You will care about geo-mapping – just not yet

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You_will_care_about_geo-mapping _just_not_yet_by_zing_design

If you receive the right information, at the right time and place, it can be enormously valuable.

Whether it’s a simple thing like avoiding traffic congestion on your drive to work, or finding the best places to eat – or more serious matters, such as avoiding workplace accidents, or being treated for a cardiac arrest in much faster than the average response time – having access to the right geographical information improves decision making, can keep us safe and generally makes the world that little bit better.

But before I try to convince you that geo-mapping is only in its infancy – that it is about to get truly awesome.  Let’s first look at some of the interesting geo-mapping apps and platforms available now:

find a husband or wife easier ways to hire a taxi
more fun when you travel faster ways to find a car park
safer places to work avoid a blocked road

For a number of reasons, I believe that the “geo-mapping trend” is just getting started.

There are a few roadblocks to be overcome, but the good news is that the problems are getting fixed.

Problem 1: Software and smart-devices are not actually that smart yet

Our smart devices and the software that runs on them are improving all the time, but they have a long way to go…  Larry Page, the Co-founder of Google recently put this well:

“Computing’s kind of a mess. Your computer doesn’t know where you are, what you know, what you’re doing. We’re trying to make devices work, to understand your context and what you might need. We’re just starting to work on Android Wear, for example. Having computing understand you — we haven’t done that yet. It’s still very clunky”

Problem 2: Smartphone adoption is far from ubiquitous

GPS enabled smart phone adoption in the USA is sitting at 58% of adults. Readers of this blog may find it difficult to believe, but smartphone use is not yet universal – a significant proportion of the adult population is yet to own a smartphone, and this has practical repercussions for commercial geo-mapping applications.

Smart phone adoption graph from Statista

Smart phone adoption graph from Statista

As a seller of geo-enabled apps we have first-hand experience that Construction and Engineering workers do not universally own smartphones, and that this is the most important impediment to a prospective client deciding to try ThunderMaps.

However, smartphone adoption is predicted to continue to increase. Our own anecdotal evidence points that way too – many Engineering and Construction firms that we work with, are choosing to subsidise smartphones or buy them for staff, in order to access the benefits of Geo-enabled Apps.

Disclaimer: ThunderMaps sells Apps to businesses that need to collect and communicate hazard and incident locations

Problem 3: the quality and availability of geo-data is limited

Although we are now learning how to build the software and devices needed to get people the right information, at the right time and place; the availability and quality of data that can be delivered to users is limited.

There are a number of reasons for this, and in the interests of brevity we will not get into the majority of these here – let’s look at only one related reason below.

How GEO may impact web developers and web semantics

To understand why we think communication via geo-mapping apps is soon to be more important, let’s first look at the concept of the “semantic web” and how it may fit together with the three problems mentioned above.

When Tim Berners-Lee along with Ora Lassila and Jim Hendler coined the term the “Semantic Web” in a 2001 Scientific American article, they envisioned a web where ‘intelligent agents’ could navigate for information on our behalf, delivering us information when we need it and completing semi difficult tasks for us. They envisioned a “web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines”, and although their vision applies to the web generally, it is highly relevant to geo-mapping and geo-applications on smartphones too.

The problem with the original semantic web idea (sometimes called web 3.0), is that it relies on large amounts of metadata being consistently tagged in a standardised way, so that the web can be searched reliably on our behalf. A chicken and egg scenario occurs – there is little commercial demand for diligent, reliable and time consuming metadata attachment, as there are few applications that use such metadata, therefore there is little emphasis on standardised metadata attachment…

However, in many instances geo-data sets are already well tagged. We think this presents an opportunity.

Most web users consume and contribute content to the internet in a deliberately active way – for example; when you use the internet, you most likely actively stop what you’re doing and search for something, post an update, or send an email.

Today, there is little in the way of passive internet consumption, where the ‘machine agents’ of the semantic web, automatically consume and contribute content to and from the web on our behalf. The semantic web has not yet arrived.

Mostly the internet requires active human participation, and because we each have limited time, this puts a tremendous restriction on how often we make use of the internet. But there is no limit to the amount of information that we can passively consume. Growth in passive consumption is unlimited by our time and processing ability, and truly smart devices are the key to unlocking this potential.

Many geo-mapping apps can already deliver aspects of the semantic web ideal.

What’s available today?

If you don’t want to wait for the semantic web of the future, below are a few examples of simple web agents that can already be programmed to work on your behalf:

  1. Google alerts
  2. IFTTT
  3. ThunderMaps

With Google Alerts you can be alerted when something relevant appears on the internet, likewise with ThunderMaps you can be alerted when things of importance happen in locations you care about.

With ThunderMaps, users program a simple machine agent to filter real-time geographic data anywhere in world – traffic accidents on your drive to work, earthquakes at your sister’s house, pest infestations in your neighborhood, fires near your farm, or 911 call-outs at your rental property – and get this information delivered to your smart device, at the right place and at the right time, without lifting a finger.


Two of the main geo-mapping roadblocks – devices that aren’t that smart, and a lack of adoption of smart devices – are being cleared away.

Geo-mapping is pretty cool now, but it is just getting started.

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