourhood cafe. Great food and coffee ... but no wifi, at least not when I visited last week. Score, 3/7
  • Astrora Coffee isn't a cafe. They sell coffee in the raw, roasted beans and ground beans. No wifi and not really somewhere you can work; I'd imagine the staff getting somewhat bemused if someone turned up and tried to work there. Score, still 3/7.
  • Diner's Delight is as the name suggests, a local diner. No wifi here either. Score, 3/7 again.
  • Finally, The Nearest Cafe is a cafe and they do sell pretty good coffee. But again, no wifi here.

The final score ends up as 3 hits that really meet my needs, out of a possible 7.

It would be easy to take what I've just written as an indictment of Work+ but nothing could be further from the truth. Local search is not an easy thing to do. Tightly focused local search across a wide range of attributes that you can assign to a place (wifi, coffee and so on) is insanely difficult to do. It's true that Work+ doesn't score as highly as I'd have hoped in what is admittedly a very subjective search on a very limited local area. But Work+ shows the direction that local search is headed in. It's no longer enough to ask find me what's around me, we need to be able to ask find me what's around me that fits what I need to know now and more importantly get good answers to that question.

What makes the Work+ experience not quite as good as it could be isn't down to the app, which makes local search a pain free and simple process. What lets Work+ down is the lack of a complete local data set which contains not just the accepted standard place attributes of name, address, location and category but also which adds in more detailed, almost ambient or fuzzy, attributes, such as wifi, capacity (can I fit a large group of people in here?), beverage types (coffee or tea?), noise level and ambience.

Make no mistake, Work+ is a precursor to the local search and location based experiences we can expect to see in the very near future; whether the back-end data with all of the rich attributes that people want to search on will keep up with demand remains to be seen.

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

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.

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.

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.

[scribd id=100297709 key=key-15vmdecagp3xopiyihgt mode=list]

Slide 2

So, hello, I’m Gary. I’m a self-confessed map addict, a geo-technologist and a geographer. I’m Director of Places for Nokia’s Location and Commerce group. Prior to Nokia I led Yahoo’s Geotechnologies group in the United Kingdom. I’m a founder of the Location Forum, a co-founder of WhereCamp EU, I sit on the Council for the AGI, the UK’s Association for Geographic Information, I’m the chair of the W3G conference and I’m also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Slide 3

There are URLs in this talk but this is the only URL in the entirety of this talk you might want to take a note of. Although if you go there right now, it'll 404 on you, later today or tomorrow, this is where this slide deck, my notes and all the links you'll be seeing will appear on my blog.

https://vtny.org/jT Slide 4

One of the things I love about writing a talk for a conference is how the things I hear and the things I read get mentally stored away and then, somehow, they start to draw together to form a semi-coherent narrative around the talk title that I inevitably gave to the conference organisers around 3 months prior. So it is with this talk, which in Sesame Street fashion, has been unknowingly brought to you by ...

Slide 5

Kellan Elliott-McCrea, previously at Flickr and Yahoo! and now at Etsy ...

Slide 6

Aaron Straup Cope, previously at Flickr and Stamen Design and now doing stuff at the Smithsonian ...

Slide 7

... and my children. No, really. This isn't just an excuse to put a photo of my family up on the screen behind me so you can all, hopefully, go "awww".

Slide 8

But before I get into anything to do with location data, big data, my data or anything interweb or social network related I want to try and frame the context of my thoughts by talking about communication, or to be more precise, the way in which we communicate. We are, politics and warfare aside, a social species and communicating with each other is something we do a lot of, although the manner in which we communicate has changed a lot.

A lot of our communication is both verbal and non-verbal and relies of face to face, person to person, proximity so that the verbal and non verbal approach comes together to express what we intend to say.

Slide 9

Some of our communication is written, the old fashioned way, using pen and paper, although a lot of commentators have called out the "death of the letter". Whether that's true or just good headline making hyperbole remains to be seen, but to be fair, I can't remember the last time I actually sat down and wrote a letter.

Slide 10

A lot of our communication is still verbal but via a phone, be that a land line or a mobile. We call and we text. A lot.

Slide 11

But be it talking face to face, texting someone or even writing an email, the intended audience is still narrow, person to person, or person to small audience.

But the interwebs have added to this sphere of communications and now we broadcast our thoughts, feelings and experiences, sometimes regardless of whether we think anyone will see this, let alone empathise or communicate back. A lot of this broadcasting has a location context, be it explicit via a geotag or implicit through mentions of a place or some other geographical construct.

Slide 12

While we still talk, meet, engage and sometimes broadcast, like I'm doing right now, this human-to-human interaction has been augmented, maybe complimented by electronic communications.

Slide 13

We're as likely to post a Tweet on Twitter or a status on Facebook or Google+ or another social network as we are to speak face to face.

Slide 14

And because this type of communiqué is electronic, that means it generates data as we go. Today we generate lots of data, big data, on a daily basis. It's probably not unfair to say that there's data being generated in this very auditorium, right now, as I'm saying this.

Slide 15

Some of this data is implicit. A by-product of what we're doing. Whether it's our cell phones loosely mapping out where we are, not a privacy invasion I hasten to add, but the simple way in which cellular networks work, but that's a topic for another talk on another day, or our GPS navigation, be it built into our car or our smartphone, providing anonymised traffic data probes to show where freeway congestion is, we don't consciously set out to generate this data. It's a by product of what we're doing.

Slide 16

But a lot of this data is very much explicit. We type out a status update on our phone, our tablet, our laptop and we tap or click on the button that says "go" or "submit" or we take a photo, maybe add an image filter or a comment and tap or click the button that says "share" or "upload".

Slide 17

By doing this we're explicitly communicating, explicitly broadcasting and sharing with our friend, family, followers and the interwebs in general ... and in doing so, we're playing our part in generating more and more data.

Slide 18

And generate it we do. Lots of it. We call it big data, but massive data would be a more accurate definition of it. Whilst our own individual contributions to big data may not be that big, when you put it all together it's part of an ever growing corpus of big data and there's companies that both provide the means for us to broadcast and share this data as well as, hopefully, providing a means of revenue for them to enable them to keep doing this. The amounts that get generated each day is almost too much for us to think about and comprehend. Once a number gets that big, we can't really deal with it. We know it's a big number but what that actually represents is hard for us to get our head around.

Slide 19

So let's look at just a small sample of what gets generated on a daily basis from the social big data, communicating, sharing and broadcasting services I tend to use, if not on a daily basis then at least on a weekly basis. I Tweet and update my Facebook status at least once a day, sometimes up to 20 times a day. I check-in to places on Foursquare at least 10 times a day and take and upload photos to Instagram and Facebook around 3 times a week. That's just my contribution, think how many people are doing the same thing to get to the sort of volumes you can see on the slide behind me.

Slide 20

But how long will this continue? Remember the people I spoke about right at the start of this talk, some 16 slides back? It's time to bring them into the picture. Firstly, my children, although this applies equally to pretty much all children. Remember when you were a child? The summer vacation was endless. The skies were always blue and the sun was always out (remember, I'm from the UK where Summer and sun do not always go together, in fact it was pouring down with rain as I wrote this at home last week). And just like the summer vacation was endless, so were your parents and the people around you, they were eternal and would always be there. Remember feeling like that? But then the inevitable happened. We grew up and we discovered, often the hard way, that the summer wasn't endless and that almost everything is finite.

Slide 21

Social networks and social location networks aren't finite either. They get born, if they're lucky they grow and then at some time or other they ... stop. If it's a social network you don't use then it doesn't really bother us much.

Slide 22

But if it's a network you've shared a lot of content through, what happens then? A lot of people, myself included, immediately get into "I want my data back" mode.

Slide 23

But is it your data. Of course it is. You made it. You composed that Tweet. You shared that link. You took that photo. You were at that place you check-in at. Of course it's your data.

But there's a point to be made here. You may have created that data, you may own that data, but the copy of that data in that social network is just that. It's a copy. It's not necessarily "your" data and because most of us don't preserve what we send up into the cloud on its way to our social networks, you may have created it, but the copy in the cloud isn't necessarily yours.

Slide 24

It's an easy mistake to make. I may be a geo-technologist and many more things besides, but I am not a lawyer, and apart from the lawyers in the room, more of you aren't and most of the people who use social networks aren't lawyers either, unless it's DeferoLaw, which is a social network for the legal profession.

Slide 25

We see phrases such as “you retain your rights” …

Slide 26

... like "you own the content posted" ...

Slide 27

... and "you always own your information" and immediately the subtleties and complexities of data ownership, licensing, copyright and intellectual property are cast aside. We say to ourselves, "it's my data dammit, I own it, I want it".

Slide 28

And it's this belief that we really are lawyers in our spare time that makes people think that somehow the data they've shared via a social network is physically theirs, rather than a bit for bit perfect copy that we've licensed to that social network. We forget for a moment that we're using that social network as a cloud based backup, in some cases the only backup, of our creations and we mutter darkly about "holding my data hostage".

Slide 29

The blunt, and often harsh reality, is the age old adage that "you get what you pay for". If you pay, you're probably a customer. If you're using something for "free" (and I say free in very large italics and inverted commas here), then you're probably, unknowingly or unwittingly, the product. Harsh. But fair. It's our content that the social networks monetize and that allows them to keep their servers and disk storage up and running. You might have seen that previous slide with the Tech Crunch post and be thinking "ah, but Flickr Pro is chargeable and if my subscription lapses I can't get my photos back". That's actually not really true, if not particularly simple, but bear with me for a few more slides.

Slide 30

Now let's forget "big data" for a moment and think about "your data" instead. Actually, let's think about "my data" for a moment. As of last week, my social media footprint on Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and Flickr looked something like this. Facebook's numbers would be up there too, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Now in the grand scheme of things, in the massive numbers thrown about around about "big data" this is but a drop in the ocean. But ...

Slide 31

I created these check-ins, status updates, tweets and photos. They're important to me. Very important to me.

Slide 32

And as Aaron Cope pointed our earlier this year, my small, insignificant contribution to big data is part of my own, very subjective, very personal, history.

Slide 33

As I may have mentioned before, I'm a geo-technologist and a high percentage of my explicit big data contribution has a geo or location component to it. I'd like to map our where I checked-in, I'd like to see where I was when I Tweeted or what photos I took at a particular location. Some of this "mappyness" already exists in some of the big data stores where my contributions live, but not all of it, it's far too niche and personal for that. But it's still important to me.

Slide 34

Remember, in 99% of the social networks I use, I'm not the customer, I'm contributing to the product. But how do my regularly used social networks fare here. Regardless of whether I own the data I put up there, how easy is it to get a copy of?

Slide 35

Firstly, what about a one click solution? Can I go to a particular page on the web and click the big button which says "give me a copy of my data".

Slide 36

Facebook is the only one of my 5 social networks that does this. Well, it almost does this. At least I'm sure I used to be able to do this.

Slide 37

I can still request a download of my information. But it now only seems to give me my status updates since I enabled Timeline on my account, though I can still get all of my photos and messages since 2008. Rather than say that this doesn't work, I'll just file this under "needs future investigation" and move on.

Slide 38

Sometimes this lack of a one button download of contributed data is a deliberate decision on the part of a given social network. Sometimes, it's a hope that with an API, some enterprising developer will do this, but most of the time, that doesn't always happen.

Slide 39

So talking of APIs, surely the remaining social networks will have an API and let me knock up some code to get a copy of my data contributions. Surely?

Slide 40

Not all social networks do. An API tends to come after a social network's launch, if it comes at all, and often it doesn't let me do all that I want to do.

Slide 41

Thankfully, all the networks I used, with the exception of Twitter not only provide an API, but let me use that API to get my data. All of my data.

Slide 42

This is a good thing and meets the requirements for an API to meet what Kellan Elliot McCrea calls "minimal competence". He went on to say

"The ability to get out the data you put in is the bare minimum. All of it, at high fidelity, in a reasonable amount of time.

The bare minimum that you should be building, bare minimum that you should be using, and absolutely the bare minimum you should be looking for in tools you allow and encourage people who aren’t builders to use."

Slide 43

Kellan was behind Flickr's API and his sentiments are, to my mind, admirable.

Slide 44

Sadly, Twitter doesn't let me do this and fails the minimal competence test miserably. Deep in their API documentation I found the justification for this as being essential to ensure Twitter's stability and performance and leave it as an exercise to you the audience to work out what I think of this excuse.

Slide 45

The sad truth here is that when it comes to our own individual online data history, there's not always a willingness to make it easy for us to get copies of our history, if it's even on the radar at all.

Slide 46

But if we can't always get our data history back, maybe the solution is to make an archive of it before it goes in or keep that archive up to date as you go ... a personal digital archive or PDA (and not to be confused with personal electronic organisers, or PDAs, such as the Palm Pilot).

Slide 47

Thanks to web APIs and another social network, admittedly one for people who know how to code, a lot of this is already possible and the scope, range and functionality is growing by the day. The irony that I can build my own personal digital archive out of code found on another social network, which itself is built around a source code archival system is not lost on me either.

Slide 48

So, firstly, there's my own Instagram (and no, I'm not going to share the URL of where this lives I'm afraid. The idea here is that this is a personal archive, not a clone of a social network).

Slide 49

My own Instagram is called parallel-ogram. It's on GitHub; you can download it, configure it, run it. For free.

https://vtny.org/jQ Slide 50

Parallel-ogram works as well on my phone as it does on my laptop, showing me exactly what I've uploaded to Instagram. Indeed, it goes one step further than Instagram as currently there's no way to see what you've uploaded other than through their mobile app. Parallel-ogram doesn't allow me to take photos or upload them, at least not yet, but it does allow me to go back to the day I first uploaded a photo, grabs copies for me and twice a day it uses the Instagram API to see what I may have uploaded and quietly grabs a copy and stashes it away for me.

Slide 53

There's also my own archive of Foursquare ...

Slide 54

It's called privatesquare and it's also on GitHub

https://vtny.org/jR Slide 55

Like parallel-ogram, privatesquare quietly uses the Foursquare API to go back to my first check-in and twice a day quietly synchs my check-ins for me. I can go back and look at them, see maps of them and browse my check-in history. Unlike parallel-ogram, privatesquare also allows me to check-in, even if I don't want to share this with Foursquare. In short it allows me to use it both as an archive and also as a check-in tool, and if I want to use Foursquare's official mobile app, I can do that, safe and secure in the knowledge that privatesquare will keep itself up to date.

Slide 61

I take a lot of photos. Some of them go into Instagram. All of them go into Flickr. But I can archive Flickr as well.

Slide 62

It's called parallel-flickr, it also lives on GitHub and it's also filed under "something I really must install, configure and get running when I have some spare time".

https://vtny.org/jS Slide 63

So I have my own archives of Instagram, Flickr and Foursquare. I sort of have my own archive of Facebook. But what about my Tweets?

Slide 64

Well until Twitter decides that their site is stable enough to let me grab my Tweets through their archive, the next best solution is to archive by another means. I've put the RSS feed to my Tweet-stream into Google Reader, which helpfully never throws anything away. I did this a long time ago and I have almost all, but 100% all of my Tweets. Now all I need to do is write some code to read them from Google Reader and then get the Tweet data from Twitter, which then do allow via their API. Sadly, this is also filed under "something I must do when I have the time". It's not perfect, but then again, none of what I've discussed is, but it's a start and that's good enough for the time being.

Slide 65

Finally, you might have noticed the links in my slides look sort of like bitly links, only on the vtny.org domain. That's because I've been archiving my short links for a few years now

Slide 66

Using my own short URL archive and my own, self hosted, URL shortener. I just thought I'd mention that.

Slide 67

So, my big data contribution, my personal online history, is important to me. Yours might be important to you too. We're often told that we can't have our cake and eat it, but with the advent of the personal digital archive, maybe we can thanks to the enterprising people who create APIs in the first place and those who not only use these APIs but also put their code up for all the world to use, free of charge. Your online history may not be that important in the grand scheme of things, but it's your online history, it's personal, you made it. When social networks go the place where software goes to die, you might just want to preserve that personal history before the servers get powered off forever. Maybe the geeks will inherit the Earth after all.

Slide 68

Thank you for listening.

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

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.

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.

This was most definitely a Nokia event. Not only were we Gold sponsors of the event but I was lucky enough to get a speaking slot, my second Where appearance, and I was amply aided and abetted by a geographically dispersed crowd of fellow Nokians hailing from not only The Valley, but Atlanta GA, Chicago IL and Berlin. As a bonus, I got to do not one, but two product launches, plus some sneak peeks at what's coming up location wise from the company.

