Love or hate, award shows are part of our lives.  And in the tech world The Crunchies are the ones to watch when it comes to technology startups and innovation.  With 20 categories, they cover the gamut in the technology world.  That includes startups in the area of Location Based Services.

The 2010 Crunchies Awards have just been handed out.  Among Location Based Services startups, five bubbled to the top based on the opinion of the over 500,000 voters:

This year’s winner being Foursquare.  Runner up was Facebook Places.  Congratulations also to Gowalla, SimpleGeo and Uber.

If you missed the event and still want to watch – check it out here.

Is Location Information Important to Project Management?

Some time ago I was involved in several discussions around the value of integrating project management and geographic or location information.

The essence of the conversation was that linking the two disciplines provided project management decision makers with important additional information to assist in the operational execution of projects.

As projects become more complex factors such as communication, resource coordination and sharing become increasingly important in managing project timing, costs and potential disruption of associated activities.

Those of us involved in the discussion agreed that a prime example of the need for tighter linkage between project management and spatially relevant data was in the area of urban capital project execution.

An understanding of geospatial information such as: environmental factors, demographics, infrastructure, transportation corridors, etc. is increasingly relevant in measuring project impact and risk.

A Spatially Oriented Project Management Solution

Envista CorporationRecently we came across Envista a software product that integrates aspects of spatial information with project management.

The product is targeted towards municipal governments and associate utility organizations with the goal of helping these organizations identify and mitigate project conflicts.

Envista is a web-based solution that allows various stakeholders in a region to share  information, identify conflicts and provide tools for resolution conflicts and for future project planning.

Envista Working Environment

From a GIS perspective Envista has the ability to accommodate data in .shp file format.  And on the project management side it is compatible with Oracle’s Primavera and IBM Maximo products.

For more information check out Envista and don’t forget their cartoon – Street Cut Capers!  We can always use more humor in this business!

Based on the research we have done, there is more that can be done in the integration of project management and spatial information.  If you know of other solutions or case study examples let us know.

Google Maps and Microsoft Bing Maps offer free and commercial (paid) licensing arrangements that enable governments, non profit organizations as well as commercial entities to leverage map technology for data visualization in a way never so easily accessible in the past.

Both companies offer base data, tools for advanced geospatial tasks such as geocoding, routing, etc. as well as API’s for map creation and publishing.  All of this seems particularly attractive when one considers that it is free.

But as the saying goes “there’s no such thing as a free lunch….”

So what should one consider when considering building map visualization applications on top of one of these platforms?  Are there risks associated with going down this road?

Consider that:

  • In both Google and Microsoft’s case, the services the offer are “as is” with no commitment to long term availability, level of service or that these services will continue to be offered free of charge;
  • Use of the free services prohibits you from charging for the use of your application;
  • Google and Microsoft retain the rights to include advertising with applications/mash ups utilizing their mapping services;
  • Both companies retain the right to use your data for their purposes; and
  • You are required to indemnify Google and Microsoft against any claims that might arise from a user of your application.

And, the two companies may impose other constraints around issues such as the number of geocodes you are allowed to make, the use of their service for mobile applications, numbers of users that can access the application, etc.

None of this is to say that choosing to build your application on Google Maps or Bing Maps is a bad idea – just that you need to consider all the implications.

In some cases, you may elect to use their commercial (paid for) versions or consider other alternatives.

Mapping APIs and Mashups

Application APIs are an invaluable extension to many software products, providing a means to quickly and conveniently integrate applications and data to produce value added results for specific purposes.  The resulting derivations are often called mashups.

The creation of mashups belies the convenience they bring to a broad range of applications.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the online mapping arena where software APIs are allowing users to fashion extended applications.

Mapping APIs are abundant – and resulting mashups even more so.  A recent survey of ProgrammableWeb’s directory of APIs showed 130 mapping related APIs out of a total 2,198 APIs.

Interestingly of the 5,271 mashups in ProgrammableWeb’s database, 2,354 fall in the mapping category.  Of the 50 most recently added mashups, 24 utilize a mapping related API exclusively or in combination with other APIs

Looking at the most popular APIs in terms of mashups utilizing them, 8 of the top 50 APIs fall in the mapping category.  Overall, the GoogleMap API is far and away the most popular with 2,100 mashups in the directory utilizing it compared to the Flickr API, next most popular with 552 associated mashups.

There are lots of ways to measure the extent or impact of human or natural disasters but sometimes it is challenging to gain a true perspective on their scope.  The current oil spill impacting the Gulf of Mexico and the nearby coastal areas is a case in point.  Morgan Brown whose blog I follow largely for his insight into internet marketing and related topics posted an example of how web-based mapping an imaging tools can help frame events like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in terms that are familiar to us.

He points to a great Google Earth application built by Paul Rademacher that allows you to compare the spatial extent of the oil spill to a geography you are more familiar with.  For example, here is a clip from the application overlaying the spill over the area where I live – including many of my favourite fishing spots!   Give it a try.  A great example of how spatial technology can help us understand what is happening in the real world.   And hopefully in this case will galvanize us into action!

The location of information sources is useful information itself. Where information is published can be valuable in many ways. Hyperlocal news services are one example. They benefit from the ability to aggregate news information based on the source of that news.

