Monthly Archives: December 2009

Simple Interface + Rich Content

The Government 2.0 Taskforce “Mashup Australia” Competition closed some time ago and roughly 2 weeks ago the winners were announced. I have held off commenting on the winning applications due to work and a little bit of gloominess in that my help in a submission only rated 3 stars. (http://mashupaustralia.org/mashups/locate-me/)

The number of entries to the Mashup Australia competition attracted 82 entries ranging from web page mashups to mobile applications. Some were complicated and others were simple to use. A favourite of mine was the ‘Meat in the Park’ (http://meatinapark.appspot.com/) application which quite simply allowed you to find a public BBQ and invite friend so you can have a picnic. Very simple interface, rich content and specific outcome.

The winning application, the Suburban Trends mapper http://www.suburbantrends.com.au/ showed that with a little bit of effort and a focus on user design that a complicated application could be quite simple to use. This application, like so many others combined Australian Bureau of Statistics data, location services and other datasets and presented this in map form. The application took the mashup approach one step further and applied dashboard style indicators to give the user a quick overview of their desired area. Not unique in the approach although commendable in the layout, colours and use. Certainly something for all of us is to think about is the intended audience and their technology prowess (or potentially lack of). They say you only have 8 seconds to grab someone’s attention on a website so the aim is to get it right and this application gets it right and better yet it was developed by a student!

With the push to open data policies and location aware data, a very significant mashup utilised typically non spatial data and combined this with location to produce ‘In Their Honour’. This mashup is dedicated to the service men and women who fought and died for Australia by allowing the user to search for their final resting place. http://mashupaustralia.org/mashups/in-their-honour/

A very powerful mashup that is easy to see why it won the peoples award.

I commend all entries to the Mashup Australia competition and with the Apps4Gov awards in NSW and other competitions that are springing up all over the place 2010 seems to be moving towards to social mapping/media space. With data access on the increase, content and rich content is at the fingertips for anyone who wants it. The challenge moving forward is to utilise the data in such a way that makes it easy to find, use and interpret!

Engage!

Attrib: Government 2.0 Taskforce Draft Report 2009. http://gov2.net.au/

It was with great excitement that I downloaded the preliminary draft report on the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce a couple of days ago and yet it is with some sadness that I write this post. ‘Engage – Getting on with Government 2.0’ report details the taskforces findings on where Australia should be moving in the area of open access to public sector information (PSI). The document is a long read even only if you skim through or read the executive summary which in my opinion is one of the biggest pitfalls in government where great work gets lost in translation. Web 2.0 and Government 2.0 is about interaction, engagement and fostering cultural change through collaboration, open access to data and the crowd-sourcing interaction with data. So why is it that the community we are trying to engage with gets lost along the ride through these large cumbersome documents? If anything Web 2.0 is about simplicity and interaction, certainly not segregating your audience to those who have the patience to read through an engagement plan and those who do not.

  1. This report is a step in the right direction and I do not want to tarnish the effort the taskforce in writing this although I feel that there are lacking components: Where is WA in the scheme of things? Ok as a sandgroper I take this one to heart although it must be noted that as this report details the undertakings of stage government initiatives, WA is no where to be seen. Poor form if the Shared Land Information Platform (SLIP http://www.landgate.wa.gov.au/slip/) doesn’t get a mentioned through a report detailing and promoting open access to public sector data. To that, one might even say where is LIST in Tasmania? (http://www.thelist.tas.gov.au/)
  2. Integration methods. Knowing; through experience how long it can take to successfully integrate data together before it becomes usable it was with a heavy sigh that I could not find reference to having the designated “lead agency”, lead in a common integration framework. The report details interoperability between differences systems and data that is used in these systems yet what I have found key to interoperability is the integration of data. For a very long time governments and the private sector have had interoperability through sharing data manually and transforming the data to meet systems, yet ease of integration especially through a web 2.0 framework must have its place in the sun. Surely this is where location system and spatial data should have been referenced (and included as terms in the glossary!)
  3. Governance. A lead agency concept is recommended through the report and I’m sure governance will be a requirement. If this is the case, I would like to see governance by government meeting community and business needs be a driving factor. Opening access to data invites scrutiny and misinterpretation. Governance on how data should and could be used and importantly fed back will be a success factor going forward.

