Geography Goes Online

The quest for new maps

Online maps date to the early days of the Web, and accurate signals from the Global Positioning System have been available to consumers for half a decade.

But until just recently, there wasn’t much overlap between these technologies: very little of the information on the Web was keyed to specific geographic coordinates, and anyway, few people carried the location-aware devices that could retrieve such information. But that’s beginning to change: an increasing number of wireless Internet-connected devices have built-in GPS and other location-finding technologies, and – just as important – the Web itself is being restructured to complement the actual geography around us.

That means that long-touted visions of “location-based services” are coming to life, but with a populist twist. Yes, the cafe you pass on your way to work every morning will be able to send a coupon to your cell phone, if you opt to receive such offers. And search-industry heavyweights Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are building nifty new platforms that organize local search results – and, of course, advertisements – according to geographic location.

This story is part of our October 2005 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

But at the same time, as we explain in “Killer Maps,” average Web users can now upload their own geographically tagged content to the Web. This allows other users to download content that is pertinent to wherever they happen to be at a given moment. This ongoing “annotation of the planet,” to use technology columnist John Udell’s felicitous phrase, has the potential to deepen everyone’s experience of place.

If you have a GPS-enabled camera phone, for example, it can automatically tag your photos with the latitude and longitude of the location at which they were taken and upload them to a website where they’ll appear in the appropriate positions on a map. And that’s only the beginning: Web developers are using the new mapping platforms and emerging standards to “geotag” Web pages, creating entirely new location-based social and political forums, artworks, games, and community knowledge banks.

It’s one of the most advanced examples of what, in a recent issue, we called “continuous computing”: the far more extensive, yet less obtrusive, way in which information technology is beginning to permeate our daily lives, thanks to advances in mobile devices, wireless networking, and Web development standards. Mapmaking, once the exclusive realm of cartographers, is now part of that permeation – and it is taking its overdue place alongside other forms of digital mass communication.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from undefined

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

You've read of free articles this month.