Another interesting application is in mapping source information about a particular subject. I came across an interesting blog post from InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters). Their recent blog post illustrates the value of mapping source information on a map.  In the post they show recent information tagged with ‘influenza’ by location.  They have then overlain a representation of  the data using what is called a heat map.

It should be clear that in this particular example the InSTEDD results are not necessarily pointing to events of influenza itself but they do show patterns of information dissemination that tell their own story for those knowledgeable in this field.  Depending on the nature of the source posts, the mapped results could provide useful information about the underlying issue or simply provide insight into the patterns around the actual post sources themselves.   In either case, map representation can aid in the interpretation of the results.

One of the underlying requirements for mapping data is the need to somehow attach a location to data – in this case the location of sources who published information about influenza.  This location information has to be in a form that will allow an association with a point or region in order for it to be represented on a map.   The technical term for this is geocoding and it is fundamental to all location based services or applications.

There are a number of ways in which geocoding can be accomplished.  They vary in method, degree of difficulty, accuracy and cost.  In a future post, I intend to discuss geocoding in more detail and provide and overview of various approaches that are being used.

Location base services have emerged as one of the trending wireless application areas and as new applications emerge, the conversation about user privacy grows.

With respect to LBS, the privacy issue revolves around the need to make a user’s location known.  Location awareness allows the user to benefit from the application or service but on the downside, making ones location known can bring on a potential range of unintended, unpleasant or even dangerous results for the user.  So for LBS providers, a key question is how to balance the collection, use and dissemination of user location and related information so as to provide benefits without serving up or facilitating unintended results.

While the discussions around this topic are many, I found it encouraging that the CTIA – a leading representative for the wireless industry association recently published “Best Practices and Guidelines for Location Based Services” which focuses on user privacy and information security.  The document is intended for LBS providers with an objective to ensuring the LBS applications being developed and offered to users promote and protect user privacy.

The guidelines are developed around two fundamental principals – user notice and user consent and state:

  • LBS Providers must ensure that users receive meaningful notice about how location information will be used, disclosed and protected so that users can make informed decisions whether or not to use the LBS and thus will have control over their location information.
  • LBS Providers must ensure that users consent to the use or disclosure of location information, and LBS Providers bear the burden of demonstrating such consent. Users must have the right to revoke consent or terminate the LBS at any time.

Specific elements of the guidelines include:

  • Provision of notice to users
  • Obtaining user consent and allowing users to revoke their consent
  • Establishment of information safeguards

As the guidelines points out, there are many groups who could be the LBS provider so the challenge will be to bring about concensus on appropriate guidelines and then broad adoption.  It is encouraging that the industry is take steps to meet these challenges.   From an industry and individual provider perspective, I believe proper attention is key to healthy growth.

If you are an LBS provider I encourage you to read and consider how to implement the guidelines. While there is nothing binding about the CTIA guidelines, they are encouraging LBS providers to self-certify for the benefit of users.

Ever Been Hit By an Iceberg?

In a previous part of my career I spent a lot of time trying to understand icebergs and their behavior (is that what they consider anthropomorphism?).  A lot of years have gone by since then but I am still curious about these massive pieces of ice.  So I had to post this picture of a massive Antarctic iceberg colliding about to collide with the Mertz Glacier Ice Tongue.

Antarctic Iceberg About to Collide With Ice Tongue

Even more impressive is that NASA captured a time sequence of satellite images showing the collision and fracture that calved a new iceberg.  The first iceberg B-09B is approximately the size of Rhode Island and the new iceberg is estimated to have a mass of 700-800 billion tons!  Talk about a major collision.

Satellite imagery has a wide range of applications – not the least of which is their use in monitoring massive events like this in remote parts of the world.

I came across a very nice Google mashup today.  There are so many of them out there but this one caught my attention for a number of reasons – both from a personal and technical interest standpoint.

Lindsay Wright has created a website called Tidespy that provides tide  and solar information for tidal stations in many countries.

From a technical standpoint some of the interesting things he has built into the site include:

  • the incorporation of dynamic data (both tide and solar information) into a mashup environment
  • information rich pop up windows with user control of which data to view
  • simple user tools to modify how the data is presented
  • tools that allow users to customize the how information is presented and search tools for finding specific locations
  • nifty little location markers which at the local level show whether the tide is rising or falling and change color in accordance with the tide level

Tidespy shows that it is possible to create an attractive, interesting and informative mapping application with readily available mapping tools.

Real Estate Gets It – Location is Everything

A recent article in the Financial Post reminds us of what the real estate industry has known for a long time – location is everything.  Many factors influence the price of property but in the end, location is fixed and according to Elton Ash of Re/Max “The location is always critical. The location is directly tied to price. Nothing beats location. Ever.”

So what about other industries?  Absolutely for many.

Geo-industry analysts predict returns to strong economic growth in 2010 for technology companies in the sector while broader based technology gurus are consistently recognizing the importance of location within other technology products and services.  Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch puts “Geo” in second spot in his prediction of technologies that will have a significant impact in 2010.  He points to the recent Twitter acquisition of Mixer Labs, creator of the GeoAPI as evidence that tech companies see geolocation capability as a must have in their products and services.

My opinion is that increasingly opportunities will exist for geo technology companies to leverage their expertise in markets outside their traditional areas of business.  The challenge will be to identify the real opportunities from the fluff.  Many of the opportunities will look quite different from traditional location based markets and the winners will be the ones who can figure out how to structure themselves to match the market requirements.