Vancouver Brightkite Meetup Tuesday July 28th, 2009 at The Irish Heather

Followers of @justagwailo, my automated ephemera Twitter account, know that I'm a frequent user of a service called Brightkite. Brightkite is a social web application that lets people check into physical locations with the intention of socially interacting online. With Twitter integration (you can have checkins, notes, and photos automatically post to Twitter with customizable text), it's an "where I'm at" application which also shows you who has checked in nearby. You can get SMS notification of nearby Brightkite users, and even set privacy settings so that only friends see your exact location and others see a more general city or municipality as your current location. The Brightkite iPhone app makes checkins easy, giving you the option to search for something if it isn't in the "pick a place" listing, using the built-in GPS to find out what's nearby.

On the heels of the successful Brightkite meetups in Berlin and Austin and the BayArea, the team at Brightkite wrote some helpful hints on organizing a Brightkite meetups, spurring me into action to organize one for the Vancouver area.

(I should note that I'm in no way affiliated with Brightkite. I'm just a frequent user.)

In a couple of weeks, Vancouver will host the Geoweb 2009 Conference, though I won't be attending. I would like to invite those who use Brightkite in the Lower Mainland, as well as people who are interested location-based online social interaction tools to join me at The Irish Heather at 7:00 PM on the 28th of July. (That date conveniently happens to be my birthday.) I'd be interested in doing a short introduction to Brightkite, and talk about the future of location-based online social interaction (one word: games).

I see Brightkite as an interesting way to explore a city and expand people's social network. I can also see roadblocks to the effectiveness Brightkite and its ilk, and would like those interested in discussing mapping, social activity online, and collaboratively mapping the world to join me in a week and a half to see where things are going.

Did I mention I'll have Brightkite t-shirts and stickers to give away? RSVP at the Yahoo! Upcoming event listing (understanding that the address is 212 Carrall, not 217 as listed there).

YouMap Vancouver
I missed the events in October, so I hope there are more to come.

Collaboratively Mapping Vancouver's Public Spaces

Last night I attended my first meeting of the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) Mapping & Wayfinding group. They are a group of mapping enthusiasts who want to organize collaboratively mapping Vancouver's public spaces and have some interesting ideas on how to do so, including a web service with a REST interface, but also hand-drawn maps. Let it ring throughout the world that I consider Joey deVilla the master of the hand-drawn directional map, after showing me how to get to his work from his former house back when I visited in 2005.

Having heard about it two hours before and deciding to go with one hour to spare, I pre-loaded two of my maps on Flickr. One was the map I made of my bike route home, and the other was the map of a SkyTrain Explorer walk in Burnaby. I got to talk about the latter a bit, and showed off my GlobalSat DG-100, and we talked about the different methods to track points when mapping out various items in the city, like surveillance cameras, bicycle locks and billboards. (Especially "non-conforming signs": the CBC has a short story on the Lee Building advertisement that Vancouver City Council ordered removed after the owners lost their court battle to keep it up. Read more at the VPSN's page on corporatization.) I suggested taking a photo, since the times will match up with the GPS logger, but there are other good, paper & pen methods too.

Geotagged Icon

After the meeting, instead of doing the dishes, I looked deeper into geocoding on the Mac and added the 'geo' microformat to all of my Flickr photos hosted on that are tagged with a longitude and latitude. A good example is the photo I took of Dave Olson: if you have Firefox and the Operator extension, you can use the actions associated with location to get KML (Google Earth) or view the location on Google Maps or Yahoo! Maps. (I already provide a small Google Map on each geotagged photo hosted on my site.) At last night's meeting, I also learned about, which gives you latitude and logitude of locations if you give them a fuzzy description (like an address, or an intersection). They also have an API, for free or for fee. Wasn't there a web service floating around that would accept your text and send you back geotagged HTML if it found what it thought were locations inside that text?

I haven't decided whether to participate in the billboard documenting effort—it will depend on how much work surveying a quadrant will be—but I plan on attending their next organizing event. The next VPSN Billboard project meeting from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM at the MOSAIC Community Meeting Room, located at 1720 Grant St. in Vancouver [event listing]. Just for fun, that previous sentence is marked up in the hcalendar event listing microformat.

One Week Documenting My World With a Nokia N95

Along with Kris, Roland, Dave, and Rebecca, I'm participating in a week-long Simon Fraser University research project centered around social media and the Nokia N95, a feature-rich mobile phone that takes amazing photos, acts as a media (video and audio) player, and tracks my movements. After two days of playing around with it, I've walked around my neighbourhood, taken video of trains, mapped out my morning commute to work and the full length of the 101 bus from 22nd Street Station to Lougheed Station. Bus routes are boring, I know, since they're already well-documented by the people that operate them, but I endeavor to accurately map my bike route using satellite technology, rather than draw it imprecisely by hand based on memory.

Ideally I'd be using some of the location tools built for Drupal to map out my adventures on my site using external services like Google Maps or Google Earth. Using these tools, either Drupal or the external services, would then spit out RSS and other XML-based feeds so that others can take the information and remix it somehow. In fact exactly a year ago today I wrote (Re-)Documenting My World With Drupal and the Nokia N95, which laid out a rough recipe of how that might happen. The development of some of the tools have atrophied (e.g. Aggregator2), but others—especially the Drupal core CMS and map creation services—have matured and people are finally baking location into the web. A week isn't long enough to get these things humming, though.

