geotagging & geomapping

I am, in a fashion, grateful that I didn’t get a chance to learn about geotagging until after I have completed my research on guides. I feel that, as a graduate student, this would have taken me in another direction.

Geocaching, and geotagging has been the purview of a kind of technological ‘upperclass.’ Some of these devices are fantastic, and pricey. New, friendlier technologies have made these activities available to a new, burgeoning ‘middle class.’ My iPhone is fully equipped for geotagging thanks to a very simple, free application (Geotag) and one for $2.99 (MotionX-GPS) that uses the iPhone’s GPS chip. These applications allow the user to find their latitude and longitude, flag a position (what is called a ‘waypoint’), and take a picture (your iPhone automatically geotags your photos by the way!). The first one is a little crashy, but it has the added benefits of being able to record two minutes of audio and link an email address or webpage to every waypoint. MotionX just as a photo. You can then create a path of a series of these points, a database of information to share or analyze, then export it to your computer over a wireless network, which pops onto your desktop as a kml file (for Geotag) or email it or share it with your Facebook friends (on MotionX). Double click on those files, and open them Google Earth. Google Earth can be crucial for the presentation of spatial data, and the way that Google Earth and Google Maps are synced further grow this ‘GIS middle class.’ It also allows for an opportunity to create a path in an urban space with your iPhone, export it, tweak it in Google Earth, and then use the Street View and 3D buildings (clicked on in ‘layers’) function, you can record a tour of one, or several spaces that you are going to talk about in a presentation. (The way that people can add 3D buildings through Google Sketchup is amazing as well. Look at this video about how this program is used by Autistic children.)

The Geotag application is clearly in its early stages (see the community section on their website), and I am pretty disappointed that there is a 2 minute time limit on the audio, however, I see that there are some powerful uses for conducting research in the field. (On top of that, urban geocaching is a great example of our urban alchemy.)

Now, when you pair this with gCensus, which is Stanford’s free program that allows you to export Census data into Google Earth, the iPhone can be a way to mashup quantitative data with qualitative, ethnographic, street level interviews and photos. Imagine doing a presentation of some ethnographic research on a community, where you geotag the who, what, when, and where of an interview and give your audience a full image of the social context of that material. (IRB issues of anonymity notwithstanding!) As soon as Google Earth’s iPhone app allows you to download kml files onto it… it will all come full circle.

Here’s a map mashup (‘Mashups: How and Why?’ here) on rising sea levels, an article on predicting swine flu, a way to track the movements of a dollar bill, the World Bank. Check out Penn State’s Geospatial Revolution page, and Kevin Kelly’s ‘Cool Tools’ post on it.


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