Everything? The Geoweb Tsunami
About 35 people attended
tonight’s meeting. Josh Zapin facilitated and Jeremy Kohler recorded
Applied Trust (www.appliedtrust.com)
provides refreshments, Copy Diva (www.copydiva.com)
provides the audio-visual equipment, NCAR (www.ncar.ucar.edu)
provides the facility, and ONEWARE (www.oneware.com)
sponsors these minutes.
Thanks also to Brian at covervillemedia.com
for creating the podcast.
Don’t forget that RMIUG is always looking for ideas for meeting topics.
Would you like to be a speaker, or know someone that you can suggest?
Bring your ideas to Josh.
Scott Yates announces a new group in the Denver-Boulder area called the
Founder Institute, an offshoot of what started in Silicon Valley. It’s
like Tech Stars, but more for people already doing something else--just
one class a week. Classes start in May: see founderinstitute.com.
Denver is getting a great mentor, too.
INTRODUCTION (JOSH ZAPIN)
Geoweb is an extension of the Internet that enables you to find things
not just by keyword, but by location. Search engines know where you
are. The combination of keyword information and geoinformation is what
this is all about. It's accelerated by the mass proliferation of GPS
smart phones. Most GPS phones record the location of every picture they
take. Web sites are rising out of the geoweb dust, and they are
starting to Catalog information in some very interesting ways. Your
local fishing holes are being recorded on a scale never seen before.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Duncan McCall spent a number of years immersed in the location and geo
space, working on projects from RFID to codeless GPS. He founded and
built PublicEarth, the “Wiki for places,” which recently launched and
offers an ever-expanding database of nearly five million places across
400 categories. He is currently working on a yet-to-be-announced new
company in the geo/local segment. His background spans the technology
and business sectors and he has had a great deal of experience building
and running startups, including a premier Silicon Valley-based Systems
Integrator and a nationwide retailer.
Note #1: You can hear the full broadcast of the meeting by going to: http://www.rmiug.org/blog/?p=39
Note #2: You can view Duncan's presentation by going to: http://www.slideshare.net/dunkmac/rmiug-geo-talk
Way back I started working for company in Asia when the Internet
started. Then I went to Silicon Valley and set up some companies. I had
a passion for and history of traveling, so for me it translated to
geoweb. It started when I had an epiphany in the Sahara desert. We did
this crazy car rally across Africa with a lot of people with too much
time on their hands. The cars had to cost less than $150, which made
the whole thing monstrously challenging. So during this rally we got
down to a country called "Western Sahara," which was a disputed
territory with no natural resources. Except landmines. There was a
huge, shifting minefield to get across, with no safe route marked. You
can pay a local lots of money to guide you across, but I didn't want to
pay. I wondered if there was a technology solution to this problem.
Well, I had a GPS device. And I had the Internet. So we went on-line
and we found some French guy who recently went across the minefield and
posted a route. So we went ahead and trusted this complete stranger
with our lives. There were blown-up vehicles everywhere along his
route, but we made it across with no problem and didn't have to pay
anybody. Well, that was really interesting. Later, we all meet up with
our GPS devices and our cell phones and started exchanging GPS
coordinates via text messages to warn each other about bandits and
other stuff. So what can we do with all that? I thought there must be a
hell of a business in this.
So today we have an explosion of location-aware devices. Plus mapping
info. Plus user-generated content. Plus the social Internet. Geoweb is
kind of in the middle of all four. Let's allow people a platform to
create new, intelligent, location-based information about stuff. It’s
very much like Wikipedia was when it started out.
What is geoweb? It's cartography/mapping plus geographic information
systems (GIS). Here are the maps, and here we are layering information
onto those maps.
Online evolution of mapping:
First there was Mapquest, and it was all about getting directions. Then
came Microsoft Virtual Earth. They evolved. Then Google Earth came
along and allowed people to browse all of this additional imagery. Bing
is the latest iteration of Microsoft's offering.