Meh 2.0 notwithstanding, it was also good to see several Yahoo! alumni for a long overdue catchup. Geo-beers may have been conspicuous by their absence, but geo-cocktails were very much apparent.

Sadly, Yahoo! also provided probably the lowest point of the whole conference. Right slap bang in the middle of proceedings, Yahoo! announced yet another round of layoffs, culling almost 2000 employees. When this happens, the last place you want to be when you're waiting to hear whether you still have a job is at a conference and my heart just went out to my ex-colleagues who had to sit their, with a fixed smile on their face, as they waited to hear news from the Yahoo! mothership down in Sunnyvale.

So, to recap, a mixed bag of events and emotions at this year's Where. Personally and professionally I think it was a great, team aided, success. Hopefully we'll all return next year to find the "wow" at Where is back and to put the "meh" firmly behind us.

Wrapping this retrospective up, I should include the traditional slide deck from my talk, together with my notes. You'll find them below, hosted on Scribd this time as an embedded PDF. Since Slideshare went freemium, my decks are now just too big to be hosted by their free account offering which has a 10MB limit. At some point, I'll drag all my decks from Slideshare and put them up on Scribd.

[scribd id=100298958 key=key-23j0fhnk1syubpgvzv5n mode=list]

Slide 2

Good afternoon everyone. I'm Gary. I'm a geo-technologist by profession and a geographer at heart. I’m the Director of Places for Nokia’s Location and Commerce group.

Slide 3

But first some recent history. If you were here at last year’s Where, you would have heard Michael Halbherr, the head of Nokia’s Location & Commerce, introducing you to a concept … a truly global location platform, one that is built on the world’s most accurate mapping and navigation assets. If you were at Nokia World in London in October, you would have heard me talk about the launch of what we now call the Where Platform. Fast forward to today and I want to update you on how Nokia is continuing to deliver on the promise that Michael and I talked about in San Jose and in London … to grow the “Where” ecosystem, to provide a horizontal yet device agnostic set of API offering and a growing list of companies and apps that are using these APIs.

At Nokia Location & Commerce, our aim is to be the Where company. Why?

Today, the internet is well organised around the concepts of “What” and “Who” with search engines and social networks providing the answers to these questions. We are striving to provide answers to questions of “Where.”

Location is massively important to today’s internet, whether it’s on mobile devices, on tablets, on laptops or the other myriad ways in which we access the internet. Over 40% of mobile searches have location within them or are looking for local information. There’s a hunger for location-relevant information and this proves to us that the concept of “local” has never been more essential to today’s users, customers and consumers.

Slide 4

The days of someone owning a single internet connected device are almost over. We’re now buying, owning and using multiple mobile devices. At the same time, these devices are getting smarter – firstly, because they are increasingly connected to the cloud and secondly because they are sensor-rich. From NFC for payment in stores and on transport, to more advanced sensors that interpret if you’re running versus taking a bus, all the way to sensors that connect with devices like wrist band heart rate monitors – these sensor-rich devices provide us with critical data that helps us better understand location related behavior which in turn helps us to identify patterns and trends.

To build the Where Platform, we believe you need four essential components … data, a platform that uses this data, APIs that expose the platform and apps and experiences that showcase the power of the platform and its data.

Slide 5

So first, there’s data; we have a lot of data, from best-in-class, navigation quality, mapping assets through to global, yet local, location based data.

Slide 6

The Where Platform is built on top of this data and what’s more, it learns from the data. We call this a learning engine and it’s because there’s really two sorts of data out there … reference data and activity data.

Let’s start with a Place. Where and what is this Place? This is reference data, the index of world around us and it enables the routine location functions we take for granted, such as search, routing and navigation.

Then there’s activity data that utilizes the types of sensors I just spoke about to understand how people interact with their devices, their apps and the real world around them.

Or to put it another way, we know about a Place and we can know what actually happens, in the real world, at this Place. Put these two types of data together and it becomes what we call smart data and it’s this that powers the Where Platform and enable us to create a digital, predictive model from all the Places and objects in the physical world, including our user’s needs and activities.

Slide 7

The reference and activity data I mentioned earlier, combined as smart data, powers the Where Platform. The platform in turn powers the showcase for this, our apps, which I’ll cover in a few slides time. But apps aren’t enough in today’s world, you need robust APIs as well.

There is a unique opportunity to work with you and with developers to build the where-enabled ecosystem; across verticals and across the screens we use on a daily basis, to power the experiences you’re building for your users.

So let’s dig a bit deeper into the APIs …

Slide 8

We already have a set of modular, configurable, highly performant APIs that are easy to use and to integrate, with an active developer community who appreciate our simple and fair terms of use. For the web, we have JavaScript APIs for Maps and for Places as well as a new Places web service API, more of which in a few moments. We’re going to be unifying the JavaScript APIs for Maps and for Places into single API under the Nokia Maps for JavaScript API banner.

There’s also our Map Image web service API and our upcoming Maps API for HTML5, which I’ll talk more about in a few slide’s time.

And for native mobile use, there’s out Maps API for Qt and our Places API for JavaME and coming later this year our Maps API for Windows Phone.

Slide 9

APIs are of course utterly critical to the Where platform and the Where ecosystem but we also to ensure that we cover all the screens that act as touch-point between the digital and real words for people throughout their day. As I move from my computer at work, to my laptop, to my in-car nav system, to my tablet, our goal is to have an offering for virtually any of these screens.

In addition to the Places API, I also touched on APIs for Qt, for Windows Phone and for JavaME for Nokia devices. For non-Nokia handsets and platforms, you can already see the power of the NLP on maps.nokia.com on the web and coming soon will be native HTML5 support.

You may already know of the Nokia Maps app for Windows Phone, but Nokia Maps is already available via the Amazon Android Store and includes routing for drive, walk and public transport.

We’re also announcing a closed beta of our Nokia Maps HTML5 API, which is the first of many huge milestones we hope to achieve to expand our APIs and presence across screens as quickly as possible.

Slide 10

I mentioned a few slides back that we’re making a commitment to support the Where Platform across all screens, by making the platform device agnostic and truly horizontal. You may recognise the mobile devices behind me and, although these are screenshots of our maps on both Android and iOS, these are not mocks-ups, they’re from real proof of concepts, using the Where Platform. But these are not apps that we’re releasing so don’t rush to your mobiles to try and download them. But if you want to see them live, in action and in person, you’ll be able to see and play with them at the Nokia booth.

Slide 11

Now, a few slides back I mentioned our Places web service API. This is in addition to our Places API for JavaScript and so I’m really pleased, or as we say in Britain, chuffed, to announce the public beta of this …

Through our Places API you can: Discover Places by searching explicitly and nearby Display Place information, basic and extended data attributes, rich content, editorial and user generated content; this is far more than the offerings of some of our competitors Interact with a Place, share it, navigate to it

Through the Nokia Places API, you can find locations in more than 1.5 million areas (cities, districts, and regions) as well as more than 120 million point addresses across 15 countries.

Slide 12

The term Places API is usually synonymous with searching for Place information and with displaying a page containing this information, but there’s far more to Places that just this. Look at these heat maps behind me; they’re great examples of the type of experience you can create using the Nokia Places API. These dynamic heat maps are produced by combining Place categories and other algorithmic inputs to show were you might want to eat or shop. This is great for getting a feel for a locality that you may be unfamiliar with.

We know that a powerful set of API offerings is critical to our ability to recruit partners to help build the Where ecosystem. This is why I’m excited to share the launch of the Nokia Places API web service with you today.

Slide 13

At Nokia, we realize that becoming the Where company is not an easy task. The Platform alone is not enough, nor is produced a set of APIs enough. There needs to be support, documentation and tools which work the way you work. But we also know that sometimes you just want to join in the fun. And so, over the past year we have been working hard to grow the Where ecosystem.

We’ve added customers such as those listed here and these have increased the hits to the platform from 560M/month in Q1 2011 to 4.6B/month in Q1 of this year; that’s around a 750% increase.

Slide 14

For example, we have been working with Yahoo! since late 2010. All Yahoo! sites that have a map element will be served by one of Nokia’s Location & Commerce data center locations around the world.

Slide 15

Whenever one of millions of Yahoo! users checks out a location, Yahoo! sources its mapping/imagery, routing, traffic, and geocoding services from the Where Platform.

As Dirk Daumann (Nokia Head of Map Services Platform) says “We have served millions of Yahoo! users worldwide for around 150 days. Our service has been available to 99.9 per cent. This means that we have constantly exceeded what was agreed, something that we are very proud of. During peaks, we serve 1200 queries per second, a number that we estimate to grow when the transition of all Yahoo! sites to our services has been completed.”

Slide 16

Additionally, we recently announced our partnership with Groupon to collaborate on a redesign of the customer experience of deal discovery, purchase and redemption.

We plan to do this by working with them to offer market-leading, location-sensitive discounts and deals that are more locally relevant and convenient. By the way, as we’re early in our relationship with Groupon, the graphics you can see behind me are a mock-up, not a real app, so no heading to the Marketplace to download please.

Slide 17

What I’ve just been talking to you about over the last 15 minutes or so, shows, I hope, the massive amount of investment and commitment we’ve made over the past year to building a where-enabled ecosystem and in achieving our goal of becoming the Where company.

Similar to our Platform and APIs, we’ve met major milestones with our apps as well. Today, we have 5 apps that are based upon and showcase the Where Platform:

Nokia Drive provides free, in car navigation for driving and reaching destinations safely. Nokia Transport allows you to have all your commuter information at your fingertips: No more carrying around city maps or timetables—it is all on your device, wherever you are. Nokia Maps provides new ways to discover and explore the world around you. Nokia City Lens is an augmented reality browser turns a phone’s camera viewfinder into a new way to spot nearby attractions, shops, restaurants and places of interest. Nokia Pulse is an exciting new way to privately check in, meet up and stay in touch with the people, like family and close friends—with just one click.

In fact, these apps are one of the best ways to illustrate the power of the Where Platform. What we’ve done with our apps is just the beginning. And with the power of the platform and our APIs, the opportunities for you to build unique, location-relevant solutions are endless.

Slide 18

We see an opportunity to work with you to build a where-enabled ecosystem. For all of us to become part of something bigger. To be part of an ecosystem that stretches across screens. That spans B2C, B2B and B2D. That answers consumer’s where-related questions and empowers them to explore and enjoy the increasingly merged physical and digital world around them.

If you’re interested in discussing further how we can work together, please swing by the Nokia booth – it’s number 208.

Slide 19

… thank you for listening

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.

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.

iOS Location Caching Round-up - Conspiracy Theories: 0, Smart Location Caching: 1

meta post, or what Kuro5hin would have called MLP (meaningless link propagation), this post started out as a comment to one of my previous posts on the iOS location caching controversy but soon expanded way beyond a comment into a full blown post.

Firstly, let's get the conspiracy theory out of the way; this theory has been presented in a variety of ways but all of them seem to think that your iOS device is tracking your location and that the reason for this is some shadowy request from government or intelligence agencies. Perhaps the most eloquent case for this was on Frank Reiger's blog.

Now I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person and Frank’s blog post was a great read. But I have to take issue with the two main points he raises. Firstly there’s “if it was a bug then it would have been fixed … it hasn’t been fixed so it can’t be a bug and must therefore be deliberate“. Secondly there’s “not only has the bug not been fixed but the file even moved location without being fixed so it must be (even more) deliberate“.

More a meta post, or what Kuro5hin would have called MLP (meaningless link propagation), this post started out as a comment to one of my previous posts on the iOS location caching controversy but soon expanded way beyond a comment into a full blown post.

Firstly, let's get the conspiracy theory out of the way; this theory has been presented in a variety of ways but all of them seem to think that your iOS device is tracking your location and that the reason for this is some shadowy request from government or intelligence agencies. Perhaps the most eloquent case for this was on Frank Reiger's blog.

Now I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person and Frank’s blog post was a great read. But I have to take issue with the two main points he raises. Firstly there’s “if it was a bug then it would have been fixed … it hasn’t been fixed so it can’t be a bug and must therefore be deliberate“. Secondly there’s “not only has the bug not been fixed but the file even moved location without being fixed so it must be (even more) deliberate“.

Encyclopedia of Conspiracy Theories

I’ve worked in the software industry for almost 25 years, many of those cutting code, and can say with hand on heart that bugs, oddities and plain wrong behaviour stay in code bases not because they don’t need to be fixed but because other factors push them down in the priority list, factors such as hard release dates, new features taking precedence and the ill defined side effects of complex software systems not being able to be fully QA’d. Just because a bug or an unforeseen side effect remains in a production code base does not make a conspiracy theory of government or intelligence agency intervention.

We also live in a world of distributed software development teams. It’s enough of a challenge to keep teams in different floors of the same building in synch; it’s even more difficult when language, time zones and different countries get into the mix. Just because the consolidated.db cache moved location again, does not make a conspiracy theory.

So all in all, nice post, great conspiracy theory but, sadly, very little to back up the assertions.

But if your iOS device is tracking or caching your location, why is the data so inaccurate in places, showing places you're pretty sure you haven't been or have visited only fleetingly, yet not showing places you'd think would show up, such as where you live or work?

For the answer to these questions, I'd recommend a thorough reading of Peter Batty's excellent three posts on the topic, which actually digs into the data that is present on iOS devices, rather than making shrill conspiracy theories based on other, equally shrill, media headlines.

Peter's posts, "So actually, Apple isn't recording your (accurate) iPhone location", "More on Apple recording your iPhone location history" and "The scoop: Apple's iPhone is NOT storing your accurate location and NOT storing history" go into great detail about what the consolidated.db location data cache does contain and, more importantly, what it doesn't.

An anonymous comment on one of Peter's posts points to a document submitted by Apple to US Congress in July 2010, which includes the following

When a customer requests current location information ... Apple will retrieve known locations for nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi access points from its proprietary database and transmit the data back to the device ... The device uses the information, along with GPS coordinates (if available), to determine its actual location. Information about the device's location is not transmitted to Apple, Skyhook or Google. Nor is it transmitted to any third-party application provider, unless the customer expressly consents

Another comment from Jude on one of Peter's posts makes this observation ...

My Guess?

It's not a list of cell phone locations that you've been to, but the opposite, a list of cell phone locations near you downloaded to the iPhone from Apple in case you move into range of one of them. i.e. At a guess what is happening is location services identifies a cell tower and asks for its location, and is replied to with the list of locations that contains that cell tower, that list is then cached so that it does not need to be requested again.

Of course, this is only a guess based on the wide range of addresses people are seeing and how its near to, but not exactly where, the people have traveled.

So rather than iOS actively and accurately tracking you and reporting this information to some, unspecified, intelligence agency it's actually the complete opposite; your device is actively downloading the next cell tower and, in some cases, wifi information that is near you and where you might be going to provide a better location experience. Which explains the inaccuracy of the locations people have been seeing in their version of the cache data and explains why there's some places they haven't been showing up in the data and why places they have been aren't showing up.

hat Fool Columbus Hasn't Got GPS

Of course, this information still has personal value and should really be secured by iOS and not by an individual having to secure their handset and encrypt their backups but if anyone still thinks they see the black helicopters circling, it looks more and more unlikely and, as Ed Parsons pointed out, a smartphone without location just isn't ... smart.

Photo Credits: Álvaro Ibáñez and Tom Jervis on Flickr. Written at home (51.427051, -0.333344) and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

Location's "Ick Factor"; First iOS And Now Android

discovery" of a cache file on iOS devices that stores the position of cell towers and the associated media coverage surrounding this. Note that I use "discovery" in inverted commas here. As Sally Applin pointed out in a comment on my previous post, this "discovery" is not new and a paper on this by Alex Levinson, Bill Stackpole and Daryl Johnson was published in January 2011 as part of the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Maybe sometimes researchers don't read other, existing, research on a subject before publishing.

Two days ago I wrote about the "discovery" of a cache file on iOS devices that stores the position of cell towers and the associated media coverage surrounding this. Note that I use "discovery" in inverted commas here. As Sally Applin pointed out in a comment on my previous post, this "discovery" is not new and a paper on this by Alex Levinson, Bill Stackpole and Daryl Johnson was published in January 2011 as part of the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Maybe sometimes researchers don't read other, existing, research on a subject before publishing.

