A few months ago I attended a Guardian Master Class on Data Visualisation hosted by Tobias Sturt, Head of creative at Guardian Digital Agency and Adam Frost, Data Visualisation Manager at Guardian Digital Agency. Both were incredibly friendly, down-to-earth and made the class very enjoyable. I highly recommend checking them (and their work) out. Data ...
I'm not all that fond of saying things are dead but after my first visit to Digital Surrey yesterday, I will agree with Google's Ed Parsons, that Paper Maps ARE in fact dead. Well, mostly, I have seen a few friends tweet of late of the need for actual maps when in the countryside and not connected to the internet etc, but for most of us, we have moved well beyond what a paper map can offer us.
Digital Surrey Setting
Well, I've never been to a digital conference set in a castle before - Farnham Castle was our host for the evening:
Whilst this is a castle that has never really seen battle, it was an impressive setting for the evening, and the gardens were a lovely place for a pre-event beer.
The Annotated World. The Future of Geospatial Technology
The presentation for the evening was from Ed Parsons, the Geospatial Technologist of Google, and formerly of Ordnance Survey.
He started with a picture of the world, which apparently only about 20 people have ever actually seen with their own eyes.
We use tools like google earth to explore the planet but the annotated world goes beyond the image and starts to pull out more information
Imagine if you could make a map that was to scale to reality. This isn't something that is possible physically, but digital technology allows this, and much more. Tech Allows you to go deeper than that 1:1 view -Google's street view for example allows you to start to annotate things and augment these images with things that can't be seen by the naked eye i.e. directions, but also much more than that.
You can incorporate business information and overlay onto the image which allows actionable nights with that data, using harvested information from the web.
Ed showed us examples of how street view images can be overlaid with information about waste bins and road signs. Basically, information from the Internet can be taken from a variety of sources and can be used to augment the reality of the map image - becomes more than just a 1:1 scale map, and becomes something more than what you can see in real life when you look at it.
Increasingly these tools are now allowing people to use tools to annotate the world themselves. Users can capture information and publish it to the web to share with others.
There is also a new tool coming to the UK where users can fill in the gaps not captured by street view. Users are annotating the World and expanding the knowledge database. They can capture images, go through verification process and submit details and images of that location to further extend the data Google holds about these things.
What's coming next?
Well it sounds like there is a 3D mapping cold war occurring, with Amazon starting to jump on the bandwagon to compete with Apple & Google.
These "3D" maps are created using grid based photographing technology, to create 3dD models to be incorporated into Google Earth. But... really, it's not 3d. It's textured surface models. 2 1/2D is how Ed described it, as real 3D would include 3 dimensions properly. Inside buildings. Inside structures. I found this quite scary!!!!
Geospatial technology is now moving indoors. Up to this point, its largely been cars have driven the desire for mapping to this stage - but apparently people want help navigating in more situations.
Now, with John Lewis, they are mapping the inside of their stores. Also surveying wifi signals from all stores to help with this (they all have WIFIapparently to allow price comparisons) as the WIFIsystem can now be used to map where you are in store in relation to those WIFIpoints, pretty accurately (to 2-3m)
This is also happening in most railway stations in London.
The growth of this isn't scaling particularly well though - it's hard to get partners to agree and is a complicated process even once that has happened. Ed was very honest when he said that they have history of messing this up, so they know they need to be careful.
The Map of the Future is not a Map
Paper as a medium is dead when it comes to maps.
Google Maps when you signed in are now personalised. My map will have subtle differences from your map.It knows where we live even when its not been explicitly told - it works this out from your previous activities.
Markers get placed where you or friends have left reviews for businesses.
These personalised maps get generated on the fly for millions of people using HTML 5. It's now dynamic.
Ed went on to show us how the geometry changes looking at the map of St Paul's Cathedral images depending on where on the map that church is.
Geospatial technology is far beyond maps now. It's intrinsic to phone tech, calendars etc, but has moved on now and can give you weather based on location or destination. This technology can help you find people you are due to meet, adapt to traffic or public transport problems, link pictures to locations. This all leads on to Project Glass:
Augmented reality has been talked up for some time and these glasses may be coming in the next year. Ed suggests that it's possible that these might replace phones?
Geospatial technology is powering these sorts of new technologies.
Typically, when thinking about "Big Data" we are thinking in in terms of 'volume'. Ed said that there are about 6 petabytes of data powering Google Earth for example - that is a huge amount of data.
But by all accounts, rather than 'big' large volumes of data it's actually about velocity of that data. Google earth is mostly static data, but the problems arise with big data when data is moving really quickly.
Twitter firehose examples were given, but basically, you can't query a database of this volume when the data calls are too slow to pull it, compared to the speed that the data is being added.
With approximately 35bn devices connected to net worldwide and on average 6 devices per person, there are a lot of "sensors" connected together. As I thought about how many devices I myself own, I stopped counting at about 14.
Ed also showed example of phone data being used (anonymously) to track traffic data - working out where there were jams, where traffic was moving slowly. This data is really useful but I wonder if the owners of those phones know that they are being used in that way?
Schema is also going to play an important part in this in the future with structured markup giving more context than just text allows.
Summary & Implications
Paper maps ARE dead in most situations - the growth of the web is all about personalisation - of which location plays a huge part, and maps have evolved to fit this need.
We need to share more data for this to get more personalised to better suit our needs. To do this, we need to trust the data suppliers more, Google and more.
They need to earn that trust!
At the moment, this sort of technology scares me a little, amazing and useful as it is. I don't know that I trust Google with this data - you only need to look at Barry Adams' list of issues with Google from 2012 alone.
Claire Thompson, who I met for the first time for example, would find the mapping of the river ways would be genuinely useful.
I see a need or at least a use for the growth in this sort of technology. It could have some important implications for SEO too, where location is increasingly affecting rankings, and the integration of maps and Google Plus is also having an impact.
But I am scared at the implications of this technology. Should peoples phones be used, almost certainly without explicit consent to track traffic speeds on main roads?
Should Google or any other mapping company be able to map the inside of my home, or place of work, and create a 3D map of that?
Where will the lines be drawn? Ed said that this was close to creepy, but I'll be honest, I did find it quite creepy as it was. Usefulness and Privacy need to be balanced here, but I suspect that usefulness may well win out in the minds of the people developing these tools.
It seems to me that Nichola was right on her talk at BrightonSEO where she talked about Serendipitous Search...