I reason that online mapping tools ought to be highly interoperable, allowing one to fuse, integrate and manipulate spatial information from numerous sources in a myriad of ways. Secondly, they should provide a higher level link to visualisation that is more seamless - I’m thinking of more than cartographic presentation alone. They could include more Virtual Reality functionality. Thirdly, the link from online map information to mobile devices, laptops and other devices should be ’smarter’.
Purpose of an online map?
I’ll be frank. I’m not an average online mapping tool user. Online mapping is not something that I do a lot of. Most map creation I do is through a desktop GIS program because the tool sets are richer and the ability to interact with the data and visual components is much more extended. Invariably I like to analyze the data I am looking at, and online mapping is only now beginning to provide that to any reasonable level. The maturation curve for online mapping has followed a consumer orientation, which is fine, but most applications are rudimentary and built primarily around representation of data. I reason that I will forget all the hotels, stores and roads I see during an online experience, and that their effective experience is lost when I shut the computer off and walk out the door. However, if I print out a copy of an online map then I can carry it and use it. Alternatively, if I can download it to a device, then it is reusable. That link is an opportunity for innovation.
Integration of information
But this really comes back to why I would use online mapping. For the most part, I am interested in using the computer screen to fill it with others data and information, together with mine. I see it as a canvas to be painted, to be created and for information to be integrated. I would like to see tool sets and innovations that extend that capability. This includes imagery and data, but also the integration of text into the online mapping experience.I don’t want to have to figure out how to import or export. Instead, I would like to find information and have it automatically integrate for use. This includes analysis of the newly integrated information. Today, online mapping is highly oriented to presentation and visualisation. More tools for determining data quality are also needed online and the development of uncertainty tools would be a welcome addition.
Smart maps should be ‘Smart’
It does not make much sense to me to be sitting at a computer, which is capable of remembering, manipulating and processing far more information than my mind ever could, and not using that power fully. I would like to see online mapping innovations that are intuitive and smart. They should be able to find where the data I am working on is coming from regionally and its nature. Then to provide answers and insight related to it. Such innovatons should be informing me about what I can’t see or things I do not know about.
I suppose this is more than artificial inelligence. If we break down common workflows into processes, then we can identify elements within those processes which are recurring, or have probabilities to occur - or are related to other processes. Shouldn’t an online mapping application be able to investigate these structures and assemble the bits and pieces of logic into some kind of useful, intuitive serving fashion?
I find it very odd that we have so many technologies, so much brainpower, so much capability, yet, we are focused on putting pins into maps to locate a place. Not that that is not useful, to someone. But I would like innovations that educate, inform and discover things I do not know about and reveal them to me. It is the very element of supplementing current knowledge and awareness that I would seek in online mapping tools, and whatever it takes to support them. This is where Virtual Reality comes in, for example. I would like online mapping to be about more than maps, alone.Why can’t retrieved data draw a picture? Suggest a style and show it? Construct an idea?
Moving from the map to the device
I once saw Bill Gates lay down a device on a table (or hardware device) and the data was unloaded automatically. In a server environment, my data is everywhere in the world. Why isn’t it easier for me to walk around and have that data following me - being always connected. This means more smart-type devices.
The device is registered, the server is registered, the data is mine (or has granted me access), why do I have to push any buttons to experience my online mapping? Which brings up the concept of voice activation. I expect that is coming soon though. Why can’t I sit in a chair at my favorite restaurant, voice activate my ID and have the table come alive. or the chair or the elevator? Heck - why do I need a hand device at all, the objects around me should be aware?
Have you ever noticed that places like airports and coffee shops are great for WiFi signals, but very poor for recharging the battery on the devices you are using? What’s up with that? I’ll bet it takes most people 15 minutes or more to get the online map they want in these places, or longer. So it is a precarious race between map production and battery loss to gain the experience. So these places need more plugin areas. I’ll share something with you though that I have learned over time - solar works. I carry solar chargers in my laptop pack along with one for my iPod Touch. Most airports have an abundance of sun…
Finding the start and end point of online mapping
Where does online mapping begin and where does it end now? Is it when we are sitting at our desks, or has it been assigned to the mobile device? Aren’t all forms of working with maps and data online considered as mapping? Where is the boundary between an online experience and an offline experience, given that the two cross-over and share data and interoperate in one way or another?
I think that online mapping experiences need to more closely resemble desktop experiences. Speed is a factor in many cases as is security of information. Most online mapping today is difficult when it comes to rendering high quality images, particularly through mobile devices and wireless services.
