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Location, Location

Combining mobility, time and location is becoming one of the most valuable techniques of media creation. Last week, some students and I did a small experiment that demonstrates how easy this is to do, and suggests all kinds of possibilities for journalistic follow-ups.

Phoenix First Friday Art Walk

This Flickr map has more than 120 photos, taken by me and some Arizona State University journalism students, at last week’s Phoenix “First Friday Art Walk” — a monthly, self-guided tour of a downtown-Phoenix district that contains a number of galleries and craft-oriented shops.

Putting this together was absurdly simple: We combined the capabilities of the Google/T-Mobile G1 smart-phones and services provided by the photo-sharing site Flickr. (Note: Google provided us with the phones and its carrier partner, T-Mobile, gave us airtime.)

The G1s are the first in a line of what Google hopes will be lots of devices using the Android operating system, which is considerably more open than Apple’s iPhone and has, in my view, roughly equal potential. The G1s contain, among many other capabilities, digital cameras and GPS (global satellite positioning radios that tell location within a few meters).

Each of us shot a dozen or so pictures at various places along the Art Walk streets. After snapping each picture, we sent it by email to a special address at Flickr, using the name of the gallery or other location as the subject line and adding some body text to describe what we were looking at.

Embedded in the JPEG photo files created by the G1s is a critically valuable bunch of zeroes and ones: the location as determined by the GPS. Flickr reads that location data as it imports the picture files, and then places the images autormatically on a map.

In other words, the map was being created in real time, as we walked the streets and snapped the photos.

Now, this is not a new idea by any means. And we could have done a much better display of the pictures with a bit more time; Flickr’s mapping display to the general public is very crude compared with what it could do (the image above, much better than the one you’ll see if you click this public link, is available to the account holder of the map, but not to other people) Moreover, sending pictures via email was a crude way to handle the images; there are applications for the iPhone and Nokia’s GPS-equipped phones that upload to Flickr much more efficiently than anything written so far for the G1.

Still, it was trivially simple to set this up and make it work, using tools that already exist and are, for the most part, easy to use. We’ll be doing much more with the G1s over time (including, I hope, creating applications that more fully explore the devices’ potential).

The point is that some events take place over time and space, and are made to order for this kind of treatment. Journalists are actually quite late to the party. Flickr and other sites are displaying crowd-sourced such events via user-created tags.

We’re planning to open up this page to others in the Phoenix community, so that over time people create a rich photo set of First Friday. We’ll help people sort by dates, not just location, so that we can see how the monthly event changes over time, too.

We are planning a series of other experiments with these phones (and others), and would be grateful for ideas on how we might take best advantage of these incredible devices. Our goal is simple: testing ideas that will help create valuable community information resources and services.

5 Comments on “Location, Location”

  1. #1 Kevin Anderson
    on Apr 6th, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Dan, I used a GPS-enabled phone and a simple (and relatively inexpensive) geo-tagger to map a journey across the US for the US elections. I geo-tagged most of my posts and Tweets for the Guardian as well as all of my photos. I’ve got a pretty detaild how-to that might spark some ideas for your students:

    http://strange.corante.com/2009/02/11/guardian-election-road-trip-review-geo-tagging

  2. #2 An easy way to map your community « Virtualjournalist
    on Apr 6th, 2009 at 11:17 am

    [...] Posted by Anthony Salveggi on April 6, 2009 Dan Gillmor and Arizona State University journalism students used the power of GPS, smart phones and Flickr to assemble a map (in real time) of Phoenix’s “First Friday Art Walk.” [...]

  3. #3 Strange Attractor » Blog Archive » links for 2009-04-07
    on Apr 7th, 2009 at 4:30 am

    [...] Location, Location – Center for Citizen Media Kevin: People think I'm a little crazy about geo-tagging, but it's a small bit of fundamental work that opens up a world of value-added location-based services that could be sources of revenue for news organisations. Dan Gillmor highlights how easy this is to do with his class. As Dan says: "The point is that some events take place over time and space, and are made to order for this kind of treatment. Journalists are actually quite late to the party. Flickr and other sites are displaying crowd-sourced such events via user-created tags." (tags: locationbasedservices geotagging revenue geodata) [...]

  4. #4 thinkingdifference
    on Apr 13th, 2009 at 7:02 am

    It’s equally scary, and I can imagine thousands of cases when this would be the case. While I can certainly see how your particular project is giving something back to the community, the fact that these projects can be about anything/ anyone is quite concerning. I think we certainly need a bit more critical analysis of such surveillance technologies, because it seems to me that the question “who will benefit from this” is central to understanding the social construction of these new technologies, as well as the boundaries of social acceptability and desirability.

  5. #5 Dan Gillmor
    on Apr 13th, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    You bet this is a serious issue. I’m not at all happy about a world where surveillance is ubiquitous, especially when the government and private interests work together.

    We will need to help each other establish zones of privacy. I don’t think the law is going to help here without making things much worse, but we do need to modify social norms.