Location Becomes Oxygen at Where 2.0 & WhereCamp

Tue, Jun 2, 2009


The biggest news at Where 2.0, 2009 came from the Yahoo! Geo Technologies Group. Tyler Bell, announced Yahoo! Placemaker and the opening up of the GeoPlanet data set, “all of the WOEIDs [Where On Earth (WOE) IDs] available as a free download under Creative Commons in June” (see Brady Forrest’s post for more details).

WhereCamp 2009 was held immediately after Where 2.0 and was a great place to chew on the events and ideas of Where 2.0.  In the picture above Anselm Hook addresses the WhereCamp morning circle in the courtyard outside the Social Text offices in Palo Alto. Anselm pointed out to me:

“there are interesting implications of placemaker in combination with other yahoo assets – in particular YQL – placemaker by itself is neat – but placemaker combined with everything else is a natural missing piece that is a big enabler.  Yahoo has been impressive.”

With all the Geo platform power available to us now, also (also see New Geo for Devs from Google I/O), there isn’t a shadow of a doubt in my mind Brady is right when he said, just before the Where 2009 conference: “Location is no longer a differentiator it’s going to become oxygen” (quote from WebMonkey).


The Yahoo! GeoPlanet team at WhereCamp – Tyler Bell, (talking to Brady Forrest in picture on the left) is sporting his spatial junkies T-Shirt. Photo on right, Aaron Cope, Tyler Bell, Martin Barnes, Gary Gale.

WhereCamp was alive with key figures from the social geography movement who knew the power of these new tools (see some of my photos of WhereCamp on Flickr here).

The importance of the Yahoo! announcement really became clear to me at WhereCamp where I attended sessions all day Saturday including the Curating Big Data Session led by Tom Carden, Stamen Design and Aaron Straup Cope, Flickr, (see Aaron’s slides from his Where 2.0 presentation on “The Shape of Alpha” here and video here).

Anselm Hook, a prime mover for WhereCamp, is a leading philosopher of place making and veteran software developer who led Platial engineering and is now at web consultancy If you missed Anselm at WhereCamp he will be presenting on, Ubiquitous Angels at The OpenSource Bridge, Portland, Oregon, June 17th -19th, 2009.

Anselm describes where he thinks the challenges are:

“We should be mapping information that in some ways has been historically unmappable because it is 1) not valued or is 2) actively seen as threatening or is 3) simply too hard to map using traditional tools.”


The WhereCamp Schedule

The Shape of Alpha


Screen capture from Aaron’s Where 2.0 presentation on “The Shape of Alpha. Original photo from Flickr user “NickIsConfused”.

Aaron Straup Copes’s work on “The Shape of Alpha” puts key questions about curating big data center stage.

Firstly, the exploration of what it means to curate/collaborate over meaning from “the abundance of data produced in the precise but distant language of machines” (also see The Interpretation of Bias (and the bias of interpretation). The Shape of Alpha uses a process of reverse-geocoding to translate machine-generated geographic data into place names that people can understand and relate to.

The shapefiles are built with nothing but geotagged photos and some code called clustr (written by the brilliant  Schuyler Erie – co-author of Mapping Hacks). Anyone can make these shapefiles. You can get the shapefiles out of the  Flickr API. Aaron has been keying off WOEIDs (Where On Earth (WOE) IDs) but as Aaron noted you can key off anything you like – tags are an obvious choice.

Wow! You can reinvent mapping with this stuff.

Very importantly, “The Shape of Alpha,” tells us something about how we relate to place versus location. The emotions, disputes and behavior related to place also emerge through crowd sourced corrections.  For more see this very evocative post by Aaron about corrections and treating airports as cities.  There is a glorious thread/riff and ode to the genius of  J. G. Ballard pursued by Aaron and Dan Catt in their posts (also see Dan Catt’s, J.G. Ballard, Flickr, naked singularities and 3-letter airport codes, and Aaron pointed me to this brilliant “geo-detective work” on Concrete Island, by Mike Bonsall .

Dan Catt created geobloggers and “seeded the geotagging community around the Web.” I met Reverend Dan Catt (Twitter @revdancatt ) at Where 2.0 when he was kind enough to share part of his seat so I could join a very interesting discussion with Aaron on The Shape of Alpha.

As Aaron points out they decided to treat “the airport itself as the town…”  not (only) because they admired the work of J.G. Ballard,  “but because it is the right thing to do.”