No matter where you go, there you are. - Buckaroo Bonzai

I'm not the only one to question the media coverage and the conclusions the media presents. Longtime Apple commentator and author Andy Ihnatko neatly sums the entire topic up thus

A few reality checks, lest I inadvertently do a Glenn Beck number on all of you, here: * This database isn’t storing GPS data. It’s just making a rough location fix based on nearby cell towers. The database can’t reveal where you were…only that you were in a certain vicinity. Sometimes it’s miles and miles off. This implies that the logfile’s purpose is to track the performance of the phone and the network, and not the movements of the user. * A third party couldn’t get access to this file without physical access to your computer or your iPhone. Not unless you’ve jailbroken your iPhone and didn’t bother resetting its remote-access password…or there’s an unpatched exploit that would give Random Person On The Internet root access to your phone. * It’s pretty much a non-issue if you’ve clicked the “Encrypt iPhone Backup” option in iTunes. Even with physical access to your desktop, a no-goodnik wouldn’t be able to access the logfile.

But still! What a nervous can of worms. This is an open, unlocked file in a known location in a standard database format that anybody can read. If someone has physical access to your Mac — or remote access to your user account — it’s a simple matter of copying a file and opening it. And while the logfile can’t tell someone that you were at a specific house, it can obviously tell your boss that you went to the Cape on the day you called in sick.

And it’s not as though Apple and these two developers are the only people who know that this file exists and that it’s so easy to access. By the time the Good Guys blow the whistle, the Bad Guys have had it for months. Lord only knows what they’ve been doing with this information.

It’s also, frankly, another reason why I value my iPhone’s “remote nuke” feature and wish it were possible to nuke all data directly from the handset. I can’t think of any circumstance under which my location data would possibly be damaging, incriminating, or even just embarrassing. That’s not the point: if I can’t control the data that my phone is collecting, I should at least have the power to destroy it utterly.

Another well known Apple commentator, John Gruber also comments that

The big question, of course, is why Apple is storing this information. I don’t have a definitive answer, but the best at least somewhat-informed theory I’ve heard is that consolidated.db acts as a cache for location data, and that historical data should be getting culled but isn’t, either due to a bug or, more likely, an oversight. I.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history. I’d wager this gets fixed in the next iOS update.

In my previous post I wrote that "caching is a common technique used to speed up network systems and it’s not surprising, at least to me, that iOS is using caching techniques" and it turns out that iOS is not alone and that, unsurprisingly, Google's Android is doing pretty much the same thing, caching cell tower and wifi location information, again presumably for the purposes of speeding up the location systems on Android mobile devices. The one difference between the iOS and Android approach is that Android overwrites the cache data when the cache file fills up whereas iOS doesn't. Rather than a dark location tracking conspiracy this looks more like a bug or an oversight on the part of iOS and as John Gruber notes, this will probably be fixed in an upcoming release of Apple's mobile operating system. I would also hope that the visibility of this cache data on Android will also be secured too, and soon.

Taking a step back for a moment, caching of any information to reduce the need to make time costly network calls seems to be mobile's Kobayashi Maru ... you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you do cache information which is perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be sensitive then media outrage will result. If you don't cache such information, then a mobile device will be reliant on network access every time the un-cached information is needed and that mobile device will be perceived as being "too slow".

Probably the only way to prevent a recurrence of this sort of media event is for more transparency on how such information is being stored and used and, as John Abbott pointed out on my previous post, the provision of a setting which says "Switch this setting on for a super-quick location fix, we’ll keep your location private".

The

As is so often the case, this is much less about the technical side of the issue and much more about what Ihnatko calls the "Ick Factor" ... about how the public, led by the media, sees things. Photo Credits: Stefan Andrej Shambora and Trevin Chow on Flickr.

iOS Location "Tracking"; Gross Invasion Of Privacy Or Media Sensationalism?

BBC iPhone keeps record of everywhere you go ... says the Guardian Got an iPhone or 3G iPad? Apple is recording your moves .... says O'Reilly Radar iOS devices secretly log and retain record of every place you go ... says BoingBoing

... and when I use the word "says" in reality "screams" would be more accurate.

Oh dear. For a few years now I've been talking about how the privacy aspect of today's location technologies is something that may just catapult location into the mainstream, and possibly tabloid, media and probably for the wrong reasons. I envisaged this as being something salacious and potentially titillating, such as two Z List celebrities involved in a high profile divorce case, where they claimed to be in two separate places but their phone's A-GPS showed the complete opposite. If you were at Where 2.0 in San Jose this week or reading the headlines on the web sites of the BBC, The Guardian or BoingBoing, you'd be forgiven for thinking that just such a location media event had happened. But has it? The headlines certainly seem to think so ...

iPhone tracks users' movements ... says the BBC iPhone keeps record of everywhere you go ... says the Guardian Got an iPhone or 3G iPad? Apple is recording your moves .... says O'Reilly Radar iOS devices secretly log and retain record of every place you go ... says BoingBoing

... and when I use the word "says" in reality "screams" would be more accurate.

Privacy Area

But as is often the case, the headlines don't tell the whole story. At Where 2.0 two security researchers have discovered a cache file in iOS which contains cell tower ids and corresponding longitude and latitude coordinates. This cache file isn't accessible if your iOS device has a passcode lock enabled, which it should be, and while it is backed up to any computer you synch your iOS device with, if your backups are encrypted, which they should be, this cache file isn't accessible is anyone, especially not "a jealous spouse or private detective" as the researchers claim.

So why is your iOS device caching your cell tower ids and their locations? A reasonable supposition would be to speed up the A-GPS subsystem in your device, so that time consuming network calls don't always need to be made and so your iOS device seems to be faster. Caching is a common technique used to speed up network systems and it's not surprising, at least to me, that iOS is using caching techniques.

Massachusetts Ave with iPhone Google Maps

So if you're an iOS user, should you be worried? It's true that the iTunes terms of service does say that "We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising" but there's currently no evidence that location information is actually being sent to Apple as a result of this caching. That's not to say that it isn't or that it won't be in the future, but for now, it looks unlikely. Take some basic security precautions such as a phone passcode lock and encrypt your synchronised backups and this looks less like a gross invasion of privacy and much more like any other use of caching techniques.

Cell Tower Mast

I think it's right and good that researchers are probing into the the depths of a popular mobile operating system and looking for vulnerabilities. Your location, regardless of whether it's your current position or where you've been is valuable and above all private information and is ripe for abuse as last year's news on how free Android apps are sharing people's location without their knowledge shows. But I take issue with the conclusions drawn from such research as this and how it's being publicised. To put this in context, consider the following, totally imaginary on my part, media headlines about caching ...

Your web browser records every web page you visit!

Well yes, but ... without this your browser would far less usable and far slower and caching is a fundamental part of how the web works.

Your Internet Service Provider stores copies of every email you send and receive!

Well yes, but ... it's part of the IMAP protocol that most email accounts use today.

Your mobile phone provider tracks your mobile phone's location!

Well yes, but ... it's the way that cellular networks work. It's how you can make and receive calls. Disable this and mobile networks stop working.

Finally I'm reminded of the other, media fueled furores, that have appeared and subsequently disappeared, around the launch of Google's Latitude and Facebook's Places. Much media coverage ensued, many sensationalistic headlines, much wringing of hands from industry pundits and then the rest of the world got on with using location technologies and didn't give it a second thought ... until the next time the media wants some headline attentions.

Photo Credits: Mark Barkaway, Steve Garfield and Happychopper on Flickr.

Talking About A Sense Of Place

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.

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 garygale.com, and he is @vicchi on Twitter. Photo Credits: Mark Barkway and Isma Monfort on Flickr.

Society of Cartographers Redux

Society of Cartographers Summer School in Manchester, UK. It's always great to be invited to speak at a conference but I was particularly excited by the SoC. The geo world I inhabit is one of data, APIs, platforms and data mining and aggregation techniques. Sometimes the map gets lost in all of this. So it was an honour to speak at an event where it was all about the map. The Summer School was written up in November's edition of the SoC Newsletter which is only available to society members, but with permission I've reproduced below the sections of the newsletter which cover my involvement.

To be filed under the "slightly self promoting" department, earlier this year I was invited to speak at the Society of Cartographers Summer School in Manchester, UK. It's always great to be invited to speak at a conference but I was particularly excited by the SoC. The geo world I inhabit is one of data, APIs, platforms and data mining and aggregation techniques. Sometimes the map gets lost in all of this. So it was an honour to speak at an event where it was all about the map. The Summer School was written up in November's edition of the SoC Newsletter which is only available to society members, but with permission I've reproduced below the sections of the newsletter which cover my involvement.

Welcome to the world of the geo data silo: where closed data is open and open data is closed - Gary Gale (Nokia)

Inspired by London Transport maps, various historical maps and his son, Gary has been involved with maps and mapping for many years. His entertaining, informative and well-illustrated lecture took delegates on a short trip along the route taken by location-based communications from smoke signals, pigeons, the compass, maps such as the Mappa Mundi, radio signals and triangulation through to today’s maps as seen in smart phone with GPS-based mobile devices. He then turned his attention to data, silos of data and the “geo-industry” where the map doesn’t seem to be important any more; it’s all about the data and the map is often strangely absent.

Gary then took delegates on another trip, this time into the dark world of ‘Geo-Babel’, where we have data, lots of data, wide and varied, some commercial (Navteq and Teleatlas), some authoritative (Britain’s Ordnance Survey) and some of it crowd- sourced and growing aggressively (OpenStreetMap), some from unlikely sources (Flickr) and some from location-based social networking services (Foursquare and Gowalla). All this data, often available and free, a cartographer’s dream, but wait, Gary explains that there is now a darker side to data. Much of this ‘free’ data appears to be locked in its own private little data silos, ironically at a time when previously proprietary data becomes unlocked and open (Ordnance Survey), crowd-sourced data becomes locked behind a well meaning but restrictive license, the question is posed to delegates, how can we, as part of the geo-industry, dig ourselves out of this hole? Mike Shand

Panel discussion: “All this data is good but what about the cartography?”

The last session of the conference was setup as a panel discussion, with the theme of “All this data is good, but what about the cartography?” In order to start the ball rolling the preceding presentation was by Gary Gale (Nokia/Ovi Maps). His grandly entitled presentation - Welcome to the world of the geo data silo; where closed data is open and open data is closed - certainly resonated with me, particularly “the four horsemen of the geopocalypse”. Gary sat aside to allow his fellow panelists a short rant-space each. Richard Fairhurst concentrated on his vision of carto-goodness. He made an interesting analogy between industrial carto (Google), Boing Boing carto (retro 8-bit games style map) and Artisan carto (cartography with care). For a laugh (I presume!) he proposed a figurehead for web cartography and then flipped up a slide with three figureheads - Jobs, Gates and Chilton. He was followed by Bob Barr with a wider view of maps and quality. I then tried to propose some questions to the panel (eg: you have shown examples of good/bad design - but what are you exactly looking for when you are making those choices?) - and then opened it up for audience participation and questions/comments. We really should have recorded this session as there was a wide- range of points made, few of which I can now recall! You really needed to be there to get the full impact of the panelists’ views and the lively discussion that ensued. Steve Chilton SoC Chair

When I last wrote about my theory of GeoBabel I seem to recall saying I was retiring it. That's still true but seeing as I didn't actually write the newsletter my geoconscience is clear on this point.

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.

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.

Location vs. Place vs. POI

With Nokia, Google, Facebook and a whole host of other players recognising the inherent value in the concept of Places and Points Of Interest (POIs), it's good to see that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body of the Web, is getting involved. On the 30th. September 2010, the W3C Points Of Interest Working Group (POIWG) was launched with a "mission to develop technical specifications for representation of POI information on the Web". I should pause to make a brief disclaimer here; I'm sitting on the POIWG as part of my day job with Ovi Places at Nokia.

Of course, in order to develop those technical specifications, we need to define what a POI is in the first place. There's a lot of acronyms flying around (3 in the first paragraph of this post alone) and a lot of conflicting terminology further confusing the matter. Even the most cursory of glances through Web content on this topic shows the terms Place, Location and POI being used interchangably and so as part of the discussion I tried to codify the difference between, and most importantly the inter-relationships between, these three seemingly straightforward terms. The genesis for this post first appeared on the POIWG public mailing list last week (and W3C working groups conduct their business as much as possible in public) but I've fleshed it out in a bit more detail here.

Locations vs. Places vs. POIs

So what is a POI? ... Wikipedia defines a POI as a Point Of Interest ... a "specific point location that someone may find useful or interesting". But we really need a more subtle and complex definition.

To my mind, a POI is part of a loosely coupled and inter-related geographical terms, comprised of (in generalised order of scope and granularity) Locations, POIs and Places.

A Location is a geographical construct; a physical fixed point on the surface of the Earth. It could also be used to describe a fixed point on the surface of another celestial body but for the purposes of this Working Group, we'll restrict the scope to terrestrial geographies. A Location is described by a centroid (a longitude and latitude in a widely adopted system, such as WGS-84) and an extent, either a Minimum Bounding Rectangle or a vector set. A Location is temporally persistent, it does not generally change over time.

A POI is a human construct, describing what can be found at a Location. As such a POI typically has a fine level of spatial granularity. A POI has the following attributes ...

  1. A name
  2. A current Location (see the commentary below on the loose coupling of POI and Location)
  3. A category and/or type
  4. A unique identifier
  5. A URI
  6. An address
  7. Contact information

A POI has a loose coupling with a Location; in other words, a POI can move. When this occurs, the loose coupling with the previous location is removed and, providing the POI continues to exist, it is then coupled with its new Location. This can happen when the human activity at the POI relocates, such as when your local coffee shop relocates to a new address. It's still your local coffee shop, it's now found at a different Location.

A POI has temporal boundaries; it starts when the human activity at that Location commences and ends when human activity ceases, such as when a company or organisation goes out of business.

And then there's a Place, which is also a human construct and typically has a coarse level of spatial granularity. Places are typically larger scale administrative constructs, either informally or formally defined. Countries, States, Counties, Districts, Neighbourhoods and postal codes or telephone area codes are all Places. Places are also informally or colloquially defined, such as the Home Counties in the United Kingdom and The Bay Area in the United States.

Places have spatial relationships; with parents, children, adjacencies and "contained by" semantics. Places also have the same attribute set as POIs, although with differing interpretations based on scale; for example, the address of a Place or its URI would refer to the address of the administrative or governing body of the Place.

A Place typically contains multiple POIs and can also be coterminous with a POI. In the former case, a Place, such as a city or a neighbourhood, will contain multiple POIs. In the latter case, a Place and a POI will occupy the same position and extent, such as in the case of Yellowstone National Park, which is both a Place and a POI.

As discussions in the POIWG get deeper and deeper into what constitutes a POI and, equally importantly, what doesn't, it'll be interesting to see how much of my take on the subject survives.

Does Location Need Some PR Love?

interview with GoMo News earlier this year, I talked about "the Bay Area bubble", this is the mind-set found in Silicon Valley "where a lot of the products and services coming out seem to think your user will always have a smartphone, and will always have a GPS lock with an excellent data connection". But does the so called location industry live in its own version of the Bay Area Bubble? Let's call it the "location privacy bubble" for the sake of convenience.

Last week an article entitled "Can you digital photos reveal where you live?" was posted on the Big Brother Watch blog; pop over there and read it for a moment, it's only three paragraphs long ...

In an interview with GoMo News earlier this year, I talked about "the Bay Area bubble", this is the mind-set found in Silicon Valley "where a lot of the products and services coming out seem to think your user will always have a smartphone, and will always have a GPS lock with an excellent data connection". But does the so called location industry live in its own version of the Bay Area Bubble? Let's call it the "location privacy bubble" for the sake of convenience.

Last week an article entitled "Can you digital photos reveal where you live?" was posted on the Big Brother Watch blog; pop over there and read it for a moment, it's only three paragraphs long ...

... welcome back. My first thought on reading that article was "well yeah, duuh". Followed up by the slightly more lengthy thought of "well yeah, duh ... of course a geotagged photo can reveal where you live, if you've enabled geotagging, if you understand EXIF data, if you've uploaded the photo to the internet and if you've set the visibility of that photo to public ... upload enough photos and sufficient patterns will emerge that should give a good indication of where you live".

But I'd be willing to bet that most people's thought on reading that article was much more along the lines of "s**t ... I didn't know that". For those of us in the location industry, we should sit up and take note of this reaction.

