My first Cloudmade map style: “Lynchian_Mid”

I’m attempting to make a map style for possible use in Dopplr that follows the principles outlined in Kevin Lynch’s "Image of the City".

Lynch contended that we make legible mental maps of the city with 5 types of object: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks.

I’m trying to make a style that emphasises these, and eschews the ‘satnav’ style car-oriented mapping. It must be noted that this is a style that works most effectively at city-scale zoom levels, which it’s intended for. It looks pretty useless at country-scale.

I’m really enjoying using the Cloudmade editor, and it’s intriguing to think of the presentation of maps with dynamic/swapping styles that are fitting for certain contexts of scale, rather than the same scheme all the way from satellite to street view (no pun intended…)

“Do not use while driving”


Many have commented on Google’s new version of Google Mobile Maps, and specifically it’s “My Location” feature.

Carlo Longino homes in on the fact that it provides, finally, a somewhat humane and useful basis for a lot of the location-based services use-cases that mobile service providers and product marketers have salivated over for around a decade.

“I know my own zip code, but I don’t know its boundaries, nor do I know any others here in Vegas. So if I’m out looking for something, I’ve got little idea where to start. That’s the big problem with local search – we tend to spend a lot of our time in the same places, and we get to know them. We’re most likely to use search when we’re in an unfamiliar area – but often our unfamiliarity with the area precludes us from even being able to divine a starting point for our search. You don’t necessarily need GPS to get a starting point, as this new feature highlights.”

GMMv2.0 is sufficiently-advanced technology, not because of the concept behind it (location via cell network is pretty known) but the sheer, apparent quality of execution, simplicity and joy injected into the thing. This is something till now missing from most if not all mobile software, especially Symbian software.

Janne once said to me: “no-one codes symbian apps for fun”, and it shows. It’s enough to get the things working for most developers, and as they’re mostly doing it for a salary rather than fun, they walk away before the joy gets injected, or don’t argue when it gets de-scoped.

GMMv2.0 has some of the lovely touches that we’ve seen from the iPhone implementation carried over – like the location pins dropping into place with a little restitutional bounce. Just. So. It seems quicker and more focussed that v1.0, with location search features working to give the bare-bones info right there on the map rather than breaking-frame to a dialog.

The main, huge, thing though is MyLocation.

Chris gave a talk a few years ago at Etech 2004 called “35 ways to find your location”
, which argued against relying on GPS and ‘satnav’ metaphors for location services.

I don’t know if they downloaded his presentation in Mountain View, but GMMv2.0 delivers on Chris’s vision by not only using cellular location fiding, but how it interprets and displays it. By ditching the assumption that all location tasks are about a -> b in a car, and presenting a fuzzy, more-humane interpretation of your location – it gives a wonderful foundation for wayfinding, particularly while walking, which hopefully they’ll build on.

In other possible advantages that “Do not use while driving” gives you is it become a resource you can use indoors, where I’d guess 90% discussions about where to go and what to do actually happen, and where 90% of GPS’s won’t ever work.

Other contenders in the mobile wayfinding world seem to be pursuing interfaces built on the metaphors and assumptions of the car-bound “satnav” world e.g. Nokia Maps. Probably as a side-effect of most of their senior management driving to work in suburban technology parks everyday!

Actually, Nokia Maps (at least the last version I used, I switched to GMM and haven’t returned) does something even more bizarre when it starts up and shows you a view of the entire earth’s globe from orbit! I cannot think of a less user-centred, task-appropriate entry point into an application!

Very silly.

The Google mobile team are to be congratulated not only for technical innovation in GMMv2.0, but also having the user-experience savvy to step beyond established cliche in a hot area and think in a context-sensitive, user-centred way about the problem.

As Carlo says:

“I continue to be slightly amazed at the speed with which Google gets these apps and services out, and the overall quality of them, though I guess it’s a testament to the amount of resources they’re throwing at mobile these days.”

Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Geonerdery getting easier…

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Played for the first time this evening with the Nokia Sports Tracker app on the N95. I placed it in the front pouch of my Brompton bag and set off for the station from the office.

