The headline basically says what the article's about, and points me to some things I didn't know about -- for example, Flickr, the photo-sharing service, now allows people to tag their photos with information about their location.
It'll be interesting to see which locations are overrepresented and which are underrepresented in the ones where people take photos. I've spent a fair bit of time Googling various intersections in Philadelphia and seeing which ones get a lot of hits; obviously intersections which are landmarks of one sort or another get a lot of hits, but even intersections of two quiet residential streets will have vastly differing numbers of hits, depending on -- it seems -- how wired the neighborhood in question is. It appears to not just be a question of socioeconomic status, but also of the age of the people living in the neighborhood; neighborhoods with lots of young adults have a higher profile on the web, which isn't surprising. Also, Philadelphia seems to be a good city in which to do this, because the streets form a grid and so most intersections are at least nominally equivalent.
My favorite among these mapmaking services is the simplest one I know of -- the gmaps pedometer, which allows you to overlay a walking route on a map and find out how long it is. Since I walk everywhere this is somewhat valuable. However, I wish that it were possible to get directions on some mapping service that didn't respect one-way streets, avoided highways, and so on. A friend of mine who just got a new apartment wrote recently:
Our apartment is at [street address] It's close to the T! Here are Google Maps' directions if you are a car: [link] . If you are not a car, I recommend walking from the T [...]The Google Maps directions put her new apartment at six-tenths of a mile from the T; on foot, it looks to be more like three-tenths of a mile.
But in general, everything happens somewhere, and giving people the ability to harness that fact can only be a Good Idea.
I think there will be another revolution, though. Google, Microsoft, etc. are working on these technologies to allow people to connect online data with real-life locations. But so much of what happens right now isn't really wedded to any location, and that will only continue in the future. This blog, for example, physically exists on a server somewhere... I don't know where. Oddly enough, I am reasonably sure it is not at 365 Main, a data center in San Francisco, because they had a power failure Tuesday afternoon and Blogger was still up. A lot of heavily trafficked sites were down, though, including Craigslist, Technorati, and Livejournal. It was a bit strange to see that sites which had nothing to do with each other in the virtual world nevertheless were tied together by their location in the physical world. But I don't care where the server is. (It is probably more accurate to say that insofar as my blog has a physical location, it is my kitchen table, because that's where I do most of my writing. But it is probably even more accurate to say that my blog's physical location is wherever my brain happens to be at any given moment.) What I care about is how it relates to the other information out there on the web, which I can get from, for example, seeing the "reactions" page at Technorati, looking at the service which tracks the hits this web page gets, noticing the blogs that people who link to my blog also link to, and so on. That tells me what's close to me in this virtual space.
And I wonder if this virtual space will turn into a physical space, if we will find a way to make a picture of it that makes sense. (A primitive example of what I'm thinking of is given by A Subway Map of Web Trends 2.0, from Strange Maps. Unfortunately this map is hampered by the fact that the makers didn't do their own graphic design, but rather based it on a map of the Tokyo subway system, and there's no reason that the Web should be isomorphic to the Tokyo subway. In fact, that would mean that the Web looks a lot like the actual city of Tokyo.) So far we have lists of what's close to each other. But a list of distances is not a map. Our minds are very good at making sense of spatial information, probably for evolutionary reasons; this is probably why one of the first things we tell our students to do, when it's at all relevant, is to draw a picture. But right now we only have the means to draw primitive pictures. That will change.