Dan Catt has excellent blog posts “describing the nuts and bolts of how ‘corrections’ works.”  Aaron points out,  “in the nerdier of the two Dan sums it up nicely by saying”:

“On a slightly more philosophical level, it’s a never ending process. We’ll never reach a point where we can say “Right that’s in, all borders between places have been decided.” But what we should end up with are boundaries as defined by Flickr users.

For us, it’s a first small step into an experiment, and actually a pretty big experiment as we’re potentially accepting “corrections” from our millions and millions of users. We’re not quite sure how it’ll all turn out, but we’re armed with Maths, Algorithms and kitten photos.”

Psychosynthography – “Wearing Geography as a Perfume”


Psychosynthography screen capture from Aaron Straup Cope’s Where 2.0 presentation . Original photo from Flickr user,  NiteLynx.”

As I mentioned before, many of the ideas raised at Where 2.0 were unpacked and worked through at WhereCamp. For example, Aaron introduced a word psychosynthography in the last 24 seconds of his talk at Where 2.0.

So I spent as much time as I could listening to Aaron at WhereCamp, and asking him about psychosynthography and more (post of this interview upcoming).

Aaron urged the Where 2.0 audience to pay attention to the Psychogeography movement seeded by Guy Debord, and “to wear geography like a perfume.”

Joseph Hart writes in a “New Way of Walking” psychogeography is:

“a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities…just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.”

Curating Big Data


Tom Carden, Stamen, (picture above) paired with Aaron for the Curating Big Data session. Tom noted:

“The Curating Big Data session for me was an attempt to learn from other attendees (as opposed to teach/lead, as with the Stamen session, “Real Time Web-Based Visualization and Mapping”).  Also, it was an excuse to get Aaron to recap parts of the Flickr Shapefile story for WhereCamp folks, and to get *input* on how to do more things like it. I was a bit disappointed that nobody had really good examples for us, but I was happy with Brad Stenger’s suggestion to look into the upcoming census data as a relevant area.”

Aaron’s work on the The Shape of Alpha and The Corrections project shows, as Tom noted:

“what you can do once you have 150 million geotagged photos, and millions of users who are willing to say I took this thing here and my name for that place is …..”

And part of the significance of opening up the GeoPlanet data set is that now:

“we can try and start talking about the same places, as far as, [for example], these shape files go. So if you are interested in what comes out of the Flickr shape files project and but you also have your own opinion about what shape those places are so the IDs have be open you have to be sure that you are talking about the same thing in the first place.”

And, as Tom pointed out, collaborating over geo data informs us about curating any big dataset:

“it should lead to an overarching discussion about any kind of dataset geo or otherwise and ways in which we can talk about it, and think about patterns for improving that data, for collaborating, even on things like cleanup.”


Warp speed geo-genius Andrew Turner, Fortius One, took these excellent notes for the “Real Time Web-Based Visualization and Mapping” (on left) and “Curating Big Data” (on the right).

On my way to Where 2.0 I took the train from SFO to San Jose which was a delight but a little slower than I imagined. So, unfortunately, I arrived on Tuesday just after Michal Migurski (Stamen Design), Shawn Allen (Stamen Design) presented  Maps from Scratch: Online Maps from the Ground Up. This was on my MUST attend list and it was a wonderful opportunity to get into, “Real Time Web-Based Visualization and Mapping.”   I did get a chance to talk to Michal and Shawn a bit later in the conference but I will try to catch up with them soon for an in depth story.  Below is  Shawn Allen’s map of overlapping data sets from, “Trees, cabs and crime in San Francisco:”


Another follow up I am really looking forward to making is with Liz Barry and her work on S+EM, “an environmental mapping and social networking design project that links New York City trees with the people who care for them” (also see, Creating a Greener San Francisco Tree by Tree).  Also I got a chance to talk to another fellow New Yorker (we have to travel to the West Coast to find time to chat!), John Geraci of DIY City who presented DIY City:  An Operating System for Cities.

Machine Intelligence and Human Intelligence


Aaron Cope, Flickr, on the left is talking to Andrew Turner on the right the CTO of FortiusOne (see Andrew’s presentation at Where 2.0, “Your Own Private Geo Cloud”)

Many of the most interesting conversations happened in between sessions at WhereCamp and Where 2.0.

I caught this one in which Aaron Cope and Andrew Turner where discussing some of ideas Aaron raised in his presentation, “Capacity planning for meaning in the age of personal informatics” (see Aaron’s blog post, Tree planting and tree hugging in the age of personal informatics). The core question they were discussing was what happens when you wire the world at the scale people are talking about and it breaks… Aaron argues that you already have a whole class of people in systems operations that can tell us a lot about how to answer this question.


