We all remember ooh’ed and aah’ed at Google Earth when it was first available in 2005. For the first time history, services such as Google Earth offer us a readily available, zoomable, navigable visualization of our physical world, the detail of which are ever increasing with new technologies being developed as showcased by Microsoft’s Virtual Earth and Photosynth projects.
But it’s not just a static representation of information, as maps have classically been. The convergence of the internet, mobile technology and geospatial representation of our physical world, presents an interesting intersection of technologies.
The internet contains an ever-expanding universe of knowledge and information, and with web 2.0 technologies, users are even more empowered to directly participate in that growth, and to share, aggregate, and find creative ways to seeks value in this information.
When information available on the web is combined with geospatial data what emerges is Geoweb. Geoweb presents yet another layer that information can be mapped or grounded to. It gives people an opportunity of assigning information, be it historical, commercial, social or existential to a given location.
Mobile technology has the two-fold function of being able to retrieve that information in real time at the location to which the information was associated to, as well as being able to record yet more information through text, photographic or motion input about the location.
The pressing issue now is not the availability of information but how to filter it to be meaningful?
Map have always been a filtered reprentation of selective information. A road map only maps roads for the purpose of guiding a user from point A to point B. So the challenge facing Geoweb is no longer one of technology, but one of selectivity and value. What does information presented in this way allow us to do?
It allows us to associate information on a scale and perspective that we were unable to do before. Classical maps show border, terrain, economic, or conflict information. Now we can map, aggregate, slice-and-dice all the atomized miscellaneous pieces of information geospatially. It allows us to associate information that was not possible or hard to do before. Oh joy.
We already see some examples of innovative use:
- CARMA (Carbon Emissions Monitoring for Action): this s a project by Center for Global Development I was involved in at my old firm, Forum One Communications. It maps publicly available CO2 emission data of power plants and other polluting agents on to Google Maps, and encourages users to submit more data about polluter in their neighborhood.
- Geoblogging: Jane Goodall Institute created the first geoblog: The Gombe Chimpanzee blog. It follows the activities and blog posts by Emily Wroblewski, a field researcher who is studying the Gombe Chimpanzees to coordinates on Google Earth.
- Search for archeological sites: Scott Madry, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been pinpointing possible archaeological sites in France with the popular desktop program Google Earth.
- Cannonball Run: Alex Roy, set a new record for driving across the American continent of under 32 hours, in the fall of 2006. He planned and practiced his run using Google Earth.
- Metaverse Roadmap also shows us exciting possibilities of how 3D representation and the web may converge.
Other as yet unrealized examples are:
- An amazing project Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, We Feel Fine aggregates and visualizes th state of people’s emotions around the world. We may be able to map geospatially, in real time, the emotions around how a community reacts to tragedy or jubilation.
- We could map the impossible path that Ernest Shackleton took to save the lives of the ill-fated crew of the Endurance in 1900. (UPDATE: It has already been done)
- We can map the path of my UPS package as it travels from Amazon’s warehouse in Kentucky to my doorstep in real time, so we are not held hostage to the UPS man’s schedule.
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Umberto Eco has a nice essay in How to Travel with a Salmon named “On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1.” He quotes from Jorge Luis Borges who is in turn quoting Suarex Miranda:
…In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.
From Travels of Praiseworthy Men (1658) by J. A. Suarez Miranda
What we see Google Earth and Virtual Earth is the creation of such a map, mapping reality on to a mirrored world. We may actually be seeing something even more profound. A map that contains more information than even the 1-to-1 map.
[Update] Worldprocessor is a pre-Google Earth visualization of data on a globe. Very interesting nonetheless.