The GPS usually acquires satellites painfully slowly, but it got a fix fairly quickly – helped by being in the middle of semi-rural Hampshire, with the tallest thing for miles being a squat 3-storey technology company HQ…

There’s an “autopause” feature on the app which seems to notice when you’ve been at rest for a while, which is a nice touch – but the best thing was once I’d got home and discovered the ease at which you can export it to something like Google Earth.

It was a three-click operation to save and send the file to my Macbook, where I just double clicked it and swooped in on my little bike ride from orbit.


Here 2.0: Big Here, Little Screen

Jason Kottke points to a remarkable post by Kevin Kelly entitled The Big Here, after the Eno-coined-counterpart to the Long Now – which shoots a diamond bullet through my thoughts for the last few months:

At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.

In the post it goes on to take you through a quiz which examines your knowledge of your immediate environs, and the linkages it has to the wider ecosystem.

Here are the first three questions:

30 questions to elevate your awareness (and literacy) of the greater place in which you live:

1) Point north.

2) What time is sunset today?

3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap.

Kelly prefaces this with a positioning of the quiz as one of his “cool tools”:

“The intent of this quiz is to inspire you to answer the questions you can’t initially. I’d like to collect and then post the best step-by-step suggestions about how to answer a particular question. These are not answers to the quiz, but recommended paths on how one might most efficiently answer the question locally. Helpful websites which can provide local answers are wanted. Because of the severe specificity of local answers, the methods provided should be as general as possible. The emerging list of answer-paths will thus become the Cool Tool.”

So far, so good.

Wonderful, even.

My immediate thought though, reading both Jason’s post and Kevin Kelly’s mission is why the hell is this not on a mobile?

So – I over the summer am going to try and knit something together to get it there.

  1. I imagine it will be pretty easy (i.e. within the reach of my terrifyingly-bad coding skills) just to port the text quiz to a mobile using S60 python as a standalone experience.
  2. It might be easy enough then to both launch web resources from the quiz on the mobile device, and perhaps post answers in some easily-aggregated format to back out to the web from whoever takes the quiz.
  3. however might be more tricky…

What I immediately imagined was the extension of this quiz into the fabric of the near-future mobile and it’s sensors – location (GPS, CellID), orientation (accelerometers or other tilt sensors), light (camera), heat (Nokia 5140’s have thermometers…), signal strength, local interactions with other devices (Bluetooth, uPnP, NFC/RFID) and of course, a connection to the net.

The near-future mobile could become a ‘tricorder’ for the Big Here – a daemon that challenges or channels your actions in accordance and harmony to the systems immediately around you and the ripples they raise at larger scales.

It could be possible (but probably with some help from my friends) to rapidly-prototype a Big Here Tricorder using s60 python, a bluetooth GPS module, some of these scripts, some judicious scraping of open GIS data and perhaps a map-service API or two.

One thought that springs to mind would be to simply geotag the results of a quiz (assuming the respondent takes the quiz in-situ!) and upload that to a geowiki, something like Place-O-Pedia.

It might be delightful to see the varying answers from valiant individuals clustered in a location and inspire some collaboration on getting to the ‘right’ answers about their collective bit of the big here or the issues raised by the route there more importantly perhaps.

One open question would be if this ‘Big Here Tricorder’ where realised, would it genuinely raise an individual or community’s awareness of their local ecosystem and it’s connections at other scales? “Every extension is also an amputation” etc.

Well – we won’t know unless we build it.

While we’ve had a couple of year’s noise about Where2.0, I reckon there’s a hell of a lot of mileage and some real good could come of focussing on Here2.0… which gives me a nice little summer project – thanks Kevin, Brian and Jason

A Manhattan melange of “Macroscopes”

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Globe of Patents, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

By chance this morning found an excellent mini-exhibition in midtown Manhattan.

“Places & Spaces: Mapping Science” has been curated by Dr. Katy Börner and Deborah MacPherson.

From the website:

“Today, the word “science” encompasses myriad arenas of physical and abstract inquiry. This unique exhibition, at the Healy Hall in midtown Manhattan, uses innovative mapping techniques to physically show what and where science is today, how different branches of science relate to each other and where different branches of study are heading, where cutting edge science is erupting as archipelagos in the oceans of the yet unknown – and – how it all relates back to the physical centers of research. The world of science is turned into a navigable landscape.