Ryan and Anselm shared the pulpit for the morning circle pulpit with Ross Mayfield of Social Text who was the generous host to WhereCamp.

Social Reality Mining


“As it stands today, we have no idea what terms and limits of a cloud based citizenship of the Google Caliphate will entail and curtail. Some amalgam of post-secular cosmopolitanism, agonistic radical democracy, and post-rational actor microecomics, largely driven by intersecting petabyte at-hand datasets and mutant strains of Abrahamaic monotheism. But specifically, what is governance (let alone government) within this?” from Benjamin Bratton’s talk at ETech 2009 (picture above), Undesigning the Emergency: Against Prophylactic Urban Membranes.

The other big take away from WhereWeek – Where 2.0 and WhereCamp, was not so much news, but a confirmation of something that has been pretty clear for a while now. (Check out Brady’s posts on reality mining at Where 2.0 last year).

We are moving headlong into the era of reality mining with all its myriad possibilities from: “hedonistic optimization” (this term came from Stig Hackvan when I asked him about some of the ideas central to the HeadMap Manifesto -more about HeadMap later in this post); to new forms of marketing (social reality mining the inside to predict if someone is going to trade business cards in the next 120 seconds – Alex “Sandy” Pentland, MIT, Where 2.0);  to stuff that matters to save us from mass extinction like distributed sustainability – greening production and consumption and our cities; to open government;  empowering indigenous communities (also see Rebecca Moore’s Indigenous Mapping: Emerging Cultures on the Geoweb Presentation); and not to be forgotten, the troubling possibility of new forms of social control.

Smart phones are powerful networked sensor devices in the palm of our hand

As Sandy Pentland MIT pointed out in his Where 2.0 keynote, “Reality Mining for Companies, or, How Social Networks Network Best,” mobile phones have created an ubiquitous instrumented reality that goes way deeper than location awareness. Smart phones are powerful networked sensor devices in the palm of our hand that know a lot more about us than location. With proximity, motion, (accelerometers), voice, images, call logs, email – what is enabled is not just knowing where people are but knowing more about them.

Many of the issues raised by Adam Greenfield in Everyware and in my interview with Adam were on my mind during WhereWeek, also questions that were distilled and explored in this presentation by Matt Jones last year, Polite, Pertinent, and… Pretty: Designing for the New-wave of Personal Informatics and Timo Arnall’s presentation, The Web in the World.

Google Wave, Pachube  Feeds, Sensor Networks and Microsyntax!

Visualizing 24 hours of Pachube logs, feeds all around the world -  built with Processing.

I found myself really wishing Pachube founder Usman Haque had been able to come to Where 2.0 this year – Usman was originally on the Where 2.0 schedule but had to drop out. My small contribution to WhereCamp was to discuss Pachube, Natural Fuse and OpenShaspa in the, Urban Eco-Managment session (see my interview with Pachube Founder, Usman Haque here).

Pachube announced – mapping mobile feeds in realtime, with 3d datastream value time & location based graphing just before Where 2.0.

And, as I was writing up this post, I was delighted to see this post by Bruce Sterling on Pachube Feeds and his challenge, offering:

“(((Extra credit for eager ubicomp hackers: combine this [pachube feeds] with Googlewave, then describe it in microsyntax. Hello, 2015!)))”

Also Anselm Hook, who has an extensive background in video game development, made an interesting point about Google Wave to me:

“btw – there is a preexisting metaphor for the wave – the wave is notable in that it is making the web like a videogame – its bringing real time many participant shared interaction to the web”

“Jens, Lars, and team re-imagined email and instant-messaging in a connected world, a world in which messages no longer need to be sent from one place to another, but could become a conversation in the cloud. Effectively, a message (a wave) is a shared communications space with elements drawn from email, instant messaging, social networking, and even wikis.”

For more on microsyntax see

Aaron pointed out to me re microsyntax:

“This is ultimately the “magic word” problem, which is essentially the semweb vs. google-is-smarter-than-you problem.”

I will have some more questions for Aaron on the the “magic word” problem in my upcoming interview post.  At the moment I am busy studying some of the thoughts in these links.

Privacy: Towards a Win Win and Community Sensing


While a key element of  Yahoo! Geo Technologies portfolio of platforms, FireEagle, not only gives an important set of tools to allow people to “share their location with sites and services through the Web or a mobile device” but also offers up some vital privacy tools, the community sensing work of Eric Horvitz takes privacy and data sharing into new terrain.

