Tapping the Potential of Geotagging

    by Dan Schultz
    November 15, 2007

    Last week I saw someone wearing a shirt that said “Think Globally. Act Locally. Eat Noodles.” The noodles part still confuses me, but I think the rest of the message does a really good job of summarizing what I want digital media to facilitate. It seems that the key to bringing local into the inherently non-physical Internet is Geotagging and geographic interfaces. These technologies open up some innovative ways to present stories, but before looking at this idea more closely I’m going to describe the current situation from the perspective of one 21 year old media consumer in the hopes that it will illustrate the need that I’m trying to address.

    How I currently approach the News


    When I enter “look at the news” mode I have two main desires. The first is to find out what is going on that I might care about. The second is to do this as efficiently as possible so I can get on with my life. There are some other more minor goals – entertainment, knowledge of about a specific topic – but I’ll ignore those for now. So what do I do?


    I can visit an aggregation system like Digg or Google News. This saves me a lot of trouble by bringing information to me under one roof. I can also visit a large media organization site which offers a similar service in a different way. The problem with these sites, as you might expect, is that they are tailored to a global audience and don’t do a good job of handling niche interests like a specific physical community. I go to them anyway though, since I have been hearing about the “Global Community” all my life and I feel that I need to be at least somewhat aware of these wider issues. Plus it is easy enough to browse a few headlines.

    If I want to read local news, I can visit a local paper’s website or a hyper-local blog. This will tell me plenty about my back yard and fill some of the informational gaps from the existing aggregation and mainstream sites. Unfortunately, finding that kind of content takes time and prior knowledge about where to look. I’m sure some people have a list of sites they check for updates on local news or they are simply willing to spend time looking, but these sources are too spread out for my liking and local aggregation systems leave a lot to be desired. This means that I end up living with my global/partial picture and assume that someone will let me know if anything interesting happens nearby.

    With this setup the global usually wins out while the local is underutilized, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care, it’s just that that caring isn’t all that counts. Even if I did decide to take the time to sniff out and read about the latest Pittsburgh news, what about my home town of Cheltenham where my family lives, or the cities of my friends from high school? Heck, I wouldn’t have a chance at finding everything that matters even if I had all day; information overload at its best.

    A solution in sight

    The situation I described above is far from ideal, so how can we give our readers quick access to all the news they care about, including physically relevant news? Earlier I mentioned Geotagging, and I feel this is a big piece of the puzzle. Articles that are systematically linked to relevant physical locations can be displayed and filtered in new ways, adding a whole new dynamic to the user experience. That is a great starting point, but it isn’t an end-all-be-all solution. To see what I mean by this, spend a few minutes checking out YourStreet. If you are like me at all you will soon be frustrated at the fact that you can only find things by physical location. Similar to Wii News, it’s a nice tech demo, but it isn’t exactly a killer app.

    What is missing? How can Geotagging be used to counter my lazy consumer tendencies? It will take more than a slick Google Map mash-up. In fact, it may well take more than what Google Maps has to offer right now. If only there was a well defined – oh wait, I just found a list!

    For Geotagging functionality to be anything more than a cool widget, it must also…

    • Let users to define and save multiple areas of interest.
    • Support physically defined regions.
    • Account for more than just the hyper-local or the global scope.
    • Incorporate proven organization schemes like topical categorization.
    • Include news that is tagged to multiple locations, irrelevant locations, or no location at all.
    • Feature a truly great interface that supports everything on this list.

    I plan on dedicating at least one post to each of these points. I also assume the list will grow over time. Can you think of anything else?

    Tagged: geotagging global local scope
    • Dan: Good post! The only thing I would add to your list is the ability of the user or citizen journalist to themselves contribute to the news on or off location…something we are working on in the locative media space. My sense is that geotagging and Google mapping are the first, somewhat crude steps into better location specific and locally relevant news aggregation and sharing. That said, as you pointed out with YourStreet, etc. there is some interesting and important work (including your own project) being experimented with that could lead to bigger and better things.

    • tfe

      I have another item for the list:

      Be able to tag stories with more than just a single point or set of coordinates. Be able to define regions that a story affects, either by clicking and dragging a square, or maybe being able to select entire cities/counties/states at a time.

    • Gary Kebbel

      I look forward to the further posts.


    • Related Content

      (This is a demonstration. If this were an actual use of the related content module, forthcoming by Agaric Design Collective and funded by a Knight News Challenge grant, connecting two blog posts like that will take just a click or two.)

    • This is exactly what we’re doing with Mapufacture (http://mapufacture.com). It’s a personalizable, geospatial aggregation system.

      Users can define their areas of interest, add the sources or searches of items they want to their ‘map’ and then they will get continuously updating local news. They can even add their own feeds from blogs, news agencies, media portals.

      Users can then subscribe to the RSS feed, or KML for viewing in Google Earth, or even access on their mobile phone.

      Users then have an “atlas” of all the maps they’ve created and can share them with others.

    • SMC

      How about:

      A portable, standardized format for geotagging metadata, which can be embedded in most data formats.

      There’s already a scheme for this that’s specific to JPEG images, but so far as I can tell, but that’s about it. Having some way of tagging audio files, for example, would be useful, especially if it was in a form that could be placed into most media types’ “comment” metadata.

    • I would like to suggest another bullet item for your list.
      Types of Media –

      • Video (HD & NTSC Streaming)
      • Pure Audio
      • Text
      • Photo Essays
      • Hypermedia meaning all the above in one

      When I search for news the topic and location is important but so is the format it is delivered.

      I like your vision.

    • Ivan Privaci

      I realize this is an ancient and fossilized discussion thread by internet standards now, but nonetheless I’ll mention here in case anyone is looking at geotagging audio or other files:

      Most file types that support metadata at all seem to have room for small arbitrary pieces of text.

      The “vorbiscomment” metadata format used by audio and video packaged in “ogg” containers includes a documented recommendation for geotagging in the form “GEO_LOCATION=(decimal latitude);(decimal longitude);([optional]elevation)”
      That should be short, simple, human-readable AND machine-parseable enough to be embedded as a line of text in just about any other kind of file metadata. (For ancient MP3 files, the id3v2 specification has a “TXXX” frame for this sort of thing.)

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