Modern mapping imagery has come a long way from Ptolemy. In this stimulating show compelling for all ages and backgrounds, audiences will both visually and tactilely uncover how contemporary scientific thought has expanded. Such visualization of scientific progress is approached through computer-generated relationships, featured on large panels as well through the collaboration of New York based artists W. Bradford Paley, Digital Image Design Incorporated and Columbia University and Ingo Gunther with renowned scientist from the field of scientonometrics: Eugene Garfield, Henry Small, André Skupin, Steven A. Morris, Kevin Boyack and Dick Klavans.”

Scientonometrics! Awesome!!!

It’s a concise, enjoyable and clear exhibit showing concrete examples of what John Thackara might call ‘macroscopes’: artworks, mappings and visualisations of complex interconnected systems (in this case science and intellectual property) that help ‘ordinary folk’ examine the choices they make and those being made for them.


I’m not sure you can call it “Virtual Earth”

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If this is what you get when you search for London.

I love that there are places called “Sublimity City” and “Deer Lick” neighbouring the great metropolis.

Practical Mirrorworlds

Back when I was an architecture student, twelve (ahem!) or so years ago, one of the books I read with most lasting impact was “MirrorWorlds” by David Gelertner, the computer scientist perhaps most famous for being targeted and injured by the Unabomber.

In “MirrorWorlds”, Gelertner imagines powerful software providing models and simulations of the ‘real world’ and the change in our understanding and society that will arise from that.’s page on the book says this by way of synopsis:

Imagine looking at your computer screen and seeing reality–an image of your city, for instance, complete with moving traffic patterns, or a picture that sketches the state of an entire corporation at this second. These representations are called Mirror Worlds, and according to David Gelernter they will soon be available to everyone. Mirror Worlds are high-tech voodoo dolls: by interacting with the images, you interact with reality. Indeed, Mirror Worlds will revolutionize the use of computers, transforming them from (mere) handy tools to crystal balls which will allow us to see the world more vividly and see into it more deeply.

Creating ‘mirrorworlds’ has long been a dream that we can see repeated in the history of ideas, from Buckminster-Fuller’s World Game to the 1:1 scale map commissioned by Borges’ ficitonal emperor:

“…In that Empire, the Cartographer’s art achieved such a degree of perfection that the Map of a single Province occupied an entire City, and the Map of the Empire, an entire Province. In time, these vast Maps were no longer sufficient. The Guild of Cartographers created a Map of the Empire, which perfectly coincided with the Empire itself.”

Recently, Larry and Sergey, our current information-emperors released Google Maps into the world.

Google Maps is an incredibly refined user experience, combining a number of valuable datasets that Google acquired, a great UI utilising cutting edge interface-code thinking, and as you’d expect some very efficent back-end technology.

This being the age of “Web 2.0” every application of merit is also invariably a platform whether it plans to be on not, so Google Maps has spawned some amazing innovations by its users: like Jon Udell’s audio-annotated maps [see also Charlie Schick from Lifeblog’s thoughts on this type of ‘life-recording’], and the fantastic Craigslist Housing Hack, which is a powerfully useful merger of small-ads listings for accomodation with the google maps interface .

Google, a few weeks after launching the Maps service, integrated satellite imagery from it’s acquisition of Keyhole. Again, the user-base seized upon this and started making their own uses, and moreoever, using this to tell stories.

Take a look at Flickr’s Memory Map group [See this Wired News story for more on the meme], where people are using Google Maps to tell stories about childhood, where they grew up or memorable events. Another trends is exemplifed by MezzoBlue’s post “Google Maps and Accountability” where the satellite imagery is used to illustrate the extent of environmental damage done by the forestry industry in British Columbia.

Salk Institute, La Jolla, California
^ Google Maps Satellite Image of La Jolla, California

And thus, a new view on the world around which you can inspire new thinking or action.

Which is precisely the promise of software simulation and modelling proposed by Gelertner a decade ago in Mirrorworlds.

Google’s mission statement “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” is rapidly creating practical mirrorworlds for us to explore.