Eric didn’t have time to discuss his privacy work in his Where 2.0 presentation, Where, When, Why, and How: Directions in Machine Learning and Reasoning about Location, – it came up in his very last slide. But I ran up after his talk with my trusty old ipod recorder in hand, and got the part we missed! Fascinating stuff that will be the subject of an upcoming interview post. Here’s a little taste of what is to come. Eric describes one of the directions his team will be exploring.

“One thing I want to do, on our research team, I’d like to develop something very simple for people to use. A challenging problem with privacy is usability and controls. Aunt Polly and Uncle Herbie just don’t get all these authentication controls and sliders, nor do they want to invest in figuring them out. They also don’t get why they’re being asked with pop up windows to yes or no to various questions and so on. One Idea is having a useable privacy lens, that you can hold up anywhere and it tells you what you’re showing anybody or any organization, what does the world know about you. And you would like to have buttons to turn sharing off for some items. You’d also like to have a way to go back in time and view prior sharing and logging over periods of time, and to have buttons to push to say erase that segment of your logs.”

Understanding the social implications of what it means to live in an instrumented world is a topic that we cannot afford not think about. But luckily there are lot of people who have been thinking pretty deeply about this for a while now.

And I did my best at both Where 2.0 and WhereCamp to seek out as many of geothinkers as I could, and do interviews wherever possible (I have not had time to mention everyone I talked to in this post but hopefully all the interviews will get on Ugotrade soon!)

HeadMap Manifesto

In the bar of The Fairmont on the last night of Where 2.0, I heard some of the history of Where 2.0, GeoWanking, and The HeadMap Manifesto from Sophia Parafina, Director of Operations for OpenGeo and Rich Gibson, programmer, GeoWanker,  Gigapanner and co-author of Mapping Hacks with Schuyler Erie and Jo Walsh (Jo did a lot of key early work on bottom up urban informatics but unfortunately couldn’t make it to WhereWeek this year).

Check out! “The GigaPanSM process allows users to upload, share, and explore brilliant gigapixel+ panoramas from around the globe.”

Also I interviewed Paul Ramsey, Senior Consultant, OpenGeo, so more on OpenGeo is upcoming (see Paul’s Where ReCap). Justin Deoliveira (OpenGeo) and  Sophia Parafina did a session, GeoServer, GeoWebCache + OpenLayers: The OpenGeo Stack, which unfortunately I missed as it was before I arrived Tuesday.


I met Rich Gibson at Etech 2009 playing Werewolf and Rich introduced me to his co-author on Mapping Hacks and alpha geek supreme, Schuyler Erie, who also wrote the clustr code that The Shape of Alpha uses.

Joshua Schachter founder of Delicious and the GeoWanking mailing list, [and GEOURL - and MemePool!] now at Google came to WhereCamp and was mobbed by a small crowd eager to get their hands on one of the developer G Phones he was handing out from a large box.

GeoWanking, which is now run by O’Reilly Media, has been the incubator for all things location aware and “neogeography” discussions since 2003 – check out ‘sproke for a Paleogeography vs Neogeography (which, as Sophia notes, was a common topic of discussion at Where 2.0) smack down in which geowanking rules in the form of a list traffic comparison.

Sophia and Rich shared some of their perspective on the early days of GeoWanking and the creation of the HeadMap Manifesto with me and pointed me to many other people to talk to. The prime mover of the Headmap manifesto, Ben Russell, has retired from the scene – perhaps bored by seeing a radical vision gone thoroughly mainstream, or exhausted by the rigors of carrying an idea through the early blue sky years, or just s simply doing something else? I don’t know.

The HeadMap Manifesto is still vibrant today even as much of what it envisaged has already been realized. HeadMap assembled the future in a poetry of fragments:

“you can search for sadness in new york people within a mile of each other who have never met stop what they are doing and organize spontaneously to help with some task or other.”

Anselm explained to me what powered all this social cartography revolution, from his POV, was actually IRC.

“We had a channel on IRC called “#geo”.  And many of us met there.  I met Ben Russell at MathEngine in the UK. Ben and I were fascinated by the future of maps.  Ben, Jo and I met Schuyler, Dav, Dan Brickley (who worked for Tim Berner’s Lee who invented the Web), Rich Gibson, Joshua Schachter (who was just a geek at Morgan Stanley at the time ) … and the snowball took off….  many others.

We stormed ETECH ( Schuyler met Jo there).  We got invited to FooCamp. Schuyler was married to Jo by Marc Powell (Food Genome) and lived at his house.  We pushed so hard on the social cartography revolution.

