Wednesday, October 14, 2009

GeoLocation: A Sense of Place

Recently, I was asked to sit down with two friends in the Public Radio space and the PBS space regarding a project they are working on. It involves travel and literature, and they had heard I have an avid interest in applying some new technologies to this area. Using mashups involving GPS, mobile phones, and trends like Augmented Reality, there are some exciting new possibilities.  Instead of privately emailing them my thoughts, I'm posting them here. It's really a rough draft because this area is moving so swiftly.

Update: Google Latitude just announced location history tracking, and automatic alerts when friends are nearby. This feature focuses mainly on location sharing between people. My scenarios below mainly involve sharing thoughts about places and objects

Yet Another Update:
Twitter announces automatic GeoLocation added to their API.

As you watch these new trends emerge and advance in capability, it becomes easy to brainstorm about possible new uses.

How would you "map" the entire content of an Art Museum?

A new database of Content: I believe artists, creators, and the like will now have to think about adding content to a new massive database of meta-data: locations related to their artwork, content (images, sounds, words), and stories. Due to the broad, and sometimes personal (read: chaotic), aspect to this field, I foresee some common geo-coded standard emerging to allow systems, content, devices, and people to share this information with each other, based on place.
It could start as simple as a spreadsheet an artist creates that includes simple information along with a work, which eventually becomes accessible to your mobile phone through social networks, apps, and API's.

What would this content be comprised of?

Origin - where it was created, including perhaps even the location of the source materials (where the marble came from for the statue of David, where a painting was painted, or the places mentioned in the chapter of a book). In works of fiction, there are the real world stories related to the work itself or the biography of the author: where they lived, influential places and spaces to the author. Imagine a new kind of "geo caching" where an artist leaves behind a thought only accessible to those who actually visit that spot. Then there are scenes within books and stories that can also be mapped. For example, the scene in The Sun Also Rises that first introduced the running of the bulls in Spain to American audiences. Wouldn't it be amazing to be alerted to this fact, had you happened to be in that area of Pamplona? Each book alone could have hundreds or thousands of entries. I envision a whole new layers that artworks can contain. Perhaps this will make art more accessible to a wider audience.

Layers - Layers refer to the categories of information you want to see based on your settings.  For example, if you are walking through a city and you want to see information about architecture, you would set your mobile phone to display an architectural layer. 

Triggers & Filters
- One of the most common concerns will be : "I don't want my phone buzzing incessantly every time I drive by Starbucks". That's where GPS plus access to your "favorites" come into play. By letting your phone talk to Facebook, Google, and iTunes, you will be able to exercise finite control over what you see, when, and where. The most successful applications will handle much of the filtering for you, "learning" which things you'd like to see, and which ones you'd want to ignore. Even better, the best tools will be able to introduce new experiences so you don't end up cycling through endless variations of your own themes. I think we are on the verge of a new age of serendipity. We are always just around the corner from some new experience and this technology will get better and better at exposing it to us in a very natural way.

Here are a couple of sample scenarios that combine current and near-term future capabilities:

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Scenario 1: You are walking in London near Piccadilly Circus. Your phone is in your pocket and turned on. Like most phones, it is GPS enabled and knows where you are. An Augmented-Reality (AR) app, can get location from GPS, and also knows every book you have ever read because it can talk to your Books account. Every song you have ever listened to or own is also indexed, thanks to it's connection to iTunes/Napster. More importantly, it can also see your reviews, blog posts, and Facebook comments so it has a mostly-accurate idea of your favorite books. It knows you seem to really be interested in American History (via books read), which led you to an interest in Ben Franklin. At that moment, it detects a specific place on Craven Street in London -

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only 4 blocks from Piccadilly Circus that is mentioned in a few books you read about Ben Franklin because this is the address that he lived at for almost 3 years while assigned to the British Delegation during the American Revolution. At that moment, it also sees that there is a web site/museum for that location, and that it is currently open. It determines that this warrants your attention, and vibrates the phone in your pocket.

You see the alert and are astonished to learn that you are steps from the very house that Ben Franklin lived in. The visit gives you an amazingly personal experience which ties together several passions and interest. Even better, the app might have told you about this 3 days before because it saw your calendar that you might be nearby that location and could block that open slot for you.

Scenario 2 - Monet's Haystacks at Dusk - While driving just Northwest of Paris, near Giverny, your phone alerts you. Based on your speed, route, and destination, in 30 minutes, you will be able to stop briefly and stand near the spot where Monet painted his famous painting, "Haystacks at Dusk". You can even take a photo - and line it up - as the actual painting appears for you on your mobile phone.

These scenarios will allow authors, publishers, creators, musicians, and artists to begin to think about what layers they wish to document, create, and publish along with their works. Amateurs, and other fans will also participate in "bootleg" layers and their own user-created layers to live among them as well. The consumer will be able to filter any or all of this content.
This may seem to present too many choices for us, but technology will evolve to decrease the noise while improving the signal.

The cost is minimal to create and publish these layers, especially if the creator keeps a log during the process of creation.
It likely is best to start with a simple spreadsheet, in anticipation that tools will emerge to aggregate this layer of content.

The new "Follow" - Right now you can follow someone via a column, their artist's published works, or via blogs and twitter if either they or someone else covers them. Very soon, you will be able to "follow" a place, an object, a concept, or even a story - and instead of receiving regular updates which may be triggered by frequency, interval, or time, but also by place - based on certain rules.

For example, If I am near a place of significance to me - alert me - based on rules
If I am near place of significance to a friend or I am a fan of someone else - alert me. Often there are things we are interested in, but we either are in the wrong place, or it is the wrong time. This new ability will allow an artist to "deposit" stories for those who come later. This will be the new, and more relevant Geocaching. Imagine Sting leaving clues in a field of wheat somewhere in the English countryside and months later, a tourist see this virtual note and stands in the same place - enabling a much more intimate connection to the artist. These "authentic" layers are also popular to the artist, giving them more control beyond the artwork itself. Sting finally gets his message in a virtual bottle.

We also can leave notes in layers for each other - that can only be accessed when nearby, even post mortem. Facebook has recently set a policy for those who wish to keep the pages of deceased users up and running after their death. The possibilities are endless. Perhaps, eternal?