I Love PR

Here on the inside of the location industry it's relatively easy to dismiss articles such as the Big Brother Watch one. We know enough to make an informed decision on whether the location component of a service is opt in or opt out. With a bit of background research we can even find out whether a service utilises your location in stealth mode, with potentially abusive consequences, such as recent news that some free apps on the Android mobile platform are secretly sharing their location without the user's knowledge.

With today's ever changing technology making a level of technical sophistication available to the mass market that would have been unheard of 10 years ago, maybe it's time for Location to engage the services of a good Public Relations agency to move the visibility and benefits of the location component of services away from the dense legalese of the EULA and away from burying the control of location deep away inside a densely nested set of configuration options.

If we don't then the first that the majority of the general public will hear of location privacy will be when a story hits the tabloid media, such as when proof of infidelity of a celebrity due to a location based app on their phone is used in a high profile divorce proceedings. And that will be a sad day for all of the location industry.

Photo Credits: DoktorSpinn on Flickr. Written and posted from the BA Lounge at LHR T5 51.4735445775, -0.487390325)

Quantity Or Quality? The Problem Of Junk POIs

recent talk to the British Computer Society's Geospatial Specialist Group, I touched on the "race to own the Place Space". While the more traditional geographic data providers, such as Navteq and Tele Atlas are working away adding Points Of Interest to their data sets, it's the smaller, social location startups, that are getting the most attention and media coverage. With their apps running on smartphone hardware, Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places, amongst others, are using crowd sourcing techniques to build a large data set of their own.

For them to do this, the barriers to entry have to be very low. Ask a user for too much information and you'll substantially reduce the number of Places that get created; and thereby hangs the biggest challenge for these data sets. Both the companies and their users want the Holy Grail of data, quantity and quality. But the lower the barriers to entry, the more quality suffers, unless there's a dedicated attempt to manage and clean up the resultant data set.

In my recent talk to the British Computer Society's Geospatial Specialist Group, I touched on the "race to own the Place Space". While the more traditional geographic data providers, such as Navteq and Tele Atlas are working away adding Points Of Interest to their data sets, it's the smaller, social location startups, that are getting the most attention and media coverage. With their apps running on smartphone hardware, Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places, amongst others, are using crowd sourcing techniques to build a large data set of their own.

For them to do this, the barriers to entry have to be very low. Ask a user for too much information and you'll substantially reduce the number of Places that get created; and thereby hangs the biggest challenge for these data sets. Both the companies and their users want the Holy Grail of data, quantity and quality. But the lower the barriers to entry, the more quality suffers, unless there's a dedicated attempt to manage and clean up the resultant data set.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Foursquare entry for the BCS itself. According to the BCS website, the London HQ of the UK's Chartered Institude for IT is at The Davidson Building, 5 Southampton Street, London, WC2E 7HA. Now compare that to Foursquare, which lists BCS HQ LONDON as 5 south hompton road, The strand, london, london uk. Complete with interesting use of capitalisation. That's the first problem.

Foursquare helpfully shows this on a map but evidently uses the provided address information as opposed to any associated geo-coordinate that was gleaned from the onboard GPS on whichever smartphone was used to create this "place". Google has evidently tried to interpret south hompton road and displays the map at the first entry that Google's reverse geocoder returns, which is 5 Hampton Road, in Hampton Hill. That's not Covent Garden. That's not even Central London. That's way out in the suburbs of Richmond-upon-Thames. That's the second problem.

But there's also more than one entry in Foursquare for the BCS in London which highlights the third problem; large amounts of duplicate Places created by users either unwilling to search too closely for an existing Place or who are trying to subvert the gaming aspect to social location apps in order to gain points or recognition in the community for number of Places created, number of Mayorships gained and so on.

Quantity? Yes. Quality? Sadly no. Foursquare are reliant on their user community to clear up their data and as this example shows, that's not always an effective strategy. As an industry we may be building a massive Place based view of the world but we've a long way to go before we can rely on data produced in this manner.

A geographic nod of the hat must go to Harry Wood for spotting this classic example of a "junk POI"; I'm not singling Foursquare out for any particular opprobrium here by the way, all of the social location data sets have their own howlers, as do the commercial POI data sets, ready and waiting for people to stumble across.

As Location Goes Mainstream, So Does The Potential For Abuse

you are here". Without this there'd be no Ovi Maps, no Google Maps, no Foursquare and no Facebook Places.

Long before we put up a network of over 20 satellites a less accurate version of geolocation was available. Pretty much anything that puts out a signal in the radio spectrum can be used to triangulate your position, if there's enough radio sources spead out over a wide area and if someone's done the leg work needed to geolocate you based on the position and strength of those radio sources. This can be done with mobile cell towers, with radio masts and more recently with the proliferation of wifi enabled access points, both in people's homes, in offices and in public areas.

Geolocation isn't really anything new. In a lot of cases we've come to expect it. Most smartphones sold today have an on-board GPS receiver and it's considered a selling point for a handset to have one. Today's mobile mapping applications and Location Based Mobile Services make use of the location fix that GPS provides. We're used to our technology saying "you are here". Without this there'd be no Ovi Maps, no Google Maps, no Foursquare and no Facebook Places.

Long before we put up a network of over 20 satellites a less accurate version of geolocation was available. Pretty much anything that puts out a signal in the radio spectrum can be used to triangulate your position, if there's enough radio sources spead out over a wide area and if someone's done the leg work needed to geolocate you based on the position and strength of those radio sources. This can be done with mobile cell towers, with radio masts and more recently with the proliferation of wifi enabled access points, both in people's homes, in offices and in public areas.

No matter where you go, there you are - Buckaroo Bonzai

The process of wifi geolocation, sometimes called Wifi Positioning System or WPS, is sometimes combined with GPS, known as Assisted GPS or A-GPS, and sometimes provides geolocation facilities for devices which don't have onboard GPS. WPS is what allowed the first iPhones and the iPad, both of which lack GPS, to position themselves relatively accurately and WPS also forms part of the W3C Geolocation system which allows web browsers to get a location fix. WPS isn't as accurate as GPS but most of the time it's good enough. Both SkyHook Wireless and Google maintain WPS databases, which allow you to geolocate based on the publicly accessible unique address (the MAC address) that every wifi access point broadcasts, regardless of whether the access point is open, closed or encrypted. This isn't a flaw or a vulnerability, it's how your laptop or mobile phone seeks out and connects to a wifi network.

Again this is nothing new. But the crucial part is that either implicitly or explicitly this is done by opting into the service. Either by configuring a service, by installing an application or by saying "yes it's OK to use my location".

But what is new is that by going "mainstream", location sharing is now also ripe for abuse.

One indication of this abuse is the recent news that free apps on the Android platform are secretly sharing A-GPS location without the user being aware of it. One could argue that when installing the app this is listed as one of the capabilities ...

This application can access the following on your phone: Your location coarse (network based) location, fine (GPS) location

... but just like the EULA, or End User License Agreement, people rarely read the small print and simply click through to get to the "good stuff".

Another indication is the recent proof of concept that allows a malicious web page to exploit a user being logged into their wifi access point's web based administration console, grab the MAC address of the access point and utilise a third-party WPS web service to geo-locate the user. Admittedly this is a proof of concept; it requires a very specific set of circumstances to be in place in order to work ... a vulnerable wifi router, visiting a malicious site with the exploit installed, being logged in as an administrator on the wifi access point's console at the time of visiting the malicious site.

But we should all be warned. As location goes mainstream and becomes ubiquitous, so does the attention of those who would abuse and exploit this.

As a footnote, the inspiration for this post came from Paul Clarke, who spotted the geolocation exploit proof of concept. In addition to taking a damn fine photograph, Paul also writes equally as well. If you don't read his blog, you should. Photo Credits: Stefan Andrej Shambora on Flickr.

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

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).

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.

The Plains Of Awkward Public Family Interactions And The Bay Of Flames

tracking your location, xkcd, the webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language has branched out into making maps. The updated map of online communities shows the volume of daily social activity across all of the online world, and not just the high profile ones that get the press coverage.

Click through for the full size versions and loose yourself in the plains of awkward public family interactions, the Bay Of Flames and other geographical wonders.

Not content with pointing out the fun you can have with tracking your location, xkcd, the webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language has branched out into making maps. The updated map of online communities shows the volume of daily social activity across all of the online world, and not just the high profile ones that get the press coverage.

Click through for the full size versions and loose yourself in the plains of awkward public family interactions, the Bay Of Flames and other geographical wonders.

Knocking Down (Geo Data's) Brick Walls

Location Business Summit in San Jose. The interview is now up on the GoMo News site and is reproduced here with permission.

Earlier this week I was interviewed by Cian O'Sullivan for GoMo News as part of the run-up to the Location Business Summit in San Jose. The interview is now up on the GoMo News site and is reproduced here with permission.

Ovi Places: Mobile Navigation needs to knock down its brick walls

When Ovi Maps launched at the start of this year, it really shook up the navigation industry. The free software gave everyone with access to Nokia's Ovi Store a perfectly serviceable Personal Navigation Device (PND), completely for free. But Ovi Maps is just the first exposure of the Nokia branch called Ovi Places. Recently appointed Director of Ovi Places, Gary Gale, took some time to talk to GoMo News about the state of mobile navigation ahead of his appearance at the Location Business Summit, USA, 14-15 September, San Jose. Most people know about Ovi Maps, but a lot won't have heard about Ovi Places. What is it, exactly?


It's the slightly unglamorous name for a set of back-end systems that understand what people are looking for. Within the Ovi Maps client, on both mobile and internet, there's the ability to look for what the industry calls Points Of Interest - or POIs. But we prefer the term "places" - because POIs comes laden with preconceived baggage. Our colleagues in Japan consider anything that isn't nailed down as a POI, including bus stops, park benches or traffic lights. That can lead to too-much data, an overflow that can't be easily consumed. People tend to think of these kind of location and navigation services as a yellow pages business listings - which is certainly important for the classic LBS model of "where am I, and what's around me". But Ovi Places takes into account local information, colloquial information, landmarks and places you'd want to go to as a tourist. For example, where I am in the Nokia office in the middle of Berlin, we've got the really common tourist POIs showing up - like the Brandenburg Gate, for example - but Places also refers to an excellent restaurant in the courtyard below me, and a local coffee shop.

If there were more signs like this....... Where do you source that info? Are there Places fact finders or do you buy the info?


It comes from a variety of sources. Some of it comes from commercial data providers - this is actually one of the main reasons we acquired NAVTEQ, and why TomTom bought TeleAtlas. Digital mapping companies have a rich set of data above and beyond the normal PND stuff. But there are also a whole variety of specialist premium partners that we do deals with; we're talking about regional specialists that we talk to on a country-by-country basis in order to gain their local insight.

There is no "one true" source of data - you need to make a lot of partnerships to get the best local data available. At the moment, Ovi Places really only powers the Ovi Maps application. Are there plans for more services to exist under a Places umbrella?


At the moment, it's exposed only through Ovi Maps. For the future... I can't say anything specific, but watch this space! How do you plan to make mobile location more personal to the mobile user?


Actually, the mobile user is probably the easiest use case for navigation. Your device has lot of options available to it to determine your location. From there, services like Places can provide rich experiences. The key problem is whilst all of this is pretty much mainstream now, there is a "Bay Area bubble" where a lot of the products and services coming out seem to think your user will always have a smartphone, and will always have a GPS lock with an excellent data connection. That may be fine for San Francisco, and even Western Europe. Sometimes even areas you think would be well served are awful. I recently went on a trip to Calais - when I got off the ferry and the GPS took 15 mins to pick up a lock. So you have to realise that there can be patchy 3G data coverage in even highly developed countries, and then look at areas which have growing economies and even worse connections. There are places in Africa and Asia that won't have 3G data in the next 5 or 10 years. You mentioned that mobile users are the easy use cases - what would you consider to be a challenging case?


The challenges arise when you've got infrastructure problems. Consider some of the poster child location services, like Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp. Lack of 3G data infrastructure doesn't appear to be factored into the business models for these companies. Try using one of them in Africa, or India, or Asia. The infrastructure isn't there to address these needs. The populace simply don't have access to these services. Is Places doing anything to address that problem?


We're looking at potential handsets that don't need a dedicated on-board GPS or AGPS. They don't need the typical app store economy. We're able to tap into cell tower triangulation, where local laws and legislation permits it. It may not be as accurate as a GPS lock, but it's better than nothing. Is that really important for a developing country? How worried is a resident really going to be about their location services.


I think the best answer to that is from an article by Dr. Tero Ojanperä (Executive Vice President of Services, Mobile Solutions, Nokia). He said that the target is less about producing a device that runs apps than it is about creating a really useful platform - it's more about producing a context-aware device, that gives you the best relevancy depending on the services available to it.  "It's about devices that offer truly connected services and learn your habits so well that they can give you what you want". That means you have a service that will provide good services to every customer, no matter what the state of their local infrastructure is.

Last month I was at the GeoLoco conference in San Francisco, talking on a panel about the challenges the industry is facing. An audience member asked "what advice would the panellists give to someone who is trying to establish a foothold in location?" I felt my answer got the most responses, at least on the Twitter back-channel. which was "I come from Europe - don't forget that we exist! There is a market outside of North America that is different in its needs and infrastructure". Services like TeleAtlas and OpenStreetMap (OSM) make a lot of use of crowd-sourced info. Does Ovi Places allow for that?


Very much so. We already have this kind of functionality built into the newer handsets, allowing you to add corrections and updates while you are on location. Crowd sourcing is very much a part of this industry's future - but I don't think it's the panacea that people think it might be. It's a vital additional source, but not the best thing since sliced bread until; at least, not until the industry gets together and comes up with a way to verify and editorialise new info. It's a benevolent technological anarchy - because there's no formalised control over how you tag a place, a consumer has to accept that finding out how to use the data will take significant time and revenue investment. If your local authority is trying to map its assets, you want to make sure those assets are exactly where you claim - because taxation and revenue streams can be assessed on that. If you get that wrong, it will lead to the kind of bad press a local authority doesn't want. Especially if emergency services are trying to get to a specific street address - you need that data to be 100% accurate. What do you think the main challenges facing mobile navigation are?


I think there two main challenges.

First is the privacy angle. People don't quite understand what it is that they're giving up to use the latest LBS app. You need to make sure that people understand the value proposition on the table when they're giving up their location to gain relevance in their local search. The public as a whole needs to understand this. And it will probably be driven by tabloid headlines - some celebrity who gets divorced because a location service proves they weren't where they said they were. And it would be better if it didn't happen that way. I hope the Industry is open and transparent about it as much as possible. It will be to our detriment if we don't expose this kind of information, and something sensationalist does happen.

Second, there's a need for people to talk to one another. We're all building loads of very rich data sets - OSM is doing it, Facebook, Foursquare, government services, NAVTEQ - but at the moment, to unlock their potential, they need to talk to each other. The current licensing set up means location data is still stored in a series of vertical silos which aren't allowed to work with each other. And the actual industry moves so fast that even those who are involved in it find it hard to keep up with developments. So keeping the legal and licensing system up-to-date with it must be nightmarish. It's getting increasingly more difficult to get solid patents in this area - and patents being wielded by the patent troll houses are being used in a way they were never intended. In order to work around this, I think the future will have to be less about aggregating these data silos, and more about synchronising the end-point exposure. If you have an identifier in one data set that corresponds to an identifier in another data set, they can sync up and present a united service to the end user... without having to share protected data.

Plant on Brick Wall

Gary Gale will be speaking at the Location Business Summit, 14-15 September, San Jose, where he'll be further addressing the issues surrounding the "silo problem" and licensing issues. Photo Credits: William Warby and Ajith Kumar on Flickr.

More Location Tracking; This Time From Foursquare

deliberately tracking my journey by using Google's Latitude and unexpectedly tracking the same journey by looking at the history of my Foursquare and Gowalla check-ins.

By using the history function from Google Latitude I was able to put together a quick and dirty visualisation of the locations I'd been to but my check-in history added not only the location but also the place that was at each location.

During last week's Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco, Fred Wilson (no, not the guy from the B-52's) mentioned that you could feed your Foursquare check-in history into Google Maps and produce another quick and dirty visualisation of not only the places you'd checked into but also where those places were.

Back in March of this year I wrote about deliberately tracking my journey by using Google's Latitude and unexpectedly tracking the same journey by looking at the history of my Foursquare and Gowalla check-ins.

By using the history function from Google Latitude I was able to put together a quick and dirty visualisation of the locations I'd been to but my check-in history added not only the location but also the place that was at each location.

