Category Archives: Technology

GSDI 12 – Embracing Social Media

For those who are into Spatial Data Infrastructures you are know doubt aware of GSDI 12 (Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association) which is occurring in Singapore later this year. This conference is the 12th running and is themed ‘Realising Spatial Enabled Societies’ and I highly recommend attending as with the growth of social media, societies seem only one (large) step away from fully realising the benefits of location/spatial in day to day operations.

It is with great interest on the promotion of this even that the organisers have embraced twitter (@GSDI12) and is even using You Tube as a means to market what is happening for GSDI. As a twitter user I have been following the thread with great interest and glad to see that the updates come thick and fast throughout the weeks and are not intermittent. This keeps it fresh in my mind and even leads me to blogging about it.

Usage of social media as a means of business marketing in my mind I feel is underutilised in Australia. A statistic that I came across this morning is that 75% of SME do not use social media to advertise their business, (http://bit.ly/dynJtA) yet I find the potential to connect people to place via these mediums allows marketing spend to be targeted to those demographics businesses want to attract. It is with this last thought that I sit back and reflect on the importance of spatial/location. Yes as an industry we realise the importance on adding location as a tag into all data types although listening to a colleague yesterday, if we want to realise a spatially enabled society we need to draw out the benefits to those outside of our industry in a simple, clear way. When comparing adding location tags to data against other tags such as gender, age, nationality, what takes precedence in determining where our limited resources in data collection go?

Technology is enabling the embedding of location to become simpler. Simple user interfaces, better data infrastructures and enabling technologies to bond data between the business and the user is happening. Data infrastructures built on spatial technologies could become a key enabler for social media to expand out from current mass media and advertising markets. Imagine collecting bird sightings through a social media page rather than separate websites to track where endangered species are located in order to facilitate discussion on urban planning. Social media pages such as facebook currently get more ‘visits’ than the Google home page. In planning data infrastructure the time is right to ensure that the information being linked can also link to social media in order to enable the innovative use of data within these sites.

We are good at linking data and we need to get better at linking into current trends and enabling better evidence to be used online. I’m sure there will be many discussions in this space at GSDI 12. I look forward to seeing you there.

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App My State: Victoria

It is no surprise to see that more and more application creation competitions are popping up all over Australia in response to the global push to release and access more public sector information (PSI). Victoria is the latest state to launch a competition for innovative application that showcase the best use of PSI data.

Map My State (http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/app-my-state.html) launched by the Premier of Victoria in late February is designed to run for 8 weeks and award prizes based on youth, sustainability, popular choice and an open category.

The Mashup Australia and Apps4NSW competitions proved to be quite popular (Apps4NSW is still open for those interested:
http://www.information.nsw.gov.au/apps4nsw) although one component that sets the App My State competition apart from the rest is hidden in the terms and conditions where only Victorians can enter. Still that hasn’t deterred me from trying (being from Western Australia) and one can only hope that the organisers of this competition realise that idea’s can spring up from anywhere and still benefit Victoria.

Personally I like the idea of open innovation and how these ideas to be tested amongst the public in an open forum. Mobile applications, the web, interaction and social networking are the mediums where new information is quickly released and facilitates a very smart path to reaching critical mass. These competitions have even pathed the way for new innovative businesses to take advantage of this push for open data. Kaggle.com.au is an example of an innovaive business structured around this style of competition. Data has to go somewhere doesn’t it?

The change we have seen in this industry over the last 2 years has heightened the core element of “location” and its importance to how information can be accessed and integrated creating a common understanding. Visual interpretation of information via maps has allowed a large audience to grasp the understanding and meaning of data and how it relates to the day to day life of you and me.

Let’s face it; the public are the ones who would get the most use out of information so it will be interesting to see what this competition brings us.

Google’s Location Patent

How much power can one company have? With the news of Google being awarded their patent for embedding location into their advertising model I wonder what the future will be for businesses using ‘location’ in advertising their offerings.

Location is a core element in today’s information society and has been integral to almost all aspects of development in the past. Maps, Addresses etc.. are core in finding where I am and where I am going to. In a business sense, the location of the business is key to selling goods and services whether that location is land based or web based as someone is conducting the work somewhere.

In this time of companies being sued for patent infringement some parts of the patent lodged by Google could be questionable. For example, in a broad sense the patent secures the use of geo-information in computer systems to link a request to an output. This means that if I use my location as the core component in the search criteria to find my local coffee shops and the computer system locates these for me and details the offerings (an ad) then at that point the service I am using could be breaching the patent.