And finally: ‘Information’. Data sharing and opening access through creative common frameworks is a great step although if we cannot capture data through governance frameworks, if it cannot easily be integrated then it is difficult to derive information from the data that will inform government, inform policy and inform the community. Information that is easily understood and acted upon will drive a proactive, engaged Australian information economy. To this I recommend reading the report and providing feedback into the future directions.

Where did I go at 1am in the morning?

The Answer, the O’Reilly Where 2.0 Online Conference. (http://en.oreilly.com/wherefall09/). This was an online conference focused on utilisation of the Apple iPhone sensors and how applications can easily be built to use these sensors in weird and wonderful ways. Quite an insightful conference and I was amazed at how awake I was particularly at 1am in the morning.

So why I would attend an online conference particularly at 1am in the morning?

  1. Most importantly, allows me to attend in my PJs as the conference was run on New York time,
  2. Online participation is exceedingly high. No more waiting for someone to stand up and ask that first question. Just type away!
  3. Can save the presentations as they are given.
  4. My work did not want to fork out the costs of sending me over to America.

The online conference turned out to be a bit of a code fest although I did gain some pretty insightful knowledge in what goes into building an application. It was especially interesting to see how the sensors are being used and what the developers would like to see added. So lesson one, these are the sensors in your modern iPhone:

  1. The Accelerometer – This pivots and turns the screen based on the movement of the iPhone,
  2. The Magnetometer – The digital compass in the 3Gs and the basis of many new and cool applications for the iPhone.
    Magnetometer Settings

  3. The GPS Reciever – this is what give you your location although the phone refers back to triangulation (~700m accuracy) when you don’t have clear line of sight to the sky.
  4. The Proximity sensor – This turns the screen off so you don’t accidentally hang up while talking to someone on the phone!

The Where 2.0 conference setup this dedicated session on the iPhone as it is the most dominate ‘smart’ phone in Australia (and most places in the world for that matter) and for the fact that more spatial data requests and captures will happen on devices like these in the future than from traditional GIS desktop applications.  In fact it was predicted back in 1999 by Max Egenhofer speaking at the 1st Brazillian Workshop on GeoInformatics (http://www.spatial.maine.edu/~max/pubs.html) that the smart phone would be the leading GIS device of the future

“Spatial Information Appliances – portable tools for professional users and a public audience alike, relying on fundamentally different interaction metaphors: Smart Compasses that point users into the direction of certain points of interest, Smart Horizons that allow users to look beyond their real-world field of view or Geo-Wands – intelligent geographic pointers that allow users to identify geographic objects by pointing towards them”

Ref: Simon R., Fröhlich P. & Anegg H., Beyond Location Based – The Spatially Aware Mobile Phone (http://userver.ftw.at/~froehlich/papers/Beyond_Location_Based_W2GIS.pdf)

Sounds pretty cool hey? Lesson two, it may not be widely known in the spatial sector since we generally deal with top end GNSS receivers but companies like Apple and Nokia alike are the biggest GPS receiver sellers and consumers in the world. Knowing this I feel that it would almost be right in saying that these companies are the new leaders in GPS and navigation. Certainly mobile mapping is the new fad and with so many people out there collecting and geo-tagging information it seems likely that this is the new way for us to collect information.

It was nice to listen and provide input into this conference considering in each presentation, ‘location’ was key to the applications being talked about and how the future would be built around utilisation of GPS to a higher degree. At around 4am in the morning I perked up at mention of a new iPhone application called ‘Theodolite’. http://hunter.pairsite.com/theodolite/

Imagine this, a surveying term wrapped up in a surveying application for the iPhone. Ok, now I know the GPS receiver in the iPhone is accurate to ~40 metres and so this isn’t a surveying application but the future looks bright.

I talked about Wikitude and a little on augmented reality in a previous post and attending this conference re-assured me that this new technology can really make it in this mobile mapping, smart phone, social media age. I don’t think we will be calling our phones “GeoWands” in the future but damm they are cool.