Combining mobility, time and location is becoming one of the most valuable techniques of media creation. Last week, some students and I did a small experiment that demonstrates how easy this is to do, and suggests all kinds of possibilities for journalistic follow-ups.

Phoenix First Friday Art Walk

This Flickr map has more than 120 photos, taken by me and some Arizona State University journalism students, at last week’s Phoenix “First Friday Art Walk” — a monthly, self-guided tour of a downtown-Phoenix district that contains a number of galleries and craft-oriented shops.

Putting this together was absurdly simple: We combined the capabilities of the Google/T-Mobile G1 smart-phones and services provided by the photo-sharing site Flickr. (Note: Google provided us with the phones and its carrier partner, T-Mobile, gave us airtime.)

The G1s are the first in a line of what Google hopes will be lots of devices using the Android operating system, which is considerably more open than Apple’s iPhone and has, in my view, roughly equal potential. The G1s contain, among many other capabilities, digital cameras and GPS (global satellite positioning radios that tell location within a few meters).

Each of us shot a dozen or so pictures at various places along the Art Walk streets. After snapping each picture, we sent it by email to a special address at Flickr, using the name of the gallery or other location as the subject line and adding some body text to describe what we were looking at.

Embedded in the JPEG photo files created by the G1s is a critically valuable bunch of zeroes and ones: the location as determined by the GPS. Flickr reads that location data as it imports the picture files, and then places the images autormatically on a map.

In other words, the map was being created in real time, as we walked the streets and snapped the photos.

Now, this is not a new idea by any means. And we could have done a much better display of the pictures with a bit more time; Flickr’s mapping display to the general public is very crude compared with what it could do (the image above, much better than the one you’ll see if you click this public link, is available to the account holder of the map, but not to other people) Moreover, sending pictures via email was a crude way to handle the images; there are applications for the iPhone and Nokia’s GPS-equipped phones that upload to Flickr much more efficiently than anything written so far for the G1.

Still, it was trivially simple to set this up and make it work, using tools that already exist and are, for the most part, easy to use. We’ll be doing much more with the G1s over time (including, I hope, creating applications that more fully explore the devices’ potential).

The point is that some events take place over time and space, and are made to order for this kind of treatment. Journalists are actually quite late to the party. Flickr and other sites are displaying crowd-sourced such events via user-created tags.

We’re planning to open up this page to others in the Phoenix community, so that over time people create a rich photo set of First Friday. We’ll help people sort by dates, not just location, so that we can see how the monthly event changes over time, too.

We are planning a series of other experiments with these phones (and others), and would be grateful for ideas on how we might take best advantage of these incredible devices. Our goal is simple: testing ideas that will help create valuable community information resources and services.

3 thoughts on “Location, Location

  1. Dan, I’ve been musing about the same topic in my blog for a while. I even have a name for it — Memosphere, a new hybrid space that crosses between off line and on line worlds based on GPS data. Or an ‘augmented reality’ to quote it for more geeky types.

    Interesting possibilities are abound out there for the kind of collaborative journalism you’ve illustrated in this post–only if we understand the true implication of LBS.

    – jean min

  2. Dan – This is a very cool idea and certainly has huge potential in reporting stories, especially when breaking news. One thing to remember though is that most map applications are still somewhat 2D in the information they provide. Consider another 3D mapping application like Virtual Earth when you next find yourself out and about… Perhaps you can layer it to provide a 3D experience (or at least I believe that’s where we’re headed). Although this site is geared more towards outdoor adventure sports, its application can have broader implications as you can imagine.

  3. It is pretty amazing what you can do with a mobile camera with GPS, an internet connection and a website. Adventure Areas supports the same functionality that you are writing about here. You can see it in action at When you upload images it will read the GPS settings (if available) and will geocode the image so that you can view it on the map. In addition, if the GPS data is not available it will pseudo-geocode the image/video through its relationship with the trip report, which is related to a geocoded area. These relationships gives additional contextualization to the image/video.


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