Thursday, March 31, 2011

NoGIS: Round Two of Neo vs. Paleo Geography?

Can't we all just get along?

I started, apparently, a few days ago with the posting of NoGIS Meetup, and the subsequent blog post, "What Does NoGIS Mean?" by Sean Gorman on the GeoIQ blog. Among other things, Sean said

"For decades, location and geography have been their own special niche, served by GIS technology from a fairly small number of vendors.  As many have pointed out “spatial is no longer special” and as a result location is quickly becoming a feature of many technologies.  As location base apps become ubiquitous the characteristics of geographic data are changing as well.  The data of this new paradigm does not look like the static parcel data, which is stereotypical of much traditional GIS work.  As we saw in the NoSQL characteristics data is now high volume, dynamic and users/developers want to see/query it in real time."

And the usual statement by neogeographers (in one of the comments)

"I’m not inferring that GIS and NoGIS are mutually exclusive..."

James Fee, traditional defender of the Paleo...OK, that's a bit much but let's say a frequent defender of all things Paleo responded in his blog post:

As with anything, everyone is quick to say we’ve all been doing this since the 1960′s so ignore it and move on unless you’ve got one of the following to accomplish:

And then goes on to list the geography industry's equivalent of hipster evils.

And I thought that the Neogeography vs. Paleogeography wars were largely over and we were all getting along. But perhaps it was just a Christmas ceasefire.

That said, I'll be at the NoGIS workshop, should be interesting. No one ever said geographers were boring. Oh, wait, many people have. But they are, of course, wrong.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Slides for CalGIS: What you should be asking us The future of geography, and the hard - and easy - questions that follow

I do a lot of talking in my job. This quarter, January 1-March 31st, by the end of the quarter I'll have given 19 different talks at 16 different events. Many of the talks are the same or similar, targeted to a specific audience but conveying some of the same essentials in terms of content. That's because I'm doing the "spreading the word" part of my job, telling people about new technologies.

Sometimes, though, I like to do new things. I was invited to do a keynote at CalGIS's conference, and decided to write an abstract that was different from what I've been doing, so that I could explore different themes. I talked for the first time in a public talk about Google's on-going work on the Japan Crisis, and how cloud providers can help maintain a web presence for public service agencies - most of the participants were from government agencies - and related topics. I think the slides convey more of a "of course you should go with a cloud provider" then I actually presented, but most of what I was trying to convey was that these are hard choices and here's a place to start.

BTW, I hate the word cloud in this context. It's so market-y. Anyone have recommendations for a real replacement?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Recent Slides

By the end of March, I'll have done 19 talks this year, at 16 different events. It's been a busy quarter. I'm not going to put all 19 sets of slides in here. Some of them had a lot of similarity. So I thought I'd post a couple of representative ones.

I did a talk on March 1st at the North Capital Area GTUG, at the Google DC office, on Fusion Tables. This was the culmination of a US East Coast tour that took me to College Park Maryland, Boston, and DC. It was video taped, but unfortunately the tape hasn't been digitized yet, I'll post that when I get it.

In Tokyo, at that Yahoo! Japan Geolocation conference, I gave a talk on Fusion Tables and mapping in the cloud.

I then went on to give talks at the Tokyo and Kyoto GTUGs. Here's the slides from Kyoto, largely the same as the Tokyo ones.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tragedy in Japan and how to help

Like everyone, I am horrified by the loss of life and homes in the recent devastation in Japan. The scale is enormous, and as we hear more about it, many of us feel hopeless to help and scared about what it means for the future. Aftershocks and worries about radiation are all over the news, along with calls for donations, and occasional worries about scams, people promising to help, but taking money anyway.

At the same time, I am consistently impressed by the people who jumped in to help. From the first responders, the military, to the nuclear workers working day and night to prevent greater tragedy. There are people on the ground in Japan doing great work, mapping transportation routes, helping people find loved ones, providing food and shelter.
The Google Crisis Response team has been putting together many of these resources here:, including ways for people to donate money, maps of the situation, and links to the Japan Person Finder app.

The Humanitarian OSM Team is also on the ground, with more information here: about how to help with their mapping efforts.

Millions have already been donated. Millions more will be needed. Please help out now. If you want to know more about what Google is doing, follow @earthoutreach on twitter.

