SXSW Xcript: Where the F is Mapping Now?

Dan Catt’s mapping panel was a very cool session that was difficult to synthesize at the speed it went by, but I think I got most of what the panelists said. All very 3pointD.

Moderator: Rev. Dan Catt, from Geobloggers.com and Flickr
Panelists:
Tom Carden from Random Etc.
Aaron Straup Cope from Flickr
Jerry Paffendorf from the Electric Sheep Company
Ian White from Urban Mapping Inc.

Catt first asked everyone without laptops to stand up and shake their hands in front of them in order to wake up, then groan quietly like a zombie, then louder than the person next to you. Two questions before you sit down: Who objects to swearing, say boo. Those who don’t object to swearing, say Fuck Yeah. (You can imagine which was louder.)

Cope talked about how we tell where things are. Shows a quote from Douglas Coupland’s Shampoo Planet. “History and geography are being thrown away.” Cope: This is wrong.

Cope: Geography helps set the stage for an experience, history gives an experience context and nuance. We have theselocation devices that tell you where things are. I could care less where the nearest Starbucks is. I don’r eally care about driving directions either. But if I’m at a place, I would love to be able to see what came before and have a sense of its history.

Mentions the situationists. Horrible turn: Psychogeographers. They decided places had personailities. It’s sort of obvious, right? Last week that got dubbed as ambient intimacy thanks to Twitter. There’s this idea that these magic devices where we’re all communicating with eahc other, it’s all just a permanent now. I don’t think that’s true. My experience is, I know when people are in London. That’s importnant to me. Where does this leave us in terms of mapping? The short term answer is, we’re all screwed. The longer version: Even if you don’t want to, you need to learn how to program a computer if you want to do something with a phone. There’s this idea that a mobile phone is something other than a really small computer. That’s all they are now, and that’s what’s exciting.

There’s this idea that carriers have to control the experience, that it can only be one thing from start to finish. That’s just irritating. It forces everyone down the same poath. That’s lame. Thing that’s great about the Internet, we can share stuff with poeople all over the world and we can program it ourselves.

Medium term, Unix is going to rule mobile. MIT’s One Laptop Per Child is Linux. OS X is some flavor of this. Nokia Maemo tablets are just erally big iPhones. OpenMoko is another open source open hardware platform they’re encouraging devs to write tools for. This all gives people the freedom to write code that’s relevant to what they want to do. All of the data is out there. If you can suddenly make this thing you carry around wiht you do stuff, suddenly your life is better.

Medium term, learn Python. If it’s small enoguh to fit in your pocket and they’re going to do any kind of scripting with it, it’s going to be Python. Python is not Java. Java is really hard. You won’t get people tinkering if they have to remember everything [rules] and compile it all. Python is easy and quick. Every single piece of GIS software all have Python scripting engines now. In the Unix world there’s something called DBUS, letting processes talk to each other. Python has bidnings for all of this stuff so you can quickly write stuff. You can tell the camera to talk to the GPS device and then to upload stuff, and uploading stuff is good, that’s the value of the network. Python also has a great http stack.

Displays something he wrote in Python to collect GSM data (cell tower information) and do a scan to see how many bluetooth devices in range, then just plots out the relationship to each other. You can do the same thing. I did this, installed it on phone.

Long-term, learn java script. People are familiar with it. It’s quote unquote easier. The GUI bindings in operating systems are going away. Not going to happen next year, but everyone is going to start standardizing on Web rendering engines to display stuff. It’s going to be security nightmare, but there’s going to have to be Javascript bindings from rendering engine into the operating system.

Today, it’s a night mare, you have to have a lot of techniucal resource and often money because they like to charge devs for this. Medium term, you can do stuff today that’s clunky and rough and you hve to be patient. And logner term, it’s just going to be the Web. Which is awesome. It will talk to all of the devices we have around.

The other part that’s interesting is the open hardware stuff, but that’s a few years out.

Catt: What can we do now?

