Archive for May, 2005

Process-es for metadata creation

Process-es for metadata creation

I’m very impresed by the Time Graphs photo set on flickr, where “sunset” tagged photos are graphed along annual and daily axes revealing the sinusoidal shift of daylight hours in northern hemispheres, and “breakfast” “lunch” and “dinner” cover the standard social feeding times. These visualizations would enable a race of beings living inside the core of planet earth to make some generalizations about life at the surface, astronomical phenomena, etc. There are also 12 hour shadows in both graphs, from cameras with AM/PM incorrectly set. Reminds me of GeoURL’s Ghost Blogs of Tibet, the Central Asia mirror world of the US cause by incorrect longitude sign.

One immediately practical result could be to help flickr users set the correct time on their cameras. But the real story is how metadata can be utilized in analysis, and repurposed. Computer Vision and Image Processing have tons of opportunity in extracting useful information, combined with the folksonomy, beyond the initial forays with time and Color. There are several techniques for automatic extraction of faces from images, to explore things like whether “street” or “freeway” is more human, or the average number of faces in a “crowd”. Line extraction can answer other obvious questions like if “nature” or “city” is more angular. Heck, the results of feature extraction and matching against known characteristics of tag sets could lead to automatic suggestion of tags. So, like .. “the spacing of concentric circles in this image suggests you might want the tag ‘donut'” .. which is a totally useless example, but illustrates how automatic and human processes can feed off each other to create metadata (no actually a ‘bagel’).

Here is a rough breakdown on sources of metadata creation, as I’m thinking of it. There is mechanically created, nearly objective metadata. In photos, this is the EXIF header data listing this like apeture, time photo was taken, flash mode. There is user created, free flow metadata. This is tags. There is mechanically created metadata derived from mechanical and user metadata, and maybe network effects, such as Google Pagerank. And there is process created metadata, where you are taken through steps of metadata creation that may utilize any of the other three.

A great example of process created metadata is Geotagging Flickr with Google Maps and Greasemonkey. Two Greasemonkey scripts integrates flickr, Google Maps, and geobloggers.com, to enable straightforward geotagging of photos. It adds a form to flickr, where a location is specified. That’s directed to Google Maps, where the map can be explored to the precise location is found. Then one click links back to flickr, adds the geotags, and submits to geobloggers. The entire process is well illustrated here.

Site integration is the true power of Greasemonkey, which hasn’t been much explored. Scripting happens right on the network, linking together systems, using apis, modifying behaviors, as if the web were some sort of cohesive OS.

Processes will be essential to enable more complex, useful folksonomy, or more formal folksonomies. Processes are being considered to geolocate evnt and openguides. This thread on metadata creation on the EGIP list compares the stick and carrot approaches, and the challenges in making it all easy. Geotags are just the tip of more formal folksonomy systems.

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Apologies for the Spam

Apologies for the Spam

Early this morning I mistakingly hit one button that sent out email to everyone in my address book. Just one button! Bebo is an abusive service and I don’t endorse it. Feeling foolish, sorry for the spam all.

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why is worldKit Flash?

why is worldKit Flash?

It’s a question I get asked, with reason. It’s proprietary, only somewhat open, and it’s future is unclear. It’s widely abused in obnoxious design heavy websites. And the refinement of DHTML and Ajax techniques, notably demonstrated in Google Maps, seems to make Flash unnecessary.

Yet, right now, it is the by far the best option for worldKit. The Flash Player guarantees a consistent environment across the widest spectrum of Browsers and OS. Try viewing Google Maps in Opera, and you’ll see that they’d have to go through even more hair pulling to cover whatever tweaky flavor of dhtml it supports. A worldKit map works identically practically everywhere (there have been some problems with font support on Ubuntu linux. and Macromedia hasn’t released a player for 64 bit linux).

Even if DHTML was supported consistently, Flash wins on image manipulation and vector graphics. The Flash Player is highly optimised for image manipulation, which allows for fluid zooming in worldKit, rather than step wise zoom in gmaps. Gmaps can draw vectors for driving directions, but with an incredible server side hack. Lines are draw by a server process, and overlayed in the browser, cleverly exploited for nonsense with Google Draw.