Everybody is mapping the planet now, taking pictures and creating 3-D
models. What's interesting in all that was a couple of breakthroughs in
2005. First, there was Google Earth--it allowed you to drop information
on a map and it would stay there. But it was messy as it became a
free-for-all. The second thing that happened was Google released an
API, which allowed people to take Google’s maps and build information
on top of it. So someone took the craigslist housing ads and put them
all on a map. People created layers with demographics, businesses, etc.
There are thousands of these mashups out there.
Then came crowdsourcing, or whatever you want to call it. Web 1.0 was
about published content. What people are calling 2.0 brings a lot of
user-generated content. Geoweb is a great place to create content, just
like Wikipedia, which is a great example of crowdsourcing. Wikipedia
just created a framework for users to create their content. It's
a great model for the geoweb. Flickr is a great example. Tons of
photos up there that are geotagged. The information has a spatial
context now. Yelp is another good one--it's about places. Google maps
has really innovated in this space as well. My company, PublicEarth was
focused on the Wikipedia model. And don’t forget Brightkite. You can
add location context to so much information.
Google knows search, and geosearch has defined a number of standards.
KML (keyhole markup language) is a standard that Google open-sourced
(Google bought a company called Keyhole to get its maps started). Then
there's GPX format for GPS devices. And finally the geoRSS standard,
which makes your newsfeed location-aware. GeoRSS has location tagged to
it, and that makes it location-searchable by users.
You can search place names, businesses, user-created maps, real estate.
When you go to user-created, it searches all the KML and geoRSS stuff.
It’s a great way to tap into all this knowledge that people have been
creating, like favorite hikes, etc. You can also search for Wikipedia
articles--most of them are tied to places, if you think about it. Then
there's the panoramic photos you can put onto the maps, so you can see
landscapes and landmarks. And you can see Wikipedia articles layered on
the maps. You can layer hiking trails, weather, animal migrations,
watersheds--all the layers are being pulled from the geoweb that Google
has been indexing.
OpenStreetMap: OSM is a map created by the users. Why rely on mapping
companies? It's a nonprofit foundation that gives the maps away for
free. The users own it. OSM tends to be more detailed than Google
because the maps are created by the people who live there. It’s a
really good example of the power of crowdsourcing, and it’s starting to
get generally better than Google maps. Go to osm.org to contribute your
Audience comment: In the old days when Mercator was in business,
cartographers did have copyrights and they relied on travelers for
their information--so crowdsourcing is really old.
Yes, but now we have great platform for this crowdsourcing that we
didn't have back then. OSM is hot in Europe, starting to catch on in
On the day of the Haiti earthquake, there was no good map of
Port-au-Prince on line, which presented obvious problems to the relief
effort. But then volunteers when nuts and totally mapped it out in OSM
incredibly fast, and this was a great help to the aid workers. Google
was simply unable to respond like that.
For want of a better term. A great migration is underway as everything
goes from analog to digital, from offline to online. Paper street maps,
yellow pages, and guidebooks are going away in favor of Google, Yelp
You've got trail maps on your GPS device now, and you can share
information across devices. Foursquare and Brightkite are mobile
applications keeping track of where everybody is.
Remember “virtual reality” with those cool helmets? Well that never
panned out. But Augmented Reality now lets you hold your phone up and
point at a location and your phone will tell you what you're looking
at. Lets you tap into the geoweb based on where you’re standing. This
is going to be huge. Think about your utility repair working pointing
at the ground and seeing where all the underground cables are running
beneath. There are some fascinating possibilities here.
The ones to watch:
There are a lot of companies in this space now. I think the three most
interesting ones are Twitter, Google, and Facebook--they are likely to
do well here. Google has the maps, street data, and mobile properties,
and they are replacing the Yellow Pages. Google should make a huge
amount of money there. Twitter is also interesting: If you go to your
coffee shop, the shop may not have a web site, but the people working
there have a Twitter account--and they're tweeting out specials, event
news, etc. This sort of thing enables a direct relationship between
companies and consumers. And now, these tweets can be geocoded.
