Malleable Musings

December 31, 2009

Going mobile

Filed under: Google Maps, Tools — Brendan @ 11:13 pm

The other day I was with an old friend and tried out his roll-up keyboard. I was quite surprised at how good it was.

However we both agreed that like the virtual laser keyboard it was probably nothing more than a frivolity – given the likely advances in small laptops and the upcoming iSlate/iGuide or whatever Apple decide to call it. We got on to talking about some of the newish Sony models. He liked the Z series whilst I was arguing in favour of this smaller and cheaper one (I was amazed that all I could remember about it was that it weighed 638g).

Although we disagreed about which Sony we preferred, we both agreed that what we were looking for was something that was a cross between a phone and a computer. But, something that offers more than the “Jesus phone” (his words) currently does, i.e. offer a slightly bigger keyboard that works across all applications.

For me it just confirmed my belief that mobile computing is on the cusp of an even greater uptake. It is only going to become more and more important (irrespective of what format it takes).

When I got my iPhone (Jesus Phone) over a year ago one of the things that I was most taken by were the apps and services that used geo-location. Some of the apps, like Twinkle (and others whose names I have since forgotten), were lost when I did my first reset and I didn’t bother to download them again.
I also had a play with Google Latitude at around the same time, or maybe it was it later? In any case, like Google Wave, I couldn’t really understand how I’d use it at the moment so I didn’t bother spending much time with it.

Now, this could be a case of me being reticent to use a technology for the sake of using a technology. This was after all the way I thought about things like blogging (and micro-blogging services) when I first encountered them. It’s a similar feeling to that I had when I first started publishing thoughts on the web. I didn’t get Twitter for a long time. However it may also be that I simply don’t have a network there yet.

I can certainly see the value in having a geographically local network sharing locally useful information. However I don’t think I want everyone to know where I am all the time. I’m not sure I even want my ‘friends’ to know where I am (whichever way we choose to define the word ‘friend’ – personally I like my 5yo son’s definition “someone I play with” – although that is probably a separate blog post in it’s own right).

Geo-networks, services and games scare me because of the security implications in the physical world. I guess it’s a bit like the advice about not leaving a programmed sat-nav devices in your car at a long stay car parks because burglars have been known to use these devices to guide them to your home address which they know will be vacant.

Recently though I’ve started hearing and reading more about specific GPS based location services / games, in particular Foursquare and Gowalla. I’ve seen more of my digital friends using these services and I’ve been very interested to hear about how corporates were using these services, e.g. Advertising a cocktail bar in Dublin. I’ve also heard stories about people checking in to a location being served adverts or messages from local competitors.

So I’ve started looking at both Foursqaure and Gowalla a bit more closely. At this stage they are definitely only being used by early adopters (at least in the part of the UK in which I live – although Foursquare probably hasn’t helped themselves there – London, Birmingham, Manchester seem to be the only English cities).

Once I’d had about a week of playing.   If you look me up you’ll see I don’t get out that much. My initial thoughts were:

  • geo-location has a long way to go in rural areas, I created several spots that were a long way out;
  • both services seem to be being used more in Coventry than they are in Leciester, although I wonder if this is something to do with proximity to Birmingham especially in the case of Foresquare;
  • how could/would my business – a university – use these services;
  • are these GPS based networks going to die out quickly based on the addition of geo-location to other social networks, e.g. Facebook and Twitter. Mashable had an interesting post on this just today.  My take is that a useful service will take a while.

I think for universities campus tours would seem to be the obvious next step and I can see that it’s not just me thinking about this. The tours, tips and networking features would be ideal for open days, for freshers and new staff arriving on a campus.

July 26, 2009

Playing with KML and Google Maps

Filed under: Google Maps — Brendan @ 11:51 pm

This week I’ve not managed to do that much playing about online. I just haven’t had time in the evenings and then this weekend I’ve not been feeling that great (and I ended up doing some DIY – replacing the taps on the sink, re-turfing the garden today etc). So the only bit of play I’ve managed has been reminding myself a bit about how Google Maps, Yahoo Maps and the Google Data Visualisation tools work.

In the past I’ve used the Google Maps Data Visualisation tools to build things like this.

However what I want to try and do this time around doesn’t seem to fit in to the standard visualisations. I want to display a list of geographic markers containing rich text (which I envision being drawn from a database) as well as some shaded country territories which again have some form of text assigned to each country. It sounds like it should be easy but I still haven’t figured out the best way to do this yet. My current thinking is that my best bet is KML or GeoRSS imported in to Google Maps rather than playing about with the code or going through the API. This is partly because I seem to get things working in the playground that I can’t get to work in the wild.

I’ve found a KML list of rough country boundaries and am testing the files within the KML Interactive Sampler. However I can see that this is going to require a fair bit of manual work, so I keep looking for shortcuts – I’m guessing I’m left wondering how much time I might waste on this and how frequently I might need to update the map.