June 26, 2004

you are here now

I need a new locative media application. It is pretty simple in concept, but it’s going to require a lot of cycles from the ubicomp lazyweb, so we better get going. The application is called “you are here now”, or perhaps “vous êtes ici maintenant” since I really wished I had this in Paris last week.

(I’ll bet a lot of you already know what I’m about to propose. In fact you probably invented this idea long ago, and maybe even have built an early prototype of it. Cool! But I guarantee you haven’t finished it yet, and so you’re a prime candidate to help move it to fruition).

It’s an electronic map.

I have a great map of central Paris that I took with me everywhere, every day: Streetwise Paris from a little company called Streetwise Maps. It’s a 2 sided, laminated, accordion-fold affair that goes from 8.5” x 4” wide to a full 38” wide, with streets, arrondissements, landmarks, Metro and RER stations, a full street index, and a separate metro map, all in a pleasing, well-presented and easy to read graphical style. It’s just the right width to slip into a back pocket, and durable enough to take the abuse of being sat on constantly between frequent consultations. It unfolds discreetly in one dimension and can be opened incrementally to just the area you are looking at, so there’s none of that unsightly fumbling around with a huge flapping sheet while standing lost and bewildered on some strange street corner. This map is a real triumph of information design married with physical design, in my humble opinion.



So our challenge for you are here now is simply this: to tastefully add the entire corpus of the world’s information related to tourism in central Paris (for instance) to this nice little accordion-fold map, while retaining the excellent characteristics that make it so fit for its purpose.

Let’s be clear what the electronic corpus will include.

1) Maps, and lots of ‘em. Antique maps, merely old maps, modern maps, aerial views. Real-time traffic maps, and historical maps showing the routes of kings, traders, warriors and vagabonds. Maps of weather and pollution and allergens and economic strata. Shopping maps and eating maps and literary maps. Wifi maps. Hotel vacancy maps. David Brin video surveillance maps. Maps showing the places that all your friends told you had (foie gras / chocolate / macaroons / chemises blancs) to die for.

2) Guides. Detailed curatorial guides to the Louvre, and every other musee, monument, neighborhood and cultural molehill in Paris. Wonderful guides with photos and voices and music and moving pictures, detailing the cultural milieu of the people, the places and the times. Most of the current guides for these places are pathetic, not for lack of trying, but because they can’t possibly provide enough breadth and depth in a free pamphlet. Even published museum catalogs, audio tours and tourist guidebooks barely scratch the surface. Of course they also don’t harness the local expertise of 10 million Parisians and many more millions of knowledgeable visitors, whereas our little application will.

3) Books. Poetry. Music. Paintings. Photographs. Letters. Magazines. Newspapers. Ephemera. Blogs.

4) Stories. Verlaine and Rimbaud’s, for example. The ones people tell at Jim Morrison’s grave, for example. Yours, for example.

And probably a lot more…stuff. Sort of like the web only more so, and with more metadata, geographical and otherwise. Hey, you might ask, where’s all that stuff going to come from? Don’t we have a monumental task ahead to digitize the world’s ancient maps, museum catalogs, 17th century music, and so forth? Well of course. So we’ll need a lot of grad students, and probably a few undergrads too. And don’t forget we have a pretty big sensor network infrastructure to design and deploy, for those nice real-time data feeds. Syndication & aggregation geeks take note, some interesting opportunities here.

How are we going to georeference and time-reference all of that stuff? Not sure, perhaps the semantic web folks have an opinion, or maybe it grows out of GeoURL or OpenGIS. But I do know that I want antique maps to overlay modern ones with accurate spatial & temporal registration, so we are going to need a well-known model for annotating them with the right metadata. Same goes for the rest of the corpus.

With all that amazing stuff rolling around inside, vous êtes ici maintenant is going to need a killer interaction model and interface to make it tractable for your basic human bean of average bandwidth and mental dexterity. I’m not sure what that will be, but I know it’s not WIMPs. Will we want translucent layers of data that modulate with finger pressure? Maps that orient automatically depending on how they are held? A huge information space navigated by tilting the map? Will the interface even be part of the map, or will we instead create personal interfaces that operate more generally on the connected world around us? Do we imagine fingertip sensors that provide a variety of pointing and gestural modes (index tap = select, middle = drag, ring = show related, pinky = google) on any arbitrary display appliance? Or what if it’s a voice interface – not speaking to the map, but speaking via instant voice messaging to a person that has collected the data and perspectives and expertise for you to tap into, related to the context you are in, delivered instantly in RSS?

And of course someone needs to sort out the technical issues implied by an 8.5” x 38” accordion-fold display appliance, or the moral equivalent thereof. Yes, I know a pocketable display that size will be hard. But this is starting to look like a twenty year project, so I’m hopeful that those thin flexible displays we’ve been promised will catch up by the time the rest of our stuff comes together. By then maybe we’ll also finally have wireless freenets with enough coverage and zorch to handle 10,000 simultaneous Da Vinci Code fanatiques poring over Leonardo’s sketchbooks, I.M. Pei’s architectural plans, and Ron Howard’s film version in the hall beneath the Pyramide.

Okay, there’s just a bit of work to do, so let’s quit reading the blogs and get on with it. I'm already thinking about my next trip to Paris ;-D

Posted by Gene at June 26, 2004 11:34 AM | TrackBack
Post a comment

Remember personal info?