Imagine a future Google mirror world, which:

  • Is real-time:
    with live satellite imagery showing weather, jet-streams, pollutant flow, traffic jams, cattle herds, refugee camps…
  • Has overlays:
    showing visualisations of abstract data – population density, energy use, wealth, “now playing”, infant mortality

And crucially…

  • Has history:
    Could show all the above, either from archive data, or simulation ansed on the historical record – from 1970, 1940, 1900, 1800, 1600… etc… etc…

What realisations and reactions would we have if we could gaze into this mirrorworld knowing it was real, not a simEarth, and further more – the only one we’ve got?

It would be the software-equivalent of when the space program in the late-sixties afforded us the first view back at the pale blue dot we’re stuck on.

We are the first ‘simulation-generation’ – we are used to constructing and manipulating ever more sophisticated models of reality or unreality on our personal computers.

Increasingly, what has started out in the mirrorworld of play that the videogame industry invents is revolutionising how we work and learn.

In their book “Got Game”, business strategists John Beck and Mitchell Ward state:

It’s the central secret of digital gaming… Games are providing real, valuable experience… [they] offer real experience solving problems that, however, fantastic their veneers, seem real to the player. When gamers head off to play, they are escaping. But… they end up in an odd-looking educational environment.”

And in education, PC-pioneers like Alan Kay are pursuing ‘mirrorworld’ like learning environments, driven by the mantra that “point-of-view is worth 80 IQ points”

Mobile mirrorworlds could give you that IQ boost Kay is working towards wherever you were. Augmented-reality researchers have been donning back-packs full of computers and ridiculous looking head-up displays for a decade or so, trying to build them.

A more practical, accesible version is being built bottom-up using cameraphones, web-services and primative locative technologies right now. Not only Google – but Yahoo, Amazon/a9 and a host of hackers and start-ups are setting about skinning the world in data.

Once these substrates are there, you can bet that manipulable models and visualisations will be built atop them. This is the other component of the mirrorworld: the “what-if” wonderlands you can explore with
a software model of reality.

Why we make models

We have always built models to understand how reality works – by taking them to breaking point, changing our approach, exploring the alternatives; we’ve made progress. We’re up against real problems casued by that progress – many parts of the pale blue dot are at breaking point – so making better decisions based on better models is crucial. Mirrorworlds are not just a playful diversion or powerful business tool – but a survival strategy.

Before I get too misty-eyed for the mirrorworld future of sustainability, happiness and harmony, a (hyper)reality check. There are some powerful players switched-on to the power of simulation.

Bill Gates and Microsoft are actively pursuing it

“modeling is pretty magic stuff, whether it’s management problems or business customization problems or work-flow problems, visual modeling. It’s probably the biggest thing going on”

What happens to our understanding of reality when there’s a monopoly on mirrorworlds?

French philosopher Baudrillard, in his “Simulation and simulcra” (You’ve read it right? I bet BillG has…;-) in reference to the mirrorworld mapping of Borges’ emperor, warned that:

“Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself.”

In order to see that our new digital/real mirrorworlds reverse the Baudrillian desertification of the real world, it is crucial that we can not only understand the territory, but who and how they have done the mapping and their modelling – that we can own it, examine it and remap/remodel it ourselves – that the maps and models are open, free and shared by all.

The peer-production and scrutiny of the Wikipedia (and indeed the ideological discussion around it) might give some idea of what it’s like to create a reference work of this kind.

Then we will have mirrorworlds that we can all build on.

A side note – as part of Amazon’s mirrorworld of the printed word, they have introduced SIPs: “statistically-improbable phrases” that are supposed to automagically sum up the essence of a book. Here are the SIPs for “MirrorWorlds”:

chronicle streams, software ensembles, computational landscape, task cloud, simulated mind, evocative possibility, ensemble programs, tuple spaces, information machinery, mass border, software revolution, memory pool, software machine, information machines

Game cities

^ Barcelona’s Cerda Grid (from

What makes a good game city?

I mean this in the sense that it makes for a great physical setting for playing a game such as ‘Gridlockd’ in. Which cities are good game cities? How would you construct an ideal game city?

Is a great city for playing a game in, the same as a great city for playing in?

What is a playful city?