If you have other creative ways to contribute, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ruminations on Place

Sunday, I was on a panel with Steve Chase, Hurricane Chase, and Murata Takehiko at the Yahoo! Japan Geolocation Conference (#geoconf). Yahoo! Japan (a distinct entity from Yahoo! Inc. btw), put on an excellent conference, and had announced that they would be contributing data to Open Street Map, in a similar fashion to Bing and MapQuest. There was a lot of excitement in the room, with many OSM participants present (by design I imagine). And there were inevitable questions about Google's future involvement in the project - something I'm interested in personally but can make no commitment to on behalf of Google of course. But more importantly, to this blog post at least, a question came up about whether Google would contribute Street View imagery to OSM, and whether there were any OSM related projects developing open versions of Street View. As a panelist, and someone who can't avoid talking, because I'm just that way, I had to answer of course. My answer went something like this, speaking as myself not foreshadowing a future Google product:

I don't think in the future, Google should have to be driving all the streets in the world. Ideally, we will move toward a time in which everyone is providing data about the world in open formats, in ways that are search-able and crawl-able. What makes Street View so compelling, I think, is that it gives us a sense of place, a sense of the essence, be being-ness of the location we're looking at. And in fact, in places where we don't drive cars, you can still see geolocated photos. Look at Moscow, for instance, with Pegman selected. There are photos all over. Ideally, this is something self-perpetuating, something people want to open up.

That got me to thinking, especially after reading Ed Parson's recent post about a 1930's video of Teddition. He, and the commenters, talks about what can be seen there, and what has stayed the same. Ed ends with this statement:

"We are lucky to have rare video like this for it’s completeness but at the same time it’s disappointing that for future generations Google Street View which could offer a similar resouce has had to be mutilated to accomodate privacy concerns."

Indeed, there is something we miss out on. I am not arguing for doing away with privacy, I'm just ruminating here on pictures and meaning. The word "place" has many meanings in English, but they are interrelated. The reason satellite imagery, and particularly street view imagery is so compelling is that it relates something that standard maps can't, a sense of the place or essence of a location. And that place-ness, that sense that is tied to location, time, people, trees, buildings, smell, sounds, all of that is incredibly powerful, and I think Street View is only starting to touch on what that means to people.

I've been in Japan this last week, and at two GTUG meetings, I did demonstrations of custom Street View. In particular, people were interested in this simple holiday greeting from Digitas. In it, the developers added some panoramas to their Street View application through the API, which of course anyone could do. The panoramas lead off street into the digitas office where employees hold up signs and there are thought and word bubbles around them. This conveys a sense of the place, a sense of celebration and fun and associates it with Digitas. I hope it really is that fun to work there, they seem like really nice folks in the picture!

The point I'm trying to make is that by this simple set of panoramas and a few lines of code, they were able to extend the sense of place that is the city around them, and change it to create a view of the place that is their company.

I know there are lots of academic writings on this subject, but frankly since 1994 I get bored when post-modernism or marxist dialectics get mentioned, so my forays into those studies have been unsuccessful at moving me. I read the works of China Meivelle, or Armistead Maupin instead, each of whom conveys vividly this sense of place

Today, like most days I have free in cities not my own, I walked. I walked around Kyoto. Not to find temples or castles, but to find that sense of place. I walked around, a lot, often going back over the same streets, visiting occasionally the same shops. I tried my extremely limited Japanese, and people graciously helped me out. I walked not just the big streets, but the small ones, gathering into myself my own impressions, my own sense of Kyoto-ness. Of course, this is very different from living here, what the place is like, and especially different from being a native. I tried to take pictures (posting them later) that captured this sense. How will technology solve this? Street View, satellite imagery, they are a start, but I believe augmented reality applications are going to be the best bet for capturing the "-ness" of a place. And I believe at some point, most of us will be involved in that capturing. The popularity of check-in applications, the rise of geotagged photos and videos, providing reviews, Foodspotting, and more are already starting it. It's only been 6 years since Google Earth and the Maps API came out, I wonder what we're going to see in another 6 years.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Private Tables in Fusion Tables: Better privacy for your data

Back in June, I wrote about "Techniques for protecting your data." Yesterday, Google announced another way to protect your data, Protected Map Layers.

Protected map layers, a part of the Google Maps API Premier package, allow you to create a data table in Google Fusion Tables and keep that table private. Maps API Free allows you to use only tables marked Public. Protected map layers are rendered as clickable rasters. You still have to be careful what data you put into the infowindow, make sure it's only what you want public.

Of course, Maps API Premier also allows you to make maps that are password protected, so this will be really useful for enterprises that want to keep their data entirely private but still take advantage of the performance improvements and spatial queries that are allowed by using a FusionTableLayer.