February 11, 2014

Geodata, at YOUR service

The reaction to my blog entry on “Geodata and placemarks: More questions than answers” has not been as much a set of answers, as it has been objections. Objections to why one would want to share geodata in the first place, as Big Brother is perceived to have access to everything in the cloud. If evil people steal your sensitive geodata from Big Brother, they will undoubtedly know not just where you live, but where your spend the most precious parts of your entire life. My point never was to promote mindless sharing of your locations, for the benefits of others, who at best want to target you with specific advertising and at worst reveal your data to third parties, who want to blackmail you or otherwise use knowledge about your whereabouts against you. My point was for you to use the widespread availability of location based data at your own conditions, for your own benefit. The problem with that approach is a lack of aligned interests. If it’s for your benefit, you pay! If it’s at your conditions, you code. You do the editing. And there is a lack of tools for a user-centric approach. If there is no payback, who would want to serve you? I decided clarify my own geodata related needs by answering two questions:

  1. Where is personally relevant geodata stored now?
  2. How would I want to use and share my own geodata?

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Where is personally relevant geodata stored now?

Clarification: By “personally relevant geodata”, I mean location based information that is of use to me, in my life, both business and private. I try to be generic, in the hope that my answer will be applicable to your life, too. Already geotagged information I have

  • in pictures taken with my mobile phone
  • in pictures taken with a few other cameras (in my case: Canon 6D, Nikon AW110)
  • in some older pictures I’ve placed on the map with Adobe Lightroom
  • in tracks recorded with my gps tracker (in my case: Columbus V-900)
  • in a set of placemarks that I’ve saved when playing around with various map based services on the web, including but not limited to Open Street Map
  • in a set of placemarks that I’ve saved when playing around with GPS devices and GPS apps

Not-yet-geotagged but still location bound information I have

  • in my address books
  • on hotel bills and other receipts with addresses to places I’ve been, and might go again

I have no joint repository for my geotagged data. By contrast, I have quite a good repository for my photos – a huge directory tree with several GB of data, as managed by Lightroom, on two external HDs, one of which is offsite. And both of which are in my possession, usually not attached to the power net – much less on the cloud. To make things worse, the already geotagged information is siloed. My mobile phone kindly shows the pictures I’ve taken with it on a map, but those pins aren’t easily movable elsewhere, such as to a GPS navigator. In my frustration, I end up underusing location based data, as the barriers are too high between the servants of my location based needs.

How would I want to use and share my own geodata?

I would want to use my geodata to simplify and enhance my life, at least in the following ways:

  • Through maps that visually depict a single past or future event: A company meeting, a skiing tour, a holiday trip visiting relatives.
  • Through aggregate maps that portray many past activities: Where our company meetings have been, all the places I have skied, all the holiday trips in Europe.
  • Through character based statistics, on distances, durations, directions, speeds. Maximum elevations. Gained height.

From the maps and statistics, I want to learn from the (geo-tagged parts of my) past:

  • Where exactly were we, when we thought we were lost?
  • How far did we go? How long did it take? Was the kayaking break really 70 minutes long?

I want to have fun and be productive and realistic when I plan the future:

  • If people at our company Scavenger Hunt in Budapest are to find the dinner place by seven, what should the intermediate stations be, and how should we document them?
  • Given past experiences on a good distance to ski in one day, not too ambitious but still exciting: Where exactly should we go on the first day of the trip?
  • When should we start? How far will we be when we’re hungry for lunch?

To be specific about how I want to access the maps and statistics:

What next?

  1. I want access to the maps as a “dead JPG”. That JPG, I can look at when Internet is flaky or nonexistent. I can sync it with my mobile phone and show it to you over a beer. I can add it into a book, a magazine, a poster or other printed material. I can print it on a piece of paper and have it in a watertight bag in my life vest, when kayaking. I can post it in social media, with discretion and good judgement.
  2. I want access to the maps in an interactive web service, such as Open Street Map, Google Maps or Google Earth. This is good when planning, and sharing plans. A good language for this is KML, with which I can attach pictures, URLs and free-form text information to places on the map.
  3. I want to visualize the trips in a video sequence. One possibility is a moving track where the camera pans on the maps, along the way showing names of places, dates and times, statistics, pictures. Another possibility is a “helicopter tour” of the track, as Google Earth can do with KML files.
  4. I want an app that tells me my current position relative to relevant places close by. Not a map, as I may be o Places are relevant either because I’ve been there before, or I’ve located and saved them as being relevant for me. New, not-yet-visited relevant places may be a restaurant you told me about last year, the hotel I booked for tonight, or the village where my great-grandfather grew up.
  5. I want access to the statistics as text that I can cut-and-paste and share over email and social media. I may want to aggregate the statistics in a spreadsheet.
  6. Rome wasn’t built in one day. I won’t tackle all of the above issues at once. But I will look at one specific need, in the hope that I can derive something generic from it: Planning kayaking trips in my home archipelago of Nagu in Finland. I’ve done a couple of Python scripts to harvest some of my existing personally relevant geodata, in order to use it and share it during the upcoming kayaking season. I’ll tell you more in another blog entry. I want to be brave in this new world of geodata!
About Kaj Arnö

One of the company founders, Kaj Arnö has been with the company from the start in October 2010. Kaj is a software industry generalist, having served as VP Professional Services, VP Engineering, CIO and VP Community Relations of MySQL AB prior to the acquisition by Sun. At Sun, Kaj served as MySQL Ambassador to Sun and Sun VP of Database Community. Kaj is board member of Carus Ltd Ab (Åland) and Footbalance System Oy (Finland) and was founder, CEO and 14 year main entrepreneur of Polycon Ab (Finland). His non-IT passion is to experience the world with his own muscle power.

Read all posts by Kaj Arnö