If browsers ever catch up, say with native SVG, then that’s great. worldKit is entirely OOP Actionscript, so rewriting in Javascript will be no big deal. And there are open source flash compilers and players, if these got attention perhaps many objections would dissipate.

The Flash and AJAX seemed to get good discussion at OReilly’s AJAX summit. The conclusion, basically the right tool for the right job, that these two are complimentary, and they can easily coexist, is right on. In the worldKit geocoder, it’s natural to use the browser for form based interaction, and AJAX for queries on the geocoder REST services. Interaction between the browser and Flash Player is easily accomplished by Javascript.

flickr notably announced and released mods to use AJAX rather than Flash when viewing photos. Flash was clearly overkill, and in fact less useful (couldn’t right click to save the image). Still, I don’t expect them to recode their Slideshow Flash app .. there’s no reason to change it, and would probably be a hassle to do so.

Tangentally, it was a Greasemonkey user script which generated that change, lickr, by Neil Kandalgaonkar, the same developer of the Google Draw hack. Neil writes some interesting points on the greasemonkey developer list. He’s of course chuffed they took his work on board. But..

I’ve been talking with Eric Costello of Flickr. Sometimes it’s hard to
tell which one of us works there. Arguably, Greasemonkey has made the
distinction irrelevant, except for how we’re compensated.

I wasn’t getting paid anyway, but if this is subsumed into Flickr, I
won’t get credit.

With the proliferation of APIs, and the boundless opportunities of Greasemonkey, independent developers are adding value to commercial services and not seeing anything in return. No surprises there. But if a service can produce a business model that rewards value added by its developer-users, they might have a leg up on other open systems.

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BBC TV Weather Creates a Nation of Geowankers

BBC TV Weather Creates a Nation of Geowankers

Yes I’m writing about the weather. I’ll try to make it interesting.

BBC TV has replaced its sturdy icon based forecast maps, with 3d flythrough cell level animated weather maps. This type of system has been de norm of local US new broadcasts for a couple years (ACCU-Weather!). Predictably, there is a public backlash (collected at What do you think of the new look weather?), but some of it is quite measured, even leaning towards hardcore infovis- and geo- geek discussion of visual information density, projections and ground feature labelling. For instance, what are the political repercussions of a southerly oblique projection of the UK, making southern England appear larger, and Scotland smaller. Yet the most common complaint is the post-nuclear wasteland brown color of the land surface — England is green, they cry! (I don’t know, seems pretty dull and brown from my current vantage point). Pensioners complain of vertigo watching the weather, and others call for the return of the pre-digital magnetic icons.

I don’t understand English weather at all, no one does. It’s position right in the path of ever shifting North Atlantic air currents; and it will only get more strange with climate change (the fish are already heading north). Winds can come from any direction on the coast, and I’ve seen it shift 180 in a single day, reeking havoc on the power kite (better to check the inforich wind profile at xcweather). Compared to the Bay Area, were an easterly is almost unheard of. Watched a program on the hurricane which hit southern England in 1987, closing the stock market leading into Black Monday (don’t need chaos or complexity theory to see the underlying systematic similarities of weather and finance here).

I’m the type of person who wants direct access to the Met Centre’s models, with depth discussion of simulation assumptions and parameters (one of the mapping hacks I contributed describes how to make animations of global weather conditions). Really the problem is that TV as it stands must satisfy all viewers with just one view. Kids want their weather through the XBOX with option to first person shoot the presenter, pensioners want stable icons over a green England, geeks want XML.

Which leads nicely into BBC Backstage. They have tantalizingly stubbed in something called the Postcoder API, suggesting all sorts of opengeodata possibilities. The travel feeds already contain latitude/longitude, so probably won’t be long til we see the obvious “pubs nearby where your train just broke down” application. There’s already with a huge amount of conversation on its mailing list, most of it off topic anyway (like the great idea to great a wiki-like gazateer starting from the GNS database that backs the geocoder. Could BBC Backstage become a focus for UK web developers, the BBC Micro of 2005?

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GeoURL map

GeoURL map

Introducing GeoURL map, which (predictably) produces little maps of your GeoURL neighborhood to include on your web page. There’s one in the sidebar (click through RSS readers). Go on and get your own.

Thanks to Ask @ GeoURL for adding location to their RSS feeds.

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