Cope: You can keep track-logs. Bar codes could be one where poeple could go around putting up 2D barcodes of the latlong of a neighborhood, that could be a quick and dirty track-log with a photo. You’d have to write more software to read it and figure out when it was taken. GPS Broadcasting, no particular reason why if you know where you are, just set up a program to broadcast your latlong over bluetooth. Machine tags and magic words, again we can do mapping stuff, we can get the geodata there. Machine tags, if you did locality region and state, that would be enough to 90-95 pct of the time be able to do geocode on it.

Tom Carden to talk about his Openstreetmap.org by firing tracking devices into the neck of postal workers (according to Dan).

Wiki that’s set up to manage the project astounds me daily. My involvement started with the founder, we went to see a courier company who was using GPS data to map its drivers. So many of the roads were covered that these courierse who were paying so much fo mapping data were essentially making their own maps every week. Openstreetmap takes people’s GPS tracklogs and makes maps of the streets they travel on. A whole bunch of interesting things fall out just by playing back what the courier company were collecting just by tracking their drivers.

We’re kind of stuck [with poor apps and equipment]. Getting to know the kinds of data that comes from these devices is key to what you can build with them. It will be a long time before mapping technology matures. For instance, in our head these wireless networks all over lap neatly, in actual fact it’s magic to try and understand which is going to be best.

Openstreetmap again: Shows slide of Google Maps-quality rendering of Creative Commons map of central London from Openstreetmap.org, information provided by many many enthusiastic mappers and visitors and residents of London who carried GPS devices. The project is about two years old. Looks like they’ve mapped a whole bunch of London. You can download it all.

What’s more fantastic, he says, is other cities in Europe, like Copenhagen, also have similar levels of detail to London in Openstreetmap. There’s also the streets of Baghdad traced from Yahoo’s aerial imagery which they generously allowed Openstreetmap to derive mapping data from.

Openstreetmap needs 4 things. One is patience. It needs developers. The Website is not buzzword compliant, not a friendly Web 2.0 place to be. It needs cartographers, though nopt as much as it did. And it needs mappers, people who are willing to share where the’ve been and put in the work of turning those into maps. See also something called Mapstraction that may be useful in this context. Slide of Biomapping.net as well, which recorded someone’s stress level as well as where you were.

Puts on his other hat as part of Stamen Design, a small design firm in SF, been working there about three months. Project: Mappr to show Flickr photos on a map, based purely on tags. [They’ve been able to locate photos just based on tags. Nice.] Also from Stamen: The cabspotting project, which does for cabs what was done for couriers. One of the more fascnating things is, Stamens’ approch to this was just to plot the data and see what the data said about the city, and if you know the Bay Bridge, you can see that going one way the signal from the data is very strong, but going the other way is very little signal [because of the two layers of the bridge]. Two excellent films of data from cabspotting.

Cabspotting broke. Another warning that relying on certain levels of signals from these devices is a bad idea.

Mapping hard, tools obscure, data closed, but all getting better. Stamen is hiring, San Francisco’s fantastic.

Catt: Jerry will talk about what we can learn from virtual worlds and the crossover. Teleporting in virtual world changes mapping quite a bit. [Dan hands out beer to panelists.]

Jerry Paffendorf: I’m going to build on top of the ideas we’ve heard. What I’m going to play on is the idea of turning the panet earth into one big video game world. Electric Sheep is half software development company and half video game company building experiences in virtual worlds. We usually work in Second Life but also other platforms like There.com.

I’m really interested in questions of what happens when you merge a user-created virtual world like Second Life with a program like Google Earth which is an exact 3D model of the planet. As a futurist, my job is to understand what’s happening in video games and virtual worlds and help us think ahead. The metaverse we’ve come to define as four components: Virtual worlds like Second Life or World of Warcraft that don’t correspond to the real world; Mirror worlds, which I take from David Gelenter at Yale. He said we’re going to have to simulate the planet at high resolution and record the history of it, so that we can have the topsight we need to navigate it. Shrinking the world into a softball that sits into your computer screen. There’s also augmented reality, where we bring information off of the Web and virtual world into the real world, and then this idea of lifelogging, which I perceive to be your persistent online identity across many sites.