During last week's Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco, Fred Wilson (no, not the guy from the B-52's) mentioned that you could feed your Foursquare check-in history into Google Maps and produce another quick and dirty visualisation of not only the places you'd checked into but also where those places were.

Simply login to your Foursquare account and visit your feeds page at https://foursquare.com/feeds/ and copy the RSS check-in history link but don't click on the link. Open up Google Maps and paste in the link and add ?count=200 to the end of the URL to make Foursquare return a reasonable amount of check-ins. Hey presto, one instant map of your check-ins, which shows me that I've been checking in in the Bay Area in the USA, in and around London in the UK and in and around Berlin in Germany. Not that I didn't know this already but it's always good to see this visualised on a map.

Foursquare History - Global

Of course, Google Maps is a full slippy maps implementation, so I can click, drag and zoom in to see my check-ins from the Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco in the Bay Area, south through Palo Alto to San Jose.

Foursquare History - Bay Area

I can also jump across the Atlantic Ocean, straight over the United Kingdom, to Berlin and see Berlin's Tegel Airport in the west and the Nokia Gate5 office in the Mitte district of the city.

Foursquare History - Berlin

With a little bit of time, effort and GIS know-how I could have probably come up with a slick animated trail of my check-ins but sometimes a quick and dirty way of seeing where I've been on a map is all that's needed.

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

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.

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

Locating The Next Role; The Yahoo! Years

this is who I am, who are you?

Some 4 years ago (actually 3 years and 10 months but let's round up for the sake of convenience) I wasn't really looking for a new role, but the opportunity arose to come and lead and engineering team for Yahoo! Now, four years later, it's time to move onto another role, but more of that in a moment.

Looking back at my career over the last 20 or so years, it's immediately apparent that it's always been a bit geo. Geophysical seismic survey processing for natural resources (OK, mostly for oil and gas) for Digicon ... geo. Setting up operations for ERS-1, the European Space Agency's first remote sensing synthetic aperture radar satellite ... geo and rocket science. Short wave radio frequency planning to enable the BBC World Service to get transmissions into countries who would much prefer the BBC didn't broadcast there ... geo. Deploying the first geo-targeted ad system and rolling out a global place based view of the world internally and to the external developer community for Yahoo! ... totally geo. Granted, there were other roles which had no geo context whatsoever but I always seem to keep coming back to this vague and nebulous mixture of place, location, maps and geography that we term geo.

this is who I am, who are you?

Some 4 years ago (actually 3 years and 10 months but let's round up for the sake of convenience) I wasn't really looking for a new role, but the opportunity arose to come and lead and engineering team for Yahoo! Now, four years later, it's time to move onto another role, but more of that in a moment.

When I announced that I was leaving Yahoo! Geo I was taken aback at the reaction that it generated. Let's rephrase that ... I was taken aback, shocked, stunned and very deeply chuffed into the bargain. Techcrunch's MG Siegler wrote about it under the brilliant headline Yahoo's Director Of Geo Engineering Locates The Exit. Numerous friends, colleagues and geo-acquaintances offered congratulations and asked where next on Twitter, on Facebook, in blog posts and by the more old fashioned method of email. I didn't expect any of this reaction, but it's that reaction that, at least in part, prompted this blog post.

By the way, you shouldn't believe everything you read in the media about working at Yahoo! It's been an amazing experience and one I would willingly repeat if I had the opportunity to go back and do it all again. Before I joined Yahoo! I thought I had a pretty good handle on how the internet worked and how web applications and APIs worked. I didn't but I did learn an awfully large amount from people do.

MacBook Pro and BlackBerry

Outside of the company, there's also a popular misconception that there's an uneasy cold war going on between Yahoo! and, in the geo space at least, their immediate competitors; Microsoft, Google, Mapquest and so on. True, there's some major cultural differences between the organisations but there's also much mutual respect for what each of our geo neighbours gets up to.

So how were the last 4 years? They went something like this ...

The Highs

The Lows

I might have already mentioned the people at Yahoo! I met and worked with. Now would be a suitable point to mention them by name ...

The Geo Technologies team, past and present: Bob Upham, Martin Barnes, Walter Andrag, Mike Dickson, Holger Dürer, Bob Craig, Roman Kirillov, Eddie Babcock, Samira Swarnkar, Rob Halliday, Rob Tyler, Chris Gent, Steve May, Ali Abtoy, Andrei Bychay, Chiho Kitahara

The YDN team: Sophie Davies-Patrick, Chris Heilmann, Anil Patel, Havi Hoffman & Stacy Millman

The Yahoo! alumni: Tyler Bell and Mark Law (ex Geo), Aaron Cope (ex Flickr), Tom Coates and Seth Fitzsimmonds (ex Brickhouse, Fire Eagle and Geo)

No Coffee Today

But now the Yahoo! years are behind me and after taking this week off to rest and do family stuff over the course of the UK Half Term school break I'll be ready to join my new team and start to get to grips with my new role as Director of Ovi Places with Nokia.

Although it would be very tempting to think that my move to Nokia is in some way a result of the recently announced partnership between Yahoo! and Nokia that's not the case. Nokia and I started the long conversation which ended with this blog post at the beginning on 2009; it took a while to get to this place.

So whilst I'm going to Nokia, I'll continue to use my core set of Yahoo! products, tools and APIs ... YQL, Placemaker, GeoPlanet, WOEIDs, YUI, Flickr and Delicious. Not because I used to work for Yahoo! but because they're superb products.

Here's looking forward to the rest of 2010; it could be geotastic.

Crystal Ball Gazing Part 2 - Eddy's Sofa and The Nightmare of a Single Global Places Register

OpenGeoData, the blog and podcast on open maps, data and OpenStreetMap, a snippet of which is below.

"Eddies," said Ford, "in the space-time continuum." "Ah," nodded Arthur, "is he? Is he?" "What?" said Ford. "Er, who," said Arthur, "is Eddy, then, exactly, then?" ... Why," he said, "is there a sofa in that field?" "I told you!" shouted Ford, leaping to his feet. "Eddies in the space-time continuum!" "And this is his sofa, is it?" asked Arthur, struggling to his feet and, he hoped, though not very optimistically, to his senses.

Jump onto Eddy's sofa for a moment and fast forward to a possible 2015.

After the location wars of 2010, the problems of mutually incompatible geographic identifiers have been solved with the formation of the Global Places Register. Founded by a fledgling startup on the outskirts of Bangalore, the GPR offered an open and free way for individuals and corporations to add their town, their business, their POI. All places added became part of the Global Places Translator, allowing Yahoo's WOEIDs to be transformed into OpenStreetMap Ways, into long/lat centroids, into GeoNames ids or even, for the nostalgic, Eastings and Northings.

Sofa im Regen

... the rest of the article is on the OpenGeoData blog. Photo Credits: Hell-G on Flickr.

I recently contributed an article to the OpenGeoData, the blog and podcast on open maps, data and OpenStreetMap, a snippet of which is below.

"Eddies," said Ford, "in the space-time continuum." "Ah," nodded Arthur, "is he? Is he?" "What?" said Ford. "Er, who," said Arthur, "is Eddy, then, exactly, then?" ... Why," he said, "is there a sofa in that field?" "I told you!" shouted Ford, leaping to his feet. "Eddies in the space-time continuum!" "And this is his sofa, is it?" asked Arthur, struggling to his feet and, he hoped, though not very optimistically, to his senses.

Jump onto Eddy's sofa for a moment and fast forward to a possible 2015.

After the location wars of 2010, the problems of mutually incompatible geographic identifiers have been solved with the formation of the Global Places Register. Founded by a fledgling startup on the outskirts of Bangalore, the GPR offered an open and free way for individuals and corporations to add their town, their business, their POI. All places added became part of the Global Places Translator, allowing Yahoo's WOEIDs to be transformed into OpenStreetMap Ways, into long/lat centroids, into GeoNames ids or even, for the nostalgic, Eastings and Northings.

Sofa im Regen

... the rest of the article is on the OpenGeoData blog. Photo Credits: Hell-G on Flickr.

Your Place Is Not My Place; The Perils of Disambiguation

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.

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.

Retiring The Theory of Stuff; But First, A Corollary

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 ...

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.

The Letter W and Hype (or Local) at the Location Business Summit

Where 2.0 in San Jose earlier this year and approached it from the point of a hopeful sceptic who was looking to be persueded that the long promised hyperlocal nirvana was either right here, right now or was at least looming hopefully on the horizon.

A month later and I had the pleasure of sharing the keynote slot with Professor Danny Dorling at the GIS Research UK conference at University College London and I revisited the theme. By this time any hope of hyperlocal nirvana had pretty much vanished.

Yesterday I took the talk out for the final time at the Location Business Summit in Amsterdam and the elephant in the room relating to hyperlocality had grown into a full blown herd of elephants.

Each time I give my Hyperlocal or Hype (and Local) talk it morphs slightly and becomes more scathing of the term hyperlocal.

I started to write the talk for Where 2.0 in San Jose earlier this year and approached it from the point of a hopeful sceptic who was looking to be persueded that the long promised hyperlocal nirvana was either right here, right now or was at least looming hopefully on the horizon.

A month later and I had the pleasure of sharing the keynote slot with Professor Danny Dorling at the GIS Research UK conference at University College London and I revisited the theme. By this time any hope of hyperlocal nirvana had pretty much vanished.

Yesterday I took the talk out for the final time at the Location Business Summit in Amsterdam and the elephant in the room relating to hyperlocality had grown into a full blown herd of elephants.

My scepticism was echoed by several members of the audience, notably James Thornett from the BBC who blogged about it and with whom I shared a panel on the nebulous concept that is the geoweb today.

But what really seemed to catch the audience's imagination was my twin memes of Geobabel and the Three W's of Geo ... the where, the when and the what.

A new and accurat map of the world

The where is what we've been doing for centuries; mapping the globe. Whilst it's a sweeping generalisation, we've pretty much done this, albeit to a varying degree of accuracy, coverage and granularity. We've mapped the globe, now it's time to do something with all of this data.

The when is the gnarly problem of temporality, which just won't go away. Places and geography change over time; how we map a place today doesn't show how the place was 100 years ago and neither can we expect the geography of a place to be static 100 years hence. As we update our geographic data sets and throw away the old, supposedly obsolete, historical versions, we're throwing away a rich set of temporality in the process.

Map from memory

Then finally there's the what; a reference to a place in intrinsically bound to it's granularity. References to London from outside of the United Kingdom are frequently aimed at the non specific London bounded by the M25 orbital motorway. Zoom in and London becomes Greater London, and then the London Boroughs and finally the City of London and neighbouring City of Westminster.

The strong reaction to these twin memes makes me think that we'll be seeing these topics continue to raise their heads until we're able to find work arounds or solutions. Photo Credits: Nad on Flickr.

Fighting GeoBabel on Two Fronts

error prone Tech Crunch seems to think there's a location war going on.

A search for the keywords location and war on the site yields strident post titles including Just In Time For The Location Wars, Twitter Turns on Geolocation On Its Website, Location Isn't A War Between Two Sides, It's A Gold Rush For Everyone, What Did The Location War Look Like At SXSW? Like This and Google Escalates The Location War With Google Places.

And Tech Crunch are right, there is a location war going on, but it's not the war that Michael Arrington and crew are thinking of; this war is much more insidious. It's the war against GeoBabel and it's being fought right now on two fronts.

The well known, highly opinionated and occasionally error prone Tech Crunch seems to think there's a location war going on.

A search for the keywords location and war on the site yields strident post titles including Just In Time For The Location Wars, Twitter Turns on Geolocation On Its Website, Location Isn't A War Between Two Sides, It's A Gold Rush For Everyone, What Did The Location War Look Like At SXSW? Like This and Google Escalates The Location War With Google Places.

And Tech Crunch are right, there is a location war going on, but it's not the war that Michael Arrington and crew are thinking of; this war is much more insidious. It's the war against GeoBabel and it's being fought right now on two fronts.

Babel by Cildo Meireles

Front number one is your place is not my place. You may think we're talking about the same place, the same POI, the same location, the same city or neighbourhood but we're not. You're fluent in Gowalla, I'm fluent in Foursquare and the rest of the internet is fluent in Geonames, OpenStreetMap and WOEIDs, each with their own subjective view of where. GeoBabel.

The second front is we think we're speaking the same terminology, we're not. Recent articles and comments, not exclusively restricted to Tech Crunch, have bandied about the terms place, map, location, centroid, coordinate, long/lat and used them interchangeably and inconsistently. GeoBabel again.

There's little doubt that the dream of location as a key context is now on the cards and we're rushing headlong to meet it. We think we're all speaking about the same thing, but the sad truth is that we're speaking about totally disparate concepts and terms most of the time.

Until we solve this GeoBabel in the making, the location war will be lost without most of the people impacted by it ever knowing it was being fought.

Photo Credits: Nick. J. Webb on Flickr.

The 3 W's of Geo (and hyperlocal deities and a pachyderm)

Jeremy Morley from the Centre for Geospatial Research at the University of Nottingham and Muki Haklay at University College London got in touch with me. The GIS Research UK Conference was in full swing, and OpenStreetMap founder Steve Coast had had to drop out of the conference due to ill health; would I think about stepping in for the closing keynote of the conference?

Hedging my bets and guessing that few, if any, of the audience had been in San Jose at Where 2.0 a couple of weeks back, I gladly accepted and reshuffled, added to and polished my Where 2.0 deck to yield Hyperlocal Deities, Pachyderms, the Letter W, the Number 3 (and some Geo).

Earlier this week, Jeremy Morley from the Centre for Geospatial Research at the University of Nottingham and Muki Haklay at University College London got in touch with me. The GIS Research UK Conference was in full swing, and OpenStreetMap founder Steve Coast had had to drop out of the conference due to ill health; would I think about stepping in for the closing keynote of the conference?

Hedging my bets and guessing that few, if any, of the audience had been in San Jose at Where 2.0 a couple of weeks back, I gladly accepted and reshuffled, added to and polished my Where 2.0 deck to yield Hyperlocal Deities, Pachyderms, the Letter W, the Number 3 (and some Geo).

The majority of the deck should be relatively self explanatory but I think it's worth calling out what I've labelled the three W's of geo ... where, when and what.

A new and accurat map of the world

The where is what we've been doing for centuries; mapping the globe. Whilst it's a sweeping generalisation, we've pretty much done this, albeit to a varying degree of accuracy, coverage and granularity. We've mapped the globe, now it's time to do something with all of this data.

Map Archaeology

The when is the gnarly problem of temporality, which just won't go away. This shows up in two ways. Firstly there's the fact that places and geography change over time; how we map a place today doesn't show how the place was 100 years ago and neither can we expect the geography of a place to be static 100 years hence. Secondly there's the problem of places which only exist at certain times of the year. Take Burning Man and Glastonbury; for most of the year these places are a salt flat in a desert and a farmer's field but at a certain time they become places in their own right.

The A13 from Ship Lane

Then finally there's the what and again, this manifests in two ways. Firstly we need to recognise that places aren't only spelt differently but they're said differently and "New Orleans" and "Noorlans" are one and the same place. Secondly a reference to a place in intrinsically bound to it's granularity. References to London from outside of the United Kingdom are frequently aimed at the non specific London bounded by the M25 orbital motorway. Zoom in and London becomes Greater London, and then the London Boroughs.

We're so close to completing the where of geo, we've only just touched on the when and the what remains uncharted territory. And that last pun was fully intentional. Photo Credits: The Norman. B. Leventhal Map Center, wokka and Thurrock Phil on Flickr.

Where 2.0 - Hype (or Local?)

Sometimes writing a talk and putting together an accompanying slide deck is an education in itself. You set out with a point you want to make and in researching the evidence to back up your assertions you find out that the point you originally wanted to make isn't actually correct. You could give up at this point, which is not to be recommended as you're already on the conference schedule, or you could accept that your reasoning was flawed in the first place and make your talk instead centre on why you were wrong.

Thus it was with the researching and background behind my talk at Where 2.0 in San Jose on Wednesday. Originally entitled as a declaration, it soon became obvious that "Ubiquitous location, the new frontier and hyperlocal nirvana" was missing a very significant question mark.

The audience seemed a trifle bemused when I told them that the talk was brought to them "by the number three and the word local (hyper and micro)", but when I mentioned that it included "a theory" a Mexican wave of shoulder slumping swept the (packed) room, followed in short succession by a long sigh.

I couldn't blame them.

Luckily attention perked up when I mentioned that it was my Theory of Stuff (Stuff? Stuff? Huh?) and illustrated this point with a scene from the classic Monty Python Anne Elk (Miss) and her Theory sketch.

you may well ask, chris, what is my theory?