Facebook: Look at Yelp. It’s a kind of dysfunctional small social
network, not really well structured. But Facebook is tied to real
people. Everything on there is attached to a person. Your opinions are
valuable, Facebook has won the social networking war, and it’s planning
to enable geoweb in a major way. Real people will be reviewing all
kinds of stuff and these reviews will be geotagged. That's a huge
opportunity for Facebook.
Geoweb is already here--you use it whether you know it or not.
The sensor web:
All these location-aware devices are being connected and they are
collecting information. Your phone knows where it is. Combine that with
the “real-time web” and it gets really interesting: We will know where
everything is, and what is happening, all the time. If we mine all
those twitters, etc, then this will become true. Should be a wild ride
Q: What stops Google from taking advantage of OSM and all the detailed
information it has?
A: OSM has a license where if you take the information, you have to
make that data available for free, and Google doesn't want to do that.
Q: What about the history of places? Is there a time capsule of geoweb?
A: Google Earth does have some historic photo layers. Then there's
Concharto: It overlays historical events, which people can edit. There
are a number of products like that.
Q: What if I don't want to be geotracked? How do I opt out?
A: With cell phones, there is no opt out. For 911 purposes, all U.S.
phones are mandated to be location-aware. Of course, that information
is only supposed to be used for emergency purposes. People are
concerned about privacy. You are being tracked, and the information
tends to be anonymized. But not always. There's going to be interesting
developments in the next few years here.
Q: Someone sued Google to get their house off of street-view. But if
you're living on a public street, anyone can take a picture. That's
just the way it is.
Q: You could spend your life looking at this information. Who is going
to consolidate all this information? How do I keep up?
A: That's the Internet for you. The company I founded was based on
trying to solve that very problem. Google is working on that too. It
will be a combination of smart search and your own profile, so the
results get personalized based on where you are and what you appear to
be interested in. There's a lot of opportunity here to solve this
Q: PleaseRobMe.com tracks people in real time. Tells the world when
you’re not home. It's crazy!
A: There are some genuine concerns there. Of course there are other
ways to track people that have been around a long time, but this just
makes it a little easier.
Q: Do people argue over what information on OSM is correct? Like they
do on Wikipedia?
A: Certainly, there are arguments going on about locations, historical
stuff, whether you need a fishing license here or there, etc. As long
as the output is generally positive, it works. OSM has huge discussion
and comment systems about the information, just like Wikipedia.
Q: What’s the potential for thwarting this progression by companies
that don't want to share certain information? Like Rupert Murdock
pulling the Wall Street Journal from Google so it only appears on
another search engine. Is this a trend on the horizon? What if it all
A: I think Google is going to get sued for antitrust pretty soon. Some
of this is happening. I don't want everyone to know about my secret
fishing hole, for example. The information is becoming more
independent. I think there's too much of the data out there, and it’s
too distributed for it to be hidden.
Q: How are people using the content that Google owns?
A: Typically the map layer is a commodity that we reference, so we
don't actually have to own it. But there are some potential challenges
with people building businesses on top of Google Maps. Google is trying
to keep their fingers into it to some extent.
Q: Does OSM have an API?
A: Yes, you can go ahead use it to do your own thing.
Q: What's coming to the U.S.?
A: Well, India just built a huge mapping network. Business has been
revolutionized there with geo-applications. There’s a lot of good stuff
happening in Europe. At this point, the U.S. is catching up. It's
different in each country.
Q: Are the days of free information on the Internet going away? Will
all this freely shared information go away once companies figure out
how to grab it and charge for it?
A: The big media companies are getting worried, but the information
will always be free. However, there will always be a monetization
strategy surrounding it.
Q: What about open government? It seems like every government is
opening up their data to the masses.
A: Data.gov is making data available now. It's all there and the U.S.
has actually been pretty proactive about this. Google is using it too.
Q: OK, what's the best GIS phone?
A: That depends what you want to do with it. The iPhone is good with a
compass and maps built in. Nokia and Google Android have software
that’s a bit more open than Apple’s products. But basically you want
one with a compass and GPS.