Put this all together, an obvious idea of what you do next, is create simulations of the planet. You’ve got all these maps with all this information, also mirror worlds with all that information, that information becomes accessible in the real world in places you’re actually navigate in. Lifelogging, you’re just going to be publishing a lot of information about what you’re doing. What happens is, you as a person become kind of like an avatar in a virtual world.

I’ll tell a little story. Shows Google Map annotated with Community Walk. Shows location of all the employees in Electric Sheep company scattered across the country. And a category for different mirror world projects we’ve done in Second Life and other virtual worlds. At an event last year called the Happening, we recreated in Second Life a coffee shop in Washington DC and brought projections of the virtual space into the physical space, and merged the two together as tightly as we could to make it as fun as we could. Philip Torrone from Make Magazine came with virtual reality goggles that let you walk in Second Life as you walked int he real world. Philip Torrone was walking arund in the coffee shop describing what he was seeing, and he motioned somewhere and said, We need to move this object that’s here. Someone told him there was nothing there. He said, No, the other here.

Goes in Second Life to show Second Life recreation of Rockefeller Center that the Sheep made. One of the things about Google Earth is that it’s a single-user environment. Experience of the world is a solitary one, you never encounter anyone else. But in a massivley multiuser space you get a dramatic acceleration of projects. What I’m looking forward to seeing is more of these projects whwere we essentially create the 3D wiki version of the planet, where we work together to flesh out the physical world we live in in these virtual enivronments, and pull out all the information we’re mining from the real world and putting in these maps, and off that using virtual worlds as a prototyping platform for all these services we’re talking about.

I believe what we’re going to find, I come across this all the time, how little I know about my local environment and how little still even the annotations and geoblogging and maps we make about neighborhoods, how ineffective those are to understand who is in your physical environment and what the opportunities are to participate locally. I’m looking forward to starting up some mirror world versions of cities. It’s apparent to me every day, there’s no great way to meet with or collaborate with or understand my local environment without having some kind of topsight or mirror world recreation of it where I can collaborate as avatars and then meetup in real life. Puts out call for other people interested in the same kind of things for doing projects.

There’s an element of interacting with people in a shared social 3D space that’s very different from surfing around and looking around at things in 2D maps.

Ian White: My company works with spatial data. We take informal data sets and codify them. Create database of neighborhood boundaries, do other stuff. We’re data guys, not application guys. Data is something I deal with day in, day out. The average guy or girl uses a phone or dishwasher for that matter, all they see is the interface, then scatch their head if something’s not working properly. So I’m on the inside and try to understand how people want to work with data and them develop clear and transparent interface.

It’s all relative. Awareness, Embeddedness, Aloneness

Attributes add an enormous amount of meaning. Knowing where we are is wonderful and we’ll be able to do that better in the future.

Awareness: If you have this geo awareness about you, you’re able to sense thing you might not otherwise know. The biomapping project. Associating different levels of emoptional resonance with a physical experience. That’s one data set. If I want to know somethign about demographic information, financial data, public health data, how can I use that? You’re not experiencing a map, you’re feeling the datum. Awareness has to do with what kind of geointelligence is provided to you. There’s GPS, there’s cell ID, there’s wifi. It has to do with, How area and in what context are you?

Embeddedness is how connected do I want to be to others.

Aloneness is social connectivity, do we want to be connected, how do we want to be connected, at what times, with what constraints.

The input device is one way we can understand data.

The geodata will become available. What becomes more interesting is the attribute associated with it [such as in the stress level example above]. Recording data like that, it’s an innate sense of feeling where we are in the data. That becomes very curious because you need to have some greaater context of where you are, i.e., a map to geocognitively reference where we are. It’s not the physical space necessarily, it’s the way in which you perceive the cognitive element of where you are.

Catt: Where I think this is leading in the future, the key element: open-source architecture, where we’re tracking more people, voluntarily, then looking at building up urban enviroments around those people.

[Panel ends as your correspondent’s laptop battery begins to groan.]

One comment