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Tech Tools Day 2: Building Geo Coded Maps

Mobile technologies are going to be key to news and information going forward, especially things like geo-tagging and location-based services. With GPS and data phones becoming more common, this is going to be a big sea change in the near future. So I was excited this week that one of the technologies we’re getting trained was on how to use geo-coded photos to build maps.

We started off learning the basic tricks in ZeeMaps. You can create a simple spreadsheet with a few fields, import it into ZeeMaps, and it instantly maps them. I did that with a spreadsheet of the other attendees at the workshop:

Next, we got a little fancier. We walked around the campus snapping photos while also carrying a Garmin GPS device (which cost between $90 and $100). When we got back to the lab, we first downloaded the photos which had timestamps. We then used a Mac program called called HoudahGeo which then syncs the timestamps from the photos with the timestamps from