Of course the Google patent refers to the advertising model which drives the Google ads system it can be expanded across many types of service offerings. With regarding to mobile applications and the increase usage of GPS in these devices basically making them location aware, any search from a mobile device for services ‘around me’ Applications such as Walk Score, Around Me, Urban Spoon could be reigned in by Google. As real estate basis its housing advertisements primarily on address (the core location reference globally), this may be affected.

Google is keeping tight lipped on the patent at the moment and so it is with interest we watch this space. The push for location advertising kingdom looks to be between Apple and Google and so in Australia where location is embedded in everything and many companies utilise location for services it will be interesting to see how the fallout might affect us. The question I have is that if Google and others rely on the information provided by Governments and US Department of Defence for GPS then will they licence and pay a royalty on the ongoing use of this core location asset information?

It must be noted that this patent was filed almost 6 years ago and signifies that Google has the foresight to look into the long term and secure its market place and so kudus to them!

More info on the patent can be found here.

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.

Changing the Spatial Game

It is fair to say that in the last 5 years there has been an explosion of new technologies in the spatial world that has changed the way we do business, interact with the community and explain our profession. I cannot count how many times I have heard in a presentation that thanks to Google Earth we can now easily state what we do in the spatial world.

Google has shown us that the game can change quite quickly and the evidence is found in all the innovative uses of the Google Maps API. We are now at a point that the media and community expect (even demand), that Google Maps/Earth data is current and trusted whereas we know as professionals it is not so easily the case. This leads me to another point in that have we “dumbed” down our own profession by relying on Google too much? Indeed a topic for another time.

Now back to new technologies. I have recently been privy to an exciting emerging technology that recently launched and will no doubt change the way aerial imagery is captured and delivered, providing up to date photos of your local area. NearMap (www.nearmap.com) is a start up company coming out of Perth, Western Australia that has started to fly the major capitals around Australia and provide monthly aerial imagery at 7.5cm or greater pixel resolution for free to the public.

Wow, free aerial imagery that I can use at any time I hear you say. Well it does seem the case that NearMap will revolutionise the way aerial imagery is delivered and who can use it although what we do with all this imagery is yet to be answered.

I for example, have used the NearMap imagery to make a point regarding road usage as a citizen to my local council. This free, monthly imagery has strengthened my case to build speed reducing infrastructure in my neighbourhood. Yet as a business, the usage of monthly imagery (at a cost) could increase my resource spend to ensure that I get a return on investment by building downstream applications that do ‘something’ with the imagery. Is this an investment that businesses are willing to put resources into? Is a visual time series enough of an investment?

Certainly the advantages of up to date photography and the development of new technologies that automate the creation of feature datasets will ease the uptake of this new photography offering. Not a Google killer yet but the question is how soon will the private sector jump on this and complete the value chain so that information is backed up by near real time imagery?

Another disruptive technology that has been brought to our shores is by a company called Earth Mine (http://www.earthmine.com). Along the same lines as Google’s street view or Australia’s own Virtual Observer (http://www.virtualobserver.com.au), Earth Mine can capture street level photography at high resolution with the advantages of each pixel being registered to its correct place in the world. This innovative technology allows for mapping in real 3D through the street level photography. By extending the street view imagery, markups (that is the creation on new vector layers on the image) can be overlaid allowing for planning, asset management and even new augmented reality overlays where community participation in changes might even be achieved.

Another new application that could bring the previous technologies together is
Wikitude (http://www.wikitude.org/). This is an example of where the merging of technologies is creating a new market space. Quite exciting to geo-tag and add content into an application that could possibly feed off the up to date data being captured by NearMap and Earth Mine. Imagine, adding GeoRSS feeds into an augmented reality space to highlight specials of the month for a business or information on tourist attractions so as to not disturb the natural environment?

These game changing offerings are a small sample of technologies being develop that will enhance, extend and change the spatial sector. Quite an exciting time if you think of it and for the innovative person, the combination of these two technologies would possibly allow for a complete detailed 3D planning environment with time series. I’ve seen this type of technology being used in the games sector and with smart phones increasing in use, the merging of games, information and spatial as with Wikitude could be the start of the next big innovative leap.

To grab the attention of the wider community new technologies such as this need to be embraced but more importantly we need to identify where the value lies and how can we change process quickly enough to support it. A challenge for us all…