Innovations for online mapping are primarily oriented toward communication, discovery and learning. The challenges lie in visualisation, analysis, purpose and intuition. Interestingly, if I step back 10 years in time and tried to write all this, the space would be blank.
We have come a long way. And continue to change.
The increasing innovation of online mapping continues to amaze and surprise me, particularly this week after viewing many interactive maps dealing with the U.S. elections. Clever interfaces for map-based views push the interest in mapping, and expand the prospects for the entire geospatial industry. The elections also provide a high-profile opportunity for some spatial analysis.
The tools and interfaces for online mapping provide an opportunity for innovation from a far flung group of developers. Developers with geospatial backgrounds are pushing more professional capabilities online that extend the GIS publication and analysis capabilities of professional practitioners. There are also many developers without a geospatial background that provide a new perspective that often leads to exciting innovations. GIS software makers are opening up via standards, developer-focused APIs, and other means, and the increased openness is having a positive impact on available features and the creation of exciting visualizations.
While the innovation is at a fast and exciting pace, there are some areas that I’d like to accelerate in order to spread more intermediate and advanced geospatial capabilities to much broader audiences. As I contemplate the steps to make geospatial capabilities more useful and universal, I think it has less to do with new features and functionality, and more to do with creating intuitive and customized applications with a certain amount of wow factor.
Broadcasting Geo Reach
The business benefits of geospatial technology are well known to practitioners and a growing number of companies, but they’re still not immediately apparent. I’d love to see some more geographic education by those that make use of the technology in order to benefit their bottom line. Businesses have the means to impress their customers in terms of their operational scope and efficiency. One thought is to weave geospatial analysis as a means of outreach and media, similar to the weight put on podcasts and webcasts these days. Why not a geocast?
A geocast could illustrate innovative uses of geospatial tools as part of multimedia promotion of a company’s inner workings. The geocast would be an interesting element to most websites, particularly if it tells a strong story about the company’s mission, projects, distribution or customer base. For instance, wouldn’t it be great to view not only the sites of a company’s retail locations, but also distribution facilities, and the web of an organization’s suppliers? The level of detail need not be precise for information deemed proprietary, but the global reach of an organization could prove instructional.
For organizations interested in green, the local nature of their business might be of strong benefit for marketing. For organizations with strong international spread, their interests in developing markets could be promoted for their global citizenship. The geocast would take advantage of all the great geospatial data and visualization tools, and would help to advance development in sophisticated geospatial visualization.
Tracking with More Flash
I enjoy the capability to track the delivery schedule of packages that I’ve ordered, particularly with the holidays coming up. It would be great if there were a real-time routing and trace-back feature for all shipments that incorporated more of a map interface. I like the thought of being able to see a package leave a warehouse and make its way to my house, perhaps with an optional text alert as it’s nearing my door. This would be a critical feature for items requiring signature, and would improve the efficiency and customer service of commercial shippers.
More visual tracking would be a great way to illustrate the distance that goods travel, and the route that they take. The near real time tracking of the truck could add a fun sense of anticipation, particularly in the young. And it would be a great geography lesson too. I’d love to send an e-mail note to my neices and nephews that their package has been ordered and is on the way with a link that let’s them see it happen. I envision a little red line from my house to the supplier, and then a map and timeline showing their house and the progress of the package. It would provide a more meaningful sense that I’m thinking about them, and they’d get a chance to visually connect with my distant location. Grandparents would really eat up this idea.
Travel is becoming more of a luxury these days, but the idea of visiting the far reaches of our world is even more compelling now in this age of globalization. I like to think about the workings of the world, and would enjoy a richer means to explore places of interest online. While the 3D immersive global exploration tools are moving forward in this regard, there’s considerable progress to be made to bring the sights and sounds of a location to life.
I enjoy collaborating with a far flung network of web workers, but I’d love to make more of a visceral connection to their location. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to share a better sense of your location, weather or local happening with those that you’ve come to call colleagues. The age of project based work that spans the globe is becoming all the more common, and there’s a learning opportunity about our world with every connection that we make. Just last week, a project had a temporary hold due to a festival in India. I would have loved to catch a glimpse of what that festival was like.
I’m excited by many different online advancements of late. The richness of the online experience is poised to become much more exciting and interactive. I’m hoping that a good deal of the excitement will revolve around geospatial visualization and spatial analysis tools that spread this functionality to a wider and wider audience.