Where 2.0 happened May 12-14 at the San Francisco Airport Marriot just south of the city. This annual event, now in its 4th year, is a strange mix of grassroots geo-enthusiasts and entrepreneurial geo-hackers. Where 2.0 is primarily a developer’s conference, so the majority of time and certainly the focus was on tools and how they function and less on how these tools are being used. (Or not being used. For the most part, location apps are in beta.) There was definitely the Field-of-Dreams-feeling, “build it and they will come.”

The exceptions were the tools and apps in the social activism thread. Notable were:


InSTEDD rushed into Myanmar immediately after the cyclone put in the field its beta version of GeoChat even though it was still in a “proof of concept” stage. GeoChat allows multiple users with cell phones in the field to connect to a centralized coordinator to collect and map data on Google Earth, Google Maps, or Virtual Earth. InSTEDD is trying to offer interoperability to a mapped-based command center.

“We want everyone to benefit form the tools and technologies we know can save lies. We want those technologies to work anywhere, any time, and under the harshest conditions. We listen and learn: What is needed? What works? What doesn’t? We collaborate with technology developers, researchers, experts in human and animal health, and communities to develop better methods to improve early disease detection and disaster response.”

InSTEDD was the TED Prize Wish of 2006 winner Larry Brilliant. Brilliant, who became the head of Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, requested the TED community help build a global early-response system to detect new diseases or disasters as quickly as they emerge or occur.

Larry Brilliant’s TED talk

Where does a news organization fit in this paradigm? Is it distribution? Is it an intimate knowledge of the place? What could news organizations be doing to add to the response? Do we have the strongest distribution network? Ask yourself what additional role the New Orleans Times-Picayune could have played during Katrina, (especially on their breaking news posts) if they had been a part of an InSTEDD network.

LifeMapper 2 is an open-source project out of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute using mapping and data to forecast impacts of climate change, loss of biodiversity, spread of invasive species, and emerging diseases.

lifemapper.jpgDistribution map and occurrence data for the western meadowlark.

The Lifemapper web site offers several options for how a visitor can access archived Lifemapper distribution data. The Species Search Form lets you interactively specify the common name or taxon and generates maps for all species matching the search request. Lifemapper also provides three web services that let users integrate Lifemapper data with other programs:
bq. * QueryTaxa Service—a web service equivalent to the Species Search form—outputs the data providers, number of locality points, and number of models computed for a specific taxon.
* Web Mapping Service—generates a Lifemapper map as a gif image file.
* QueryByLocation Service—outputs all species that are predicted to be present at a specified location.

greenmaplogo.jpgGreen Map System energizes a diverse global movement of local mapmaking teams charting their community’s natural, cultural and green living resources. There are 450 locally-led map projects in 50 countries, and have an interactive map in beta.

Clarification: In the original entry I mistakenly placed Green Map under the umbrella of prominent tech non-profit, NetSquared. Green Map is a Featured Project in this year’s NetSquared Mashup Challenge but is a separate 13 year old non-profit. Wendy Breyer of Green Map Systems added some additional info in the comments section that I’ll bubble up:

Our forthcoming inclusive interactive Open Green Map will significantly extend our reach as it lowers barriers to participation while collecting public insights, images and impacts on diverse sites, routes and resources worldwide. It’s set to launch in mid-2008, with work-in-progress viewable now at GreenMap.org/ogm. We welcome the input and support of Media Shift Idea Lab readers!

Global Green Map

In the end, these tools enable grassroots, community-based map-making, but are also a very valuable source of information, real-place, real-time. It happens, it becomes data, and it’s mapped. As well as being essential for crisis situations, this dataset, map and info can provide a range of on-the-ground perspectives that aren’t easily unearthed by the outside community. Digging out embedded cultural knowledge can lead to information not otherwise easily attained.

As Where 2.0 is a conference about what is coming down the geo-pike, it’s no surprise that it’s less about what is happening now. Naturally, very few of these tools presented have been implemented. One of the few content folks I met during the 3 days asked me if I thought there was any There (a la Gertrude Stein) in Where.

My opinion? Yes, but not yet. Yes, but not because of the tools or apps, or the products and services, but because folks really like their devices. And they like them because with them they are connected ever more deeply to place and community. It’s There when the connection comes.