I did a spinny globe for geourl – a project by some hacker named Joshua Schachter…  we were all friends for years and we had never even met.”

“Can AR researchers harness these new approaches to index reality?”

Radiohead’s laser (as opposed to video) clip made using Lidar

If you have read my interview with Ori Inbar, you will know how excited I was to attend The Mobile Reality panel.  The video is up and it is really awesome to hear Raven Zachary (on twitter @ravenme) get into the fray with augmented reality.

The main take away for me from the Mobile Reality panel was that we shouldn’t get too hung up on the difficulties of achieving fully immersive visual augmented reality and twiddle our thumbs waiting for the long anticipated sexy lightweight eyeware – which is still in a coming soon phase (for more on immersive augmented reality see my upcoming interview with Blair MacIntyre). Because, in the meantime, there are plenty of delightful and useful ways to augment our experience of the world – and not all of these augmented realities rely soley on smart phones as John S. Zeleck showed in his presentation on “Wearable Sensory Substitution Device for Navigation.” Also I had an interesting discussion at lunch with Ori Inbar about the use of audio for augmented reality projects.

Where 2.0 clearly demonstrated that we have an unprecedented amount of information from mapping our world, Ori Inbar noted in his conference roundup. Ori writes:

“My point is not a shocker: all we need is to tap into this information and bring it, in context, into people’s field of view.”

As Ori noted Earthmine and Velodyne’s Lidar showed off two new approaches to mapping the world that have potential to create new opportunities for augmented reality:

“Earthmine uses its own camera-based device to index reality, at the street level, one pixel at a time. They have just announced Wild Style City an application that allows anyone to create virtual graffitis on top of designated public spaces. However, at this point, you can only experience it on a pc!”

Lidar, Ori notes, has also embarked on a mission to map the outdoors. But, the question Ori highlights is:

“Can AR researchers harness these new approaches to index reality?”


Brady Forrest inspects John S. Zelek’s “Wearable Sensory Substitution Device for Navigation” at Where Fair before putting it on and being guided by sensory nudges at the cardinal points in the belt.


Coolest Mobile Locative Media App. at Where Fair


Atsushi Shionozaki of Place Engine – “a core technology that enables a device equipped with Wi-Fi such as a laptop PC or smart phone to determine its current location,” demoed the coolest location aware mobile app in Where Fair – Oedo Yokai. Working with ethnologist, Dr. Hiro Kubota and artist Atsushi Morioka, “Oedo Yokai” is Koozyt’s “first attempt to cross IT (Location Information) and Folkloristics.”

“The Japanese “Yokai” are known to dwell and appear at specific locations. They can frequently be seen within the grounds of shrines and temples, believed to be the border between this world and the afterlife, or in more common places like on a hill or at a crossroads. If the “Yokai” symbolize the mystery, legend, and lore associated with places, as our interests fade from actual locations, the rol, es they play in modern day society will diminish, and the “Yokai” might then cease to appear at all.”

I love this idea of bringing the ancient spirits of place back into our lives with our new tools of location awareness.

Odeo Yokai also reminds me of Aaron Straup Cope’s work on “the idea of every spot being a “history box” which he explained is “one of the threads behind the ‘nearby’ project at Flickr.”


The Food Genome

I cannot end this roundup of WhereWeek without a mention of The Food Genome.

“Food Genome is a big hungry brain that scours the internet, trying to learn everything there is to know about food.”

Watch out for the upcoming launch of this project, it stole the show with an exciting presentation at WhereCamp. You can follow @foodgenome on Twitter now.

To get one of the gorgeous Food Genome brochures you had to ask Mark Powell a good question. Notice an eager hand reaching out in the picture below. I asked, “how would the basic building blocks of the food genome be licensed?” I got my brochure and a rain check on an answer to my question.


The Ubiquitous Media Studio

Another highlight of WhereCamp was hearing from Gene Becker about his new project, Ubiquitous Media Studio which will be located in Palo Alto. The project is still in the early stages of devlopment but it sounds really exciting. I am looking forward to being involved from East Coast.  If you’re curious where this is going, follow @ubistudio on Twitter to stay updated.


categories: architecture of participation, Augmented Reality, culture of participation, digital public space, Instrumenting the World, internet of things, mobile meets social, Mobile Technology, new urbanism, online privacy, Paticipatory Culture, social gaming, social media, sustainable living, ubiquitous computing, Web 2.0, Web Meets World
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