So, to the talk. Just as "the wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose them" (apocryphally attributed to Grace Hopper), the wonderful thing about hyperlocality is that it has so many definitions, but a summation of these seem to agree on: 1. entities and events located in a well defined, community area 2. intended for consumption by residents of or visitors to that area 3. created by a resident of or visitor to that area

That's three elements and continuing the number three, hyperlocality needs to overcome three matching hurdles, three geo hurdles and three location hurdles 1. the ability to have scannable, parseable content 2. the ability to join users to the content 3. the ability to determine what is local and what isn't in that content

  1. the ability to scan and parse content for geographic references
  2. the ability to determine where a user is located
  3. the ability to determine what is local to a user and what isn't relative to the user

  4. the ability to use IP location

  5. the ability to use GPS
  6. the ability to use A-GPS

(the third one there is an artifact of the need to make the "number three meme" work and I throw my hands up in surrender for that piece of artifice. Mea culpa)

what is it for and why would anyone use it?

While we're on the subject of the "number three meme" there's also three genera of hyperlocality 1. "classic" hyperlocal; taking, refining and creating local news (outside.in, Patch) 2. "corporate" hyperlocal; where a corporation removes their brand to fit in with the local community (Starbucks and the 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea in NYC) 3. "user" hyperlocal; creating and delivering localised content and information based on checking in (Foursquare, Gowalla, Rummble, etc)

The meme continues with the level of granularity at which hyperlocal services operate: 1. "local", at county level (Washington Post / Loudon) 2. "hyperlocal", at city of neighbourhood level (Placeblogger) 3. "microlocal", at block level (Everyblock)

So far, so (hyper)local. There's good exemplars of all of the above, in operation, right now. But there's also several elephants in the room, looming large and waving their trunks for attention.

Is location that ubiquitous? We all say it is but where's the proof? So 21% of mobile handsets are classed as smartphones (though not all of those have location capabilities), what about the remaining 79%. That's not that ubiquitous is it?

Then there's the issues of location and privacy; when location enablers such as Yahoo's Fire Eagle and Google's Latitude were launched we had lots of hand waving, foot stamping and Big Brother references from privacy activists, some of which was warranted, some of which were just pleas for publicity.

Most matching of users and content and ad inventory is dependent on technologies which derive location from an IP address. That's simply not good enough for hyperlocal coverage where the difference between an IP location and a GPS location can be over 10 miles; that's not even local let alone hyper or micro local.

User hyperlocal isn't without problems either. Gowalla won't let you check in unless your GPS lock agrees with the location of a place, eliciting cries of "but I'm here dammit". Yelp has ... issues on how it undertakes hyperlocal. Foursquare allows you to become Mayor of The North Pole from the confort of your own sofa and Fake Mayor on the iPhone bypasses Foursquare altogether.

So the outlook for hyperlocal is all hype then, obviously?

Well not quite. The number of location capable smartphones will continue to grow with 5 million mobile handsets predicted by 2011. Foursquare is growing at a phenomenal rate hitting the 1 check in per second mark recently. 33% of us now read and consume news from a mobile handset and we seem to be quite happy with displaying our location history via check ins, a far cry from the location hysteria of 2 years ago.

This year at Where 2.0 the view of the geo-scape was significantly different from the previous year; I don't doubt that will be the same for Where 2.0 in 2011. See you all there.

Written at Where 2.0 2010 in the San Jose Marriott (37.330323, -121.888363) and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Near Instantaneous Trans Atlantic Travel

Geo on the Horizon at Horizon Geo

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.

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:

Take A Little Time With Me The location challenge session was a basic introduction to geo and to location, just to get everyone on the same page. A small wry cheer from myself and Ed was caused by the mention of slippy maps after half an hour of pure GIS but the session was also notable for reminding us that GPS isn't just the domain of the US NAVSTAR system, though it's the one we're most familiar with and which is considered pretty much synonymous with GPS (the Wikipedia entry for GPS redirects to the NAVSTAR entry). But there's also the Russian GLONASS, the Chinese COMPASS and the European Galileo systems chafing at the heels of NAVSTAR and threatening it's hegemony. We also touched on the accuracy of satellite navigation systems, ranging from the fictitious, with Dan Brown asserting that "(GPS) is accurate within 2 feet anywhere in the world", even when in the toilet in the Louvre, to the technically feasible, with accuracy of 1 cm being touted as possible. Though no one in the room was able to articulate precisely what use 1 cm GPS accuracy would be.

The low point of the session was a rambling and tedious sales pitch from Oracle which can be summarised concisely as "there's an explosion of (geographic) data coming, you need to buy our (highly priced) servers in order to cope with it". It's a shame no-one's told Flickr about the need for Oracle servers as they've been making MySQL and commodity Linux servers cope with an explosion of data for a while now.

The high point of the session was a (rather hip looking) Doctor who's name escaped me who'd managed to do something that eludes many commercial concerns. They'd managed to put together a prototype, intelligent car pooling and routing service, complete with web, mobile and SMS interfaces, together in just a few weeks. Oh and it worked as well; this was not only deeply impressive but illustrated the positive social and community facet of this thing we call location.

Data storage - old and new

An an erstwhile privacy nerd, the session on whose data is it anyway? was fascinating, defining and categorising a whole range of what can be considered personal data: * access data (name, address, phone number) * direct data (photos) * intrinsic data (fingerprint, genome) * state data (location, activities) * transactional data (finance, journeys, purchases) * interaction data (things I say and do) * indirect observation data (energy usage) * things I create data (emails, texts, documents, photos) * things I'm given data (emails, texts, documents, photos) * things I've seen data (documents, tweets, locations)

With all of this data being out there, in a variety of data sinks, both personal, governmental and commercial, the concept of a distributed, durable, scalable and trusted personal data store was floated as a theoretical solution; much emphasis should be placed on the word theoretical by the way. A worthy theoretical concept, the notion of if you need to know about me, ask my PDS, is alas one that the majority of the audience who hail from a commercial background, view as interesting but flawed and not viable in the real world.

The high point of the session was a recommendation to read Paul Ohm's Broken Promises of Privacy; the low point the need to Lynne Truss to visit the room unannounced to pounce on the person who thought that "Who's Data is it Anyway?" was acceptable for a title slide.

CrowdPee

The final can clouds be authoritative session started aptly withe a quote from Wikipedia and paired Muki Haklay from University College London against Glen Hart from the Ordnance Survey. Whilst the pairing may have been unintentional, following a strong proponent of the crowd sourced OpenStreetMap with a pointed, if tongue in cheek, talk from the OS made comparisons difficult to avoid. Stephen Feldman's write up of the day has more insight on this final session and is well worth a read.

Acronym of the day goes to BHP, which left the audience looking perplexed until it was revealed as a Bloody Hard Problem. Days like this are essential to draw academia away from a pure research perspective and to get representatives of commercial organisations and academia talking on common ground ... that in itself is a BHP which Horizon goes a long way towards solving. Photo Credits: basiijonezians and Martin Whitmore on Flickr.

Deliberately (and Unexpectedly) Tracking My Journey

Ed Parsons and I drove from London to Nottingham and back to attend the one day Supporting the Contextual Footprint event run by the Horizon Digital Economy Research institute at the University of Nottingham and I had Google Latitude running on my BlackBerry, with location history enabled, as I usually do.

Unofficial Google Latitude T-Shirt

Using the pre smartphone, pre GPS, pre Latitude method of writing it down, the journey went something like this:

I've been tracking my journey and in doing so inadvertently uncovered a sea change in the way in which we view the whole thorny issue of location tracking.

Yesterday, Ed Parsons and I drove from London to Nottingham and back to attend the one day Supporting the Contextual Footprint event run by the Horizon Digital Economy Research institute at the University of Nottingham and I had Google Latitude running on my BlackBerry, with location history enabled, as I usually do.

Unofficial Google Latitude T-Shirt

Using the pre smartphone, pre GPS, pre Latitude method of writing it down, the journey went something like this:

Nothing too controversial there. Using the smartphone, with GPS and with Latitude method of using my BlackBerry, the journey becomes much more detailed and visual but also shows curious blips where I appear to dance around a location. All the more mysterious as they seem to happen when I know I'm in one place and not moving, until I realise they're probably AGPS locks from wifi or cell tower triangulation, kicking in for when my GPS can't get a satellite lock. Playing back the journey on the Google Latitude site looks like this:

Despite the fact that I i) explicitly installed Google Mobile Maps on my BlackBerry, ii) explicitly enabled Latitude in Google Mobile Maps and iii) explicitly enabled location history in my Google Latitude account, a little over 12 months ago, this would have been controversial enough to whip the tabloid media into a privacy infringing frenzy. Looking back to February 2009 in my Delicious bookmarks shows headlines such as Fears that new Google software will spy on workers and Google lets you stalk your friends (which are just plain factually wrong), together with the pointed MPs claim Google Latitude is a threat to privacy: Irony-meter explodes from cnet.

As I went about the events of the day, I checked into my accounts on both Foursquare and on Gowalla. Just take a look at where I checked in and the sequence of check ins.

Tracking my journey; Gowalla

To start with I check in at the Yahoo! UK office, followed by * Piccadilly Circus Tube Station * Terminal 1 (Heathrow) * Avis (Heathrow) * Warwick Services (M40) * Park Inn (Nottingham)

... which is pretty much a simplified version of the above two journeys. I'm tracking my journey here too but where location based social networks are concerned, the media is far more accommodating and enthusiastic; 12 months after Foursquare's launch, 500,000 users, 1.4M venues and 15.5 checkins (with Gowalla either neck and neck, out in front or lagging behind according to differing sources) the most shrill piece of negative publicity that Foursquare was able to garner was a mashup which looked for people publicising check ins on Twitter and inferred that this was an open invitation to the criminal element.

The value proposition of Google Latitude has always been in getting the consumer comfortable with sharing their location with a third party and with your social graph, which isn't good enough for most people to grasp. The value proposition of checking in, keeping tabs on your friends and seeing what they're doing is far more palatable and easier for the consumer to grasp with media coverage pretty much limited to ohh, look at the funny people obsessively checking in sort of article.

As an aside, if I was at Foursquare or Gowalla I'd be looking to mine the rich vein of stealth data that their users are generating at each check in, as it's producing a geotagged and categorised set of local business listings and points of interest. For now though, there's no public sign that either company are doing this, choosing instead to continue to grow their user base and to roll out into new cities and countries.

In the space of a year and with a different face, location tracking has gone from being Big Brother to being one of the hottest pieces of social networking with people at the recent SXSW in Austin TX actively complaining about check-in fatigue because there's so many of these services (FoursquareGowallaLooptWhrrlBrightkiteBurbn,MyTownCauseWorldHot PotatoPlancast) to choose from and trying to check into them all can take anything up to 10 minutes.

If all of this talk on location tracking sounds interesting and you're in San Jose CA the week after next at O'Reilly's Where 2.0 locationfest can I strongly recommend that you check out the founder of mapme.at, fellow Brit John McKerrell's session on Why I Track My Location and You Should Too. As long as it doesn't clash with my Where 2.0 session of course! Photo Credit: moleitau on Flickr. Written at the Park Inn, Nottingham (52.970538, -1.153335) and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Mistaking the Context for the End Game

This is a post about location (for a change); but it doesn't have to be about location as it's all about mistaking a vital element for the end game itself. I should explain.

I recently got contacted by a gentleman in the US who was looking to register a lot of domain names, in a manner which recalled the rush to buy domain names in order to make a profit as the dot com boom rushed headlong to become the dot bomb bust and which resulted in the unlovely pass-time of domain squatting.

After seeing a lot of mention of location, location based services and location based mobile services in the media, the position of location based services on Gartner's most recent hype curve and seeing a lot of acquisition activity in the location space, he was looking to register domain names with LBS in them.

The reasoning went that what he termed geo domains, such as london.com and newyork.com command a high premium then, given that location's star is in the ascendent, adding the three magic letters of LBS to such domains, such as londonlbs.com or newyorklbs.com, will also command a premium, albeit a slightly lower one.

In agreement: Some macro experiments: Gummi Bears

Let me count the number of ways that this reasoning holds a degree of water, however small. We were certainly in agreement that location, geo, place and semantic understanding of these concepts, via techniques such as entity extraction, are going to be significantly important in 2010, for several reasons:

  • The economic downturn has either bottomed out (if you're cynical) or is starting a tentative upturn (if you're optimistic) and history has shown that investment starts to turn to new and promising areas in such circumstances.
  • Gartner have flagged LBMS as just cresting from the "slope of enlightenment" to the "plateau of productivity" in their last hype curve (see slide 14 of one of my recent decks), although I'd argue that Gartner should really be flagging the concept of location rather than just LB(M)S as there's far more to location than just the services that fall under the LBS or LBMS umbrella.
  • While only with 21% of total market share for mobile handsets, smartphones are benefiting from the headlong convergence of location sensor enabled devices, although the forecasts for such devices reaching critical mass in market share have so broad a range of timelines as to be pretty much useless for making any concrete projections.
  • The public's approach to location is moving away from Big Brother style hysteria and knee jerk reactions to acceptance of revealing one's location providing a suitable value proposition is made; the check-in phenenomena that is Gowalla and FourSquare are good exemplars of this in action.

Disagreement

However, let me also count the number of ways in which we differ significantly on the importance of the keywords "geo", "lbs" and "lbms" in domain names. * For the purposes of branding and marketing, a good domain name is still an essential facet of a company's digital engagement strategy. We're seeing a similar rush towards securing the right name on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as we saw in the glory days of the .com boom, though by no means to the same degree and by no means as blindly headlong. * But for the purposes of informing the type of information a user is looking for location is a key context and not the end game in itself, indeed I'd be happy to see the LBS and LBMS acronyms go away as they focus attention far more on the technology and far less on the context, experience and results that a user craves. * A significant percentage of online users equate the browsers icon on their desktop with the internet (hence the longevity of Internet Explorer 6 as a dominant browser). In the same vein, their prime source of searching for information is frequently a search engine, which is typically their browser's home page. * People tend to use a search engine to look for information rather than by typing a domain name into their browser's address bar (which explains why one of the dominant queries that Google handles is "google" or "google.com"); the search engine is becoming the internet in much the same way as the desktop browser icon used to be "the internet". * Whilst a user may type a well known brand name into their browser's address bar, frequently without the TLD, this still equates to a search as the browser either appends .com automagically or examines the entered URL for syntax and passes it onto the user's default search engine for handling. * Again, whilst geographical keywords are much sought after for search marketing purposes and command a high bid price as a result, I've not seen any evidence, either from research or anecdotally, to show that a geographical URL has benefit in the same way. Indeed from looking at www.london.com, the site is a hotel booking aggregator, with suspect use of Transport for London's Tube roundel logo and in the small print warns "This site and domain are not affiliated with or owned by any government or municipal authority". It's not a site I've even even been aware of nor known anyone use, ditto www.sanfrancisco.com and www.sanjose.com, two cities I frequently visit both as a tourist and for business.

So while the location industry may have embraced the terms geo, location based service, location based mobile service and their acronyms, these are vague and not well known outside of the industry, which is the target demographic. I can't see a need for use of the domain name system in this way.

Location is a key context that informs the user and helps to provide relevance, it's not the end game both in function or in the names and terms that describe it. I think Ed Parsons, Google's Geotechnologist summed it up rather neatly when he recently described location as equivalent to DNS ... "normal people use it every day but they (don't have to understand it) or see it's value" and I find the comparison to DNS particularly apt in this circumstance. Photo Credits: hypercatalecta and Werner Kunz on Flickr. Written at home (51.427051, -0.333344) and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006)

WhereCamp EU - The Geo Unconference Experience for 180 People

Entering the longitude and latitude above into one of the many online mapping sites on the web will  show you the St. Pancras branch of wallacespace, close to London's Euston and Kings Cross St. Pancras rail termini and seems a fitting and apt way to write a blog post about WhereCamp EU, the first geo unconference to be held in the United Kingdom and in Europe.

51° 31' 36.8364" N, 0° 7' 44.0466" W

Entering the longitude and latitude above into one of the many online mapping sites on the web will  show you the St. Pancras branch of wallacespace, close to London's Euston and Kings Cross St. Pancras rail termini and seems a fitting and apt way to write a blog post about WhereCamp EU, the first geo unconference to be held in the United Kingdom and in Europe.