Impressions of the "phone":

  • the S60 user interface is still non-obvious and therefore hard to use
  • beautiful photos from a camera with an autofocus that I can't get the hang of
  • I can't take photos at all while tracking my movements with Sports Tracker, though that application is cool, giving you graphs of speed and altitude over time, exporting into multiple formats so that you can, for example, display them on Google Earth
  • everything's faster and better than my regular luxury phone, the Nokia N70
  • absent a data plan, having wi-fi that works on my phone rocks compared to not being able to get instructions to share an internet connection with an N70 working
  • vibrating when turning the thing on scares the crap out of me

Rebecca started things off accurately calling the research project a 'taste test', and has been posting photos of her travels around the Vancouver area. If it wasn't for Roland, I'd be using about half of the functionality that I'm currently using. He has his first day Blink! reaction and sober second day thoughts. I'm looking forward to hearing from Kris and Dave, who are most likely to document with video.

Where the Criminals Rested Their Head At Night

Lauren MacIntyre: “Eric Cadora and Charles Swartz, co-founders of the Brooklyn-based Justice Mapping Center, collaborated on the project with an architect named Laura Kurgan, at Columbia’s Spatial Information Design Lab. “What started out as a scholarly inquiry has turned into a national initiative,” said Cadora, whose team has mapped twelve cities so far. Their New York is a digital crazy quilt of “bright-against-black”: the areas least touched by incarceration in 2003, the year they chose to study (Riverdale, Bay Ridge, the West Village), appear black and gray; those more so (Coney Island, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Hell’s Kitchen) neon orange.”

The maps show the home address of those sent to prison, from which researchers can determine crime patterns. The article refers—but does not link—to the Justice Mapping Center, a WordPress-powered site with slideshows on the sidebar which display maps. The slideshows pop over the website using Lightbox, and use a technique I first saw on Jason Kottke's photo galleries to navigate to the next and previous slides (that is, one half of the slide is 'previous', the other half is 'next'). I wish the maps had a little more analysis, either in the slide text or maybe with an audio description. It's also a shame that I can't link to individual slideshows, unless there's something I've missed. Otherwise, the maps are a beautiful display of an interesting look at crime, that is, not where the acts were committed but where the criminals rested their heads at night.

(Re-)Documenting My World With Drupal and the Nokia N95

After I tell two people an idea, it probably makes sense to publish it somewhere so that someone can go out and implement it. Here are the ingredients:

  • a site powered by Drupal 4.7
  • Location module for Drupal
  • GeoRSS module for Drupal
  • Aggregator2 module, though its successors are currently in heavy development
  • A . Or any mobile device that combines GPRS, GPS, and a camera and a phone. The phone part is completely unnecessary, but that conveniently limits us to the Nokia N95.
  • (optional) Google Maps and Views modules for Drupal

I say optional for the last one because you would only 'need' it to display a map on your own site. (Which I do: more on that later.) Some assumptions, using Vancouver as my example. Since we all have a natural urge to let complete strangers know not only that there's nobody back at home but also to let those same complete strangers where we are at all times, say I'm walking in Stanley Park and want to make a 'live' document, with a map, of the walk I'm taking. With photos and video, say. Say, also, that I have a reasonably-priced unlimited data plan, the same reasonably-priced unlimited data plan I moan and groan about not having. Here's what would happen:

  • I would take a photo and automatically upload it to Flickr, the GPS taking care of the co-ordinates and geo-tagging as I walk around.
  • Flickr then displays it on its map. That's really neat, but not the exciting part. In the RSS feed, Flickr adds the longitude and latitude to each photo's item.
  • My Drupal-powered site takes in the RSS feed, and thanks to the Aggregator2 module + the Location module + the GeoRSS module, automatically adds the longitude and latitude to the individual item.
  • I map it on my site using the Google Maps module. That's really neat too, but still not the exciting part.
  • The GeoRSS module also adds longitude and latitude to my site's RSS feed.

That way someone could come along and use my liberal "Attribution" (no other restrictions) Creative Commons License and do something with it. Add it to a mapping aggregator (like mapufacture that displays crimes committed in Stanley Park, which would be so nuanced as to point out where crimes didn't happen. So hopefully, assuming the current odds of my being involved in a crime at any given moment, it will map out that data point at that particular moment.

We now come ever closer to having all the tools we need to not only document our environment, but to let others re-document it in different, unimagined ways. Right now the process is fairly time-consuming: before even knowing about GeoRSS, through a process involving manually looking at Google Maps of the area, then parsing out the Google Maps URLs for coordinates, I pasted in longitude and latitude for each station so far on my SkyTrain Explorer walks. That gets me a cute map of each walk (clicking on the label goes to the walk's individual page), and thanks to the SkyTrain walk feed (generated with the Views module) that contains geographical data (courtesy the GeoRSS module) you can get the points plotted on an external map. Which also happens to use Google Maps, but the point is that the service, through a standard to output location data in RSS and a few other pieces, someone else can use an external service or pull down my RSS feed and do something with my location data.

By few, of course, I mean "a lot of", since none of it comes out of the box, as you need to glue together a content management system, modules, and a little bit of manual labour. The Nokia N95 takes care of the manual labour part, and the wifi modem makes grumbling about lack of a GPRS plan almost pointless. (Almost.) It also takes out of the hard work of learning mapping, mobile devices, location-aware tools—and increasing my own location-awareness—as I try them out, since they'd all happen at once. And it would be fun!

I'm not worried that some evil-doer has, after reading the above, gained knowledge to hasten our doom. I'm 100% confident they would have figured that out for themselves.

Roland Tanglao visits Navteq at WinBC
He drove around with employees getting a demo of how Navteq employees map Vancouver's streets.
Multi-touch interaction demos using mapping, manipulating photos and 3D objects and mind puzzles
"It is a rich area for research, and we are extremely excited by its potential for advances in efficiency, usability, and intuitiveness. It's also just so much fun!"