WhereCamp is traditionally held in California's Silicon Valley after the Where 2.0 conference and is based on the BarCamp unconference ethic to be a counterpoint to the expensive and corporate outlook of Where 2.0. Last year, both myself and Chris Osborne were at both Where 2.0 and WhereCamp and both came up with the idea of "wouldn't it be great to bring WhereCamp to Europe?"

Tyler Bell, myself and Aaron Cope

Just under a year of planning, organising and wheedling cash out of sponsors, Chris and myself, with the support of the rest of the organising team, welcomed 180 people to Europe's first WhereCamp.

I was both proud and privileged to kick start things off with an introduction to how WhereCamp EU came to be, explaining to the slightly bemused but thoroughly enthusiastic audience just what an unconference is and how it all worked.

I'd decided that a good way to introduce the event would be to define where, unconference and WhereCamp EU: * where - the question asked by people when they try and work out how much it will cost to get to Where 2.0 and WhereCamp in Silicon Valley. * unconference - a conference without all the things you hate about conferences, such as massive corporate involvement, sales pitches and formality * WhereCamp EU - a two day, free unconference about all things geo, place and location

I then handed over to Chris who totally upstaged me with a gorgeous visualisation of how OpenStreetMap mapped Central London, courtesy of his day job with ITO.

The key to WhereCamp EU, just like any other unconference is "the wall", which is where the days of the conference are marked off in half an hour slots. An unconference is a user or participant driven conference; if you want to see what's going on, you check out the wall, if you want to participate, you grab a PostIt note, write your name and the talk title down, find a free slot on the wall and make sure you turn up on time. Participation is usually a brief talk followed by a, sometimes passionate, Q&A session, but it can also be an open forum discussion, a demonstration or some good old fashioned hacking.

The Wall

Unconferences are common in the US, where the concept originated, but less so in Europe, so the organising team made sure that we seeded the wall with initial talks to get things started and to show people how it worked. Our initial fears that the wall would remain empty were quickly quashed as a sea of yellow PostIts took over the wall, fuelled by a melee of talk proposers, anxious to get their talk into a free slot, and participants who wanted to see what the next session was all about.

My initial talk in the main room was on Location, LB(M)S, Hype, Stealth and Stuff and provided a series initial thinking points around the LBMS hype, around gathering stealth data and on how my Theory of Stuff validates the success and failure of location based ventures.

Yet again I was upstaged by the (err) creative and passionate talk titles which appeared on the wall.

The Problems With Metadata

After a totally exhausting day we retired to a local bar for geo-beers, courtesy of one of our sponsors, and to review the day. I wasn't able to make the second day of the unconference due to family commitments but my sources tell me it was an equal success.

High points for me were standing in front of a room full of people at the kick off session, a lot of whom had travelled a significant distance to be there; watching the ladies toilets being used furtively by the men; seeing the youngest participant in a conference I've even seen (3 months) and watching Hal Bertram from ITO produce jaw droppingly gorgeous data visualisations.

Out of all the things I've done in the geo industry, being involved with putting WhereCamp EU together has got to be a personal and professional high. It would be good to do it all over again next year wouldn't it ... ?

Deep In The Twitter (Developers) Nest

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.

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.

Mashup, Location and London

LBi in the old Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane for Mashup's Location ... It's Moving On. I've spoken at a Mashup event once or twice before but this time the organising team threw caution to the wind and asked me to chair the panel discussion.

Prior to kicking the panel discussion off, I attempted to gently suggest some topics to my fellow panelists that we might want to discuss.

We started off with a quick review of my Theory of Stuff and how it applies to deriving value from location and location data and briefly visited Gartner's hype curve which puts location based services on the so called Plateau of Productivity. This is a good thing apparently. I then presented the panel with a series of  "yes, but" style trade offs to mull over. * Smartphones vs. other phones; 21% of phones expected to have GPS by EOY 2009, but what about the other 79% without? * LBS and LBMS vs. other (older) location systems (APIs and so on); LBS and LBS apps get all the publicity but what about key location APIs, platforms and services? * "where's my friends" vs. creating value and creating data; "where's my friends" doesn't work as a (sole) business proposition but creating value added data does -- FourSquare and Gowalla are creating geotagged local business listings from check ins. * "where's my business" vs. location based advertising; Tesco and Starbucks are the latest companies to launch apps to drive customers to their premises, but what's needed to drive location based ads? * "where I think you are" vs. "where I say I am"; For a user, being able to be their own source of truth is imperative, but how can you reconcile this with your business needs? * "where you are" vs. "where you've been"; (AKA tracking vs. privacy) How to walk the fine line between providing enhanced relevance via a user's location and being accused of tracking them.

Last night I was at LBi in the old Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane for Mashup's Location ... It's Moving On. I've spoken at a Mashup event once or twice before but this time the organising team threw caution to the wind and asked me to chair the panel discussion.

Prior to kicking the panel discussion off, I attempted to gently suggest some topics to my fellow panelists that we might want to discuss.

We started off with a quick review of my Theory of Stuff and how it applies to deriving value from location and location data and briefly visited Gartner's hype curve which puts location based services on the so called Plateau of Productivity. This is a good thing apparently. I then presented the panel with a series of  "yes, but" style trade offs to mull over. * Smartphones vs. other phones; 21% of phones expected to have GPS by EOY 2009, but what about the other 79% without? * LBS and LBMS vs. other (older) location systems (APIs and so on); LBS and LBS apps get all the publicity but what about key location APIs, platforms and services? * "where's my friends" vs. creating value and creating data; "where's my friends" doesn't work as a (sole) business proposition but creating value added data does -- FourSquare and Gowalla are creating geotagged local business listings from check ins. * "where's my business" vs. location based advertising; Tesco and Starbucks are the latest companies to launch apps to drive customers to their premises, but what's needed to drive location based ads? * "where I think you are" vs. "where I say I am"; For a user, being able to be their own source of truth is imperative, but how can you reconcile this with your business needs? * "where you are" vs. "where you've been"; (AKA tracking vs. privacy) How to walk the fine line between providing enhanced relevance via a user's location and being accused of tracking them.

I was then joined by Chris Osborne (#geomob and Ito World), Alex Housely (Rummble), Jon Fisher (Vodafone), David Glennie (MIG) and Alan Patrick (Broadsight) for an hour's worth of lively, animated, opinionated and occasionally profane panel discussion, making the job of ring-mastering all the more challenging and a whole lot of fun at the same time.

The #mashupevent audience look on from the bowels of Brick Lane

The audience chimed in with a variety of questions, some pointed, some speculative and some downright rambling before we retired to the bar and then out to sample one of Brick Lane's finest curry houses; it's a shame we didn't find one of the finest but a decent post event wind down took place anyway in the basement of an establishment which had "Spice" in the name. I think.

All in all, a geotastic evening all round.

Written and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006) Update: 1 March 2010


It seems that the topic of the Mashup* event and the buzz of publicity that the team created on social media streams, including Twitter, were sufficient to get my introductory deck onto the Featured Presentations & Documents section of the SlideShare home page.

SlideShare Home Page Updated and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006)

Contextual Location (and Echoecho Redux)

recently wrote about echoecho, an SMS based location sharing service and rather dismissed it as another PlayTxt or DodgeBall, both of which are now shuttered, and argued that EchoEcho fails my Theory of Stuff.

Nick Bicanic, the CEO of Purpose Wireless, the company behind echoecho was good enough to look me up and drop me a long email commenting on my blog post and -- very politely -- pointed out that I might want to revisit my opinion of the service. An edited version of that email to me formed the basis of his latest blog post on the topic of location as a context.

I recently wrote about echoecho, an SMS based location sharing service and rather dismissed it as another PlayTxt or DodgeBall, both of which are now shuttered, and argued that EchoEcho fails my Theory of Stuff.

Nick Bicanic, the CEO of Purpose Wireless, the company behind echoecho was good enough to look me up and drop me a long email commenting on my blog post and -- very politely -- pointed out that I might want to revisit my opinion of the service. An edited version of that email to me formed the basis of his latest blog post on the topic of location as a context.

Trapped in an echo of light So have I done echoecho a disservice? Quite possibly ... to find out I (re)installed it on my iPhone and onto my BlackBerry.

(intriguing aside 1: it's a novel experience to have to install onto two devices to test out a service. Not a bad thing. Just different).

As Nick pointed out "it's not all that fair to describe a new service by saying what it isn't - so let me tell you what it is. echoecho allows you to ask and answer the question where are you? as easily and simply as possible ... that's it ... think of it as a cross between a permission based SMS and a tweet - the idea is that it becomes as easy and ubiquitous as SMS."

After playing with echoecho (and according to Nick it is all lowercase and not WikiWord style) I really like the service. It's simple, it's elegant, it's very easy to use and I can see myself using this with friends and family. Heck, if my Mum actually remembered to turn her mobile on then she could use this and use it easily. Yes, it's restricted to a range of smart phones (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and so on) but the same applies to a whole plethora of LBMS.

(intriguing aside 2: the installation on my BlackBerry kept on repeatedly prompting me to view permissions and once viewed and saved prompted me to view and save permissions. Repeat until bored. A hard reboot of the handset fixed this finally. I don't envy people doing BlackBerry development). Echo Tunnel But let's go back to the Theory of Stuff for a moment; where does the money come from? It's a free service so you can't (directly) monetize the People. You're not tracking your audience's location (and Nick assures me they're not) and there's no additional data to derive, such as local business listings or a set of geotagged POIs, which is a (mostly hidden) side effect of FourSquare and Gowalla who seem to find themselves the poster-child(ren) of LBMS at the moment.

So at face value, much as I admire the simplicity of echoecho, I initially came to the conclusion that the service fails the Theory of Stuff but with a caveat. If there's something clever going on under the hood that's not immediately apparent to the casual observer or if there's a way of getting People to make Stuff through the service then echoecho might pass the Theory.

Nick agreed with me, "Clearly if the app is free then the money can't come from the app. But that's a failure only in the most immediate literal sense. By that logic every freemium model is a failure during its free stage".

All of the above has shown that there's a need for at least one caveat to the Theory of Stuff, which should state that the Theory should only be applied if there's an attempt to monetize. echoecho isn't and should, for the time being at least, be exempt.

But there is definitely something clever going on under the hood, a bi-directional open API location sharing service. It's that platform that echoecho is built on top of and it's that platform that I'm going to be watching very closely indeed to see what comes out of Purpose Wireless. And of course I'll be looking to apply the Theory of Stuff to that offering.

Photo credits: katachthonios and sayzey on Flickr. Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

I Can't Get No Sleep

And here we are. Half past two in the morning. I can't get no sleep.

A slight mangling of the lyrics to the Faithless classic, Insomnia, as Maxi Jazz lamented about being wide awake at 3.30 AM whereas I am most definitely awake an hour earlier. And not for the first time either.

This is what happens when I wake up and thoughts for my next location talk starts fizzing in my mind, unbidden. Sometimes the only solution is to get up, set them down on paper and head back to bed.

"I'm wide awake in my kitchen, it's black and I'm lonely, oh, if I could only get some sleep, creaky noises make my skin creep, I need to get some sleep, I can't get no sleep ..."

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

"And here we are, half past two in the morning. I can't get no sleep"

And here we are. Half past two in the morning. I can't get no sleep.

A slight mangling of the lyrics to the Faithless classic, Insomnia, as Maxi Jazz lamented about being wide awake at 3.30 AM whereas I am most definitely awake an hour earlier. And not for the first time either.

This is what happens when I wake up and thoughts for my next location talk starts fizzing in my mind, unbidden. Sometimes the only solution is to get up, set them down on paper and head back to bed.

"I'm wide awake in my kitchen, it's black and I'm lonely, oh, if I could only get some sleep, creaky noises make my skin creep, I need to get some sleep, I can't get no sleep ..."

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Location is a Key Context, But Most People Don't Know This

Like a lot of people, I get most of the information I use, both personally and professionally, from the web; from RSS feeds, from keyword search alerts and from Twitter. The genesis of my recent Theory of Stuff slowly accumulated out of this mishmash of feeds, alerts and status updates.Firstly I read about EchoEcho, a new location based service which promises all manner of good stuff by showing you where your friends are regardless of which location based service they currently use. Let's leave aside for one moment that the service independence of this app seems to be based around the concept of getting all your friends to use EchoEcho and then consistently getting them to report their location. Let's look at something far more fundamental than that, the strong sense of location deja vu harking back over two years ago. Haven't we been here before?

Hindsight seems to have proven that concepts such as "who's nearby" and "show me where my friends are" aren't, on their own, enough to build a business around. The brief flare of enthusiasm over services which tried this approach such as PlayTxt and DodgeBall were soon extinguished as users, fickle as they are, got bored and moved onto the next big thing.Then there were two articles looking at "checking in", both looking at FourSquare and Gowalla but each one coming at it from wildly differing ends of the experience. On the one hand, there was Business Week quoting the eye watering "I don't feel complete unless I check in" from FourSquare, Gowalla and Yelp addict Diane Bisgeier. Though the article focuses on this as a San Francisco and the Bay Area phenomenon, this has crossed the Atlantic with vigorous checking in going on in the UK and in mainland Europe. I may even have contributed to this, from time to time.A totally contrasting view was shown by Andrew Hyde who was fed up of "the needless ego boost" of saying where he was and "committed location based suicide" by deleting his accounts from FourSquare and Gowalla. We'll leave to one side the irony that this was done very publicly and with an accompanying blog post.All of the above moved Thierry Gregorius to lament that "if 'normal' people don't see the point of location-based services, how can the geo-industry claim being mainstream?". A valid point but one which confuses the very visible front end view of location, as seen in LBMS and the less visible back end view of location. Ed Parsons summed this up succinctly by comparing back end location with the DNS system, which "normal people don't see the value of but use every day".It was these three themes, "who's nearby" as a raison d'etre alone, maintaining an audience by check-ins alone and selling location based services to a wide audience that made me sit down and write up my Theory of Stuff. The full text of this is in a previous post, but the short version of the theory states that in order for a business to succeed you need three things, some Stuff, be it data, inventory or something else, some People, your audience and some Secret Sauce which allows you to connect the audience to the stuff in a bidirectional manner. So how do these three themes fare against the theory of stuff? Surprisingly and thankfully, they all seem to validate it.The concepts of "who's nearby" and "where are my friends" on their own, fail the theory of stuff. You have People, and in some cases a very large and quickly growing audience. You have some Secret Sauce which connects those People via their locations. But because there's no Stuff to start with and the secret sauce isn't bidirectional, no Stuff is created. The effect of this is that monetization opportunities are non existent or severely limited and the service isn't sustainable. Both PlayText and DodgeBall are no more and the omens aren't looking good for EchoEcho as a result.Then there's FourSquare and Gowalla, both of whom seem to have been inspired by Google. Cast your mind back to when Google announced the concept of Street View which was met with sneers and derision from some. Before Street View even went live it was written off as a loss leader, a waste of time and money and it would be Google's white elephant.Others of us in the location industry took one look at a Street View car and noted that the cameras weren't just pointing parallel to the road surface to take photos of surrounding buildings. They were also pointing at the road and up at the road signage which, when combined with the fact that the (GPS, cell tower and wifi triangulation equipped) StreetView cars actually had to drive down the streets in question, would provide Google with their own mapping data that was also capable of powering routing and direction algorithms. A short while later and Google completes enough of North America to remove the need for TeleAtlas mapping data and makes massive savings on data licensing into the bargain.Street View passes the Theory of Stuff by providing new Stuff to be connected and monetized by their existing Secret Sauce and the People who make up their substantial audience.It would be easy to dismiss FourSquare and Gowalla as more up to date versions of the "where are my friends" service. While they seem to have created the current cultural phenomenon of checking in, which may well be their lasting legacy, both services have their own quirks (FourSquare's Mayors and Badges and Gowalla's items) and need to show they're capable of holding onto their existing audience and growing it, substantially. So this surely means that both FourSquare and Gowalla fail the Theory of Stuff? Not necessarily. Just as StreetView generated valuable Stuff for Google, so both FourSquare and Gowalla are also generating a detailed set of local business listings and points of interest, all of them neatly categorised and geotagged as a bonus. That's a lot of very valuable Stuff. This doesn't seem to have been something that's been noticed or commented on as much as it should be. If both these services can retain their audience and if they connect them with all the Stuff that is being captured and generated via Secret Sauce then they can most definitely pass the Theory of Stuff.The idea that location is analogous to the Domain Name System is slightly more challenging to fit into the Theory of Stuff's model but it's still possible.In the previous two themes, location has been the dominant factor in the provision of a service (PlayText, Dodgeball, FourSquare and Gowalla) or location data has been generated in order to create Stuff (FourSquare and Gowalla). In the DNS theme, location is not the prime reason for a service to exist, it's a context, part of the Secret Sauce, that helps the service provide its users with relevant information. This was highlighted by Kevin Marks and JP Rangaswami in last year's excellent The Impact of Context on the Mobile User Experience discussion at the Heroes of the Mobile Screen conference in London. Of course, you still need Stuff and People in order for this to work; Secret Sauce on its own is not a recipe for success.As nomadic devices have proliferated, the difference between The Web and The Mobile Web have vanished; it's just the web, regardless of how you experience it. A parallel can be drawn here with location. As location becomes more and more ubiquitous so the whole concept of a Location Based (Mobile) Service will also vanish, at least as a label. Location will just be a context. And there's nothing wrong with that; quite the reverse, as the location industry will have achieved their aim of ubiquity, of providing a service and information that everyone uses but which no one actually bothers to think about it being there.Photo Credits: Angelskdpstyles and leff on FlickrWritten and posted from  Yahoo! campus, Sunnyvale, California (51.5143913, -0.1287317) Posted via email from Gary's Posterous

The Location Battle Between You and Your Phone

privacy implications inherent in sharing your location with an app or service, I keep coming back to the idea that it's essential to be your own source of truth for your location. This is a slightly verbose way of saying that you need to be able to lie about your location or that you need to be able to say "no, I really am here" despite what other location contexts such as GPS, cell tower triangulation or public wifi MAC address triangulation may have to say on the matter.Of course, it's never quite as straightforward as that and here's why. The two location based mobile services that are getting a lot of coverage at the moment are FourSquare and Gowalla.

Whenever I talk about the privacy implications inherent in sharing your location with an app or service, I keep coming back to the idea that it's essential to be your own source of truth for your location. This is a slightly verbose way of saying that you need to be able to lie about your location or that you need to be able to say "no, I really am here" despite what other location contexts such as GPS, cell tower triangulation or public wifi MAC address triangulation may have to say on the matter.Of course, it's never quite as straightforward as that and here's why. The two location based mobile services that are getting a lot of coverage at the moment are FourSquare and Gowalla.

They both rely on their users checking into a location by saying "here I am" and as a neat side effect they're generating a geo-tagged set of local business and POI listings, thus verifying and adhering to my Theory of Stuff. But more about that in my next post, for now let's concentrate on their user's location.Much has been made of FourSquare's approach to checking in; you're presented with a list of places nearby, generated according to your A-GPS location, for you to check into. But you can also search for places and check into them as well. Some commentators view this as a failing in their model, allowing for someone to check in to a location and maintain their Mayor status, from their comfort of their own sofa. Now granted if you wish to game FourSquare this will allow you to do so, but it also allows you to be your own source of truth. I've lost count of the number of times I've stood in the middle of the concourse in London's Waterloo Station and Waterloo has not been amongst the choices of place that FourSquare presents me to check into, yet I've been able to do so by searching for the place and then forcing FourSquare to accept that "yes, I really am here".Gowalla takes a different approach and relies entirely on the accuracy of the A-GPS system on my phone. If your phone doesn't agree with you on the matter of location then you can't check in, as the screen capture below shows.

I'm currently in California visiting the Yahoo! mothership; at the time when I took this screenshot I was seated in Yahoo! Building E, which already exists as a spot in Gowalla. My iPhone disagreed with me and insistent I was some 120 meters away in the middle of the Lockheed Martin parking lot on nearby Moffett Field and as a result it just wouldn't let me check in. FourSquare, also taking its cue from the A-GPS on my iPhone had the same problem but was quite happy to let me override this and check in to its version of the Yahoo! Building E place.So which approach provides the best user experience? I'd strongly argue that the Gowalla approach frustrates users by effectively saying I know better than you, whilst FourSquare's approach, whilst able to be gamed and abused, allows the user to insist that they do know best in these circumstances. Only time will tell which approach will succeed, but being your own source of  truth continues to be of major significance when sharing your location with the world at large.Written at the Sheraton Hotel, Sunnyvale, California (37.37159, -122.03824) and posted from the Yahoo! campus, Sunnyvale, California (51.5143913, -0.1287317)
Posted via email from Gary's Posterous

It's Time to Stop LAMB (Location Based SPAM) Before It Even Exists

SPAM, the unwanted and unsolicited commercial bulk emails that are the reason we have Junk Mail filters and folders in our email clients and servers. A quick glance at the Junk folder for my personal email account shows over 300 of these since the beginning of February alone. If you use some form of instant messenger, be it MSN, Yahoo!, ICQ, AOL or any of the others on the market, you've probably come across SPIM, Instant Messaging SPAM. Then there's also mobile phone SPAM via text messages, comment SPAM, the list goes on and on. We're poised to start seeing a new form of SPAM raise its ugly head. Let's call it LAMB for now, Location Based Advertising SPAM. As Ed Parsons pointed out on his blog yesterday, Apple are banning location based advertising in apps. "If you build your application with features based on a user’s location, make sure these features provide beneficial information. If your app uses location-based information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on a user’s location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store." This is a good first step in locking down potential abuses of a technology before it has a chance to get out of control. The reason we have SPAM and all the other variants in the first place is that the underlying technologies were designed in an open manner with no control mechanisms in place to thwart unsolicited and unwanted messages and content. But we need to go further than this.

We all suffer from SPAM, the unwanted and unsolicited commercial bulk emails that are the reason we have Junk Mail filters and folders in our email clients and servers. A quick glance at the Junk folder for my personal email account shows over 300 of these since the beginning of February alone. If you use some form of instant messenger, be it MSN, Yahoo!, ICQ, AOL or any of the others on the market, you've probably come across SPIM, Instant Messaging SPAM. Then there's also mobile phone SPAM via text messages, comment SPAM, the list goes on and on. We're poised to start seeing a new form of SPAM raise its ugly head. Let's call it LAMB for now, Location Based Advertising SPAM. As Ed Parsons pointed out on his blog yesterday, Apple are banning location based advertising in apps. "If you build your application with features based on a user’s location, make sure these features provide beneficial information. If your app uses location-based information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on a user’s location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store." This is a good first step in locking down potential abuses of a technology before it has a chance to get out of control. The reason we have SPAM and all the other variants in the first place is that the underlying technologies were designed in an open manner with no control mechanisms in place to thwart unsolicited and unwanted messages and content. But we need to go further than this.

The first time you use a location aware app on an iPhone, it asks your permission in nice, unthreatening language; it "would like to use your current location". What this actually means is that it wants to use, and continue to use, your precise location to the finest level of granularity that the A-GPS system on the phone is able to deliver at the time it's being requested. There's no way of halting this process temporarily, of being your own source of truth for your location (AKA lying about your location) or of controlling this on a per application basis. You can only reset asking this permission for all apps and for the entire phone via the Settings app. Although some well behaved apps such as TweetDeck do allow you to disable use of location information altogether as as well as on a per Tweet basis.

What we really need is to see is a way to set location granularity, including no location information at all, on a per app basis in much the same way as Fire Eagle currently does. And for all apps on all location aware platforms, not just Apple's and the iPhone's.

Some may argue that requiring such a degree of choice and intervention by the user may raise the barrier to entry to such a degree that an app doesn't reach such a large audience. It's a valid argument but as part of the location industry, I believe that we need to find the middle ground between irking the user once per app and letting LAMB loose on the world which has the possibility of irking the user multiple times per hour.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344) Posted via email from Gary's Posterous

The Theory of Stuff

Anne Elk (Miss), I have a theory. I call it my Theory of Stuff. I'm sure that other people, far more learned and erudite than I, have articulated such a theory but I've yet to come across any evidence for this and for now at least, it remains mine and it contains three buckets, looking something like this:

Once again, this is not the post I set out to write. The one I set out to write was called "In Search of Location's Sweet Spot" and it's sitting in draft and not yet posted. That's because before I can submit that post I need to write this one as a warm up act. Just like Anne Elk (Miss)I have a theory. I call it my Theory of Stuff. I'm sure that other people, far more learned and erudite than I, have articulated such a theory but I've yet to come across any evidence for this and for now at least, it remains mine and it contains three buckets, looking something like this:

On the far left hand side we have the stuff bucket. Whilst stuff may sound vague, it's entirely intentional. Stuff is defined as a collection or set of items, things or matter. Though I was focussing primarily on location data and location based mobile services, this applies equally well to other businesses and markets. It could be stock, inventory, left handed widgets or a plethora of other things. On the far right hand side we have people bucket. The exact number of people doesn't matter, for small businesses the number will probably be small and for large businesses the number will be, err, larger. These people are your customers, your audience. Hopefully they have money as well. And then in the middle we have the secret sauce bucket. Again, it doesn't matter what this is but it's very important to look at what the secret sauce actually does.

In order for your business to succeed, you need to have all three of these buckets in place. Have people and secret sauce but no stuff? Fail. Have stuff and secret sauce but no people? Fail. You get the idea. Take a look at every business that is succeeding, especially those that are online and where the stuff bucket contains data, and you'll see that they have all three buckets in place. Take a look at those businesses which have failed or are failing, especially those that are online, and you either see one bucket missing or there's just not enough of it. Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344) Posted via email from Gary's Posterous

Location and Privacy - Where Do We Care?

Terry Jones, Audrey Mandela and Ian Broadbent, chaired and overseen by conference chair Steven Feldman. Our location is probably the single most valuable facet of our online identity, although where I currently am, whilst interesting, is far less valuable and  personal than where I've been. Where I've been, if stored, monitored and analysed, provides a level of insight into my real world activities that transcends the other forms of insight and targeting that are directed at my online activities, such as behavioural and demographic analysis.Where I've been, my location stream if you will, is a convergence of online and real world identity and should not be revealed, ignored or given away without thought and without consent.In the real world we unconsciously provide differing levels of granularity in our social engagements when we answer the seemingly trivial question "where have you been?". To our family and close friends we may give a detailed reply ... "I was out with colleagues from work at Browns on St. Martin's Lane, London", to other friends and colleagues we may give a more circumspect reply ... "I was out in the Covent Garden area" and to acquaintances, a more generalised reply ... "I was in Central London" or even "mind your own business"As with the real world, so we should choose to reveal our location to applications and to companies online with differing levels of granularity, including the ability to be our own source of truth and to conceal ourselves entirely, in other words, to lie about where I am. Where I am in the real world should be revealed to the online world only on an opt-in basis, carefully considered and with an eye on the value proposition that is being given to me on the basis of revealing my location to a third party. My location is mine and mine alone and I should never have to opt out of revealing where am I and where I've been. Posted via email from Gary's Posterous

As part of this year's AGI GeoCommunity '09 conference, I took part in the Privacy: Where Do We Care? panel on location and the implications for privacy with Terry Jones, Audrey Mandela and Ian Broadbent, chaired and overseen by conference chair Steven Feldman. Our location is probably the single most valuable facet of our online identity, although where I currently am, whilst interesting, is far less valuable and  personal than where I've been. Where I've been, if stored, monitored and analysed, provides a level of insight into my real world activities that transcends the other forms of insight and targeting that are directed at my online activities, such as behavioural and demographic analysis.Where I've been, my location stream if you will, is a convergence of online and real world identity and should not be revealed, ignored or given away without thought and without consent.In the real world we unconsciously provide differing levels of granularity in our social engagements when we answer the seemingly trivial question "where have you been?". To our family and close friends we may give a detailed reply ... "I was out with colleagues from work at Browns on St. Martin's Lane, London", to other friends and colleagues we may give a more circumspect reply ... "I was out in the Covent Garden area" and to acquaintances, a more generalised reply ... "I was in Central London" or even "mind your own business"As with the real world, so we should choose to reveal our location to applications and to companies online with differing levels of granularity, including the ability to be our own source of truth and to conceal ourselves entirely, in other words, to lie about where I am. Where I am in the real world should be revealed to the online world only on an opt-in basis, carefully considered and with an eye on the value proposition that is being given to me on the basis of revealing my location to a third party. My location is mine and mine alone and I should never have to opt out of revealing where am I and where I've been. Posted via email from Gary's Posterous

Deliciousness: more bacon, UK geek location, your PIN number, birds tweeting, Ohio as a piano, OMG and WTF and UNIX turns 40.

Delicious.

A semi regular, almost weekly, trawl through the latest stuff on the interwebs bookmarked on Delicious.

An Unscientific View of Location Usage in London

Yahoo! Geo Technologies sponsored, London #geomob meetup coming up this week, this weekend I took a look at how many companies were actively using location within London. No easy task. After much web searching this weekend I took a trawl through those companies tagged as being in London in CrunchBase, the database of tech companies that TechCrunch operates.

Not strictly scientific but then again this is more about gauging a trend than being strictly empirical.

With the Yahoo! Geo Technologies sponsored, London #geomob meetup coming up this week, this weekend I took a look at how many companies were actively using location within London. No easy task. After much web searching this weekend I took a trawl through those companies tagged as being in London in CrunchBase, the database of tech companies that TechCrunch operates.

Not strictly scientific but then again this is more about gauging a trend than being strictly empirical.

crunchbase_thumbnailMinor detour; in CrunchBase you can search for companies by location with London being flagged as a popular city. For the first page of London companies this works fine, with all the companies being shown within the boundary of the M25 on an embedded Google map. But on the second page it would seem that rather than geocoding the company address, CrunchBase are either doing keyword matching on tokenised text, picking up London Ontario or using the address of a parent company in the continental US. Whatever is happening it looks very odd when a company with an address in London WC2 is shown in Kansas.

The executive summary is that one of the prime drivers, and one presumes source of direct or indirect monetisation, is real eastate and property search, either as a direct USP for a site or as a side effect of a social network community. Another is that Google Maps API integration continues to dominate, both from a geocoding API perspective and as a geospatial presentation layer. I'm also particularly pleased to see innovators within this domain recognise the benefits and appeal of integrating with Fire Eagle, with the disclosure that I'm both a massive fan of Fire Eagle and work for the group within Yahoo! which provides the geotechnology which underpins the Fire Eagle platform.

Adviva

Online ad network offering geotargeted campaigns.

Archlight Media Technology

Operates Zoomf, a property search engine allowing searches tailored to a range of geo granularities from city to postcode district, though not to postcode sector or unit.

Cheapflights.com

Flight price search and comparison engine; allows geo search by country, city, resort and airport name and IATA code.

Chinwag

Not a location user per se but a media community platform which is particularly strong in championing LBS/LBMS and location in general.

Dopplr

Travel sharing platform with Fire Eagle integration.

Dothomes

Real estate search engine allowing searches tailored to range of granularities from city to postcode district, but again not to postcode sector or unit.

Mapness

Online travel journal sharing platform. Places/locations are geotagged within each entry via the Google Maps API.

My Neighbourhoods

Service allowing users to find out more about the area in which they live. The service would appear to support full postcode search, which implies PAF licensing, but searches are truncated to postcode district. Biased towards property search, which is supplied via Nestoria.

Rightmove

The "UK's number one property website"; property searching can be selected by county, city/town/village, borough/suburb, postcode district (again full postcode search is claimed but not implemented) and some POIs. Searches can also be constrained at a distance from the focus of the search.

Rummble

A location based discovery tool and social search platform which is integrated with Fire Eagle.

School of Everything

Social networking platform which attempts to match tutors with pupils by subject and location.

Where Are You Now?

Travel based social networking platform, which is directly competing with TripUp, HereOrThere and TravelMuse, allowing 'friends' met whilst travelling to keep in touch.

Here Or There?

Travel based social networking platform, using Yahoo! Maps based location identification and geotagging.

WorkHound

Job and recruitment inventory platform; offering job searches by county, city/town/village, borough/suburb and postcode district. Searches can also be constrained at a distance from the focus of the search.

Nestoria

Home and property search engine which aggregates content from property portals. Used by Google as a Maps showcase and Yahoo! as a YUI showcase. Nestoria has also recently launched where-can-i-live.com which uses OpenStreetMap as the preferred Maps API and presentation layer.

GeoPostcodes

A ZIP and postcode search engine which offers geocoded databases of localities, ZIPs (to district level), admin hierarchies and subdivisions and centroids in 60 countries. As an example the Jan 2009 update for the UK, with ~37,000 records is on offer for EUR 29.95/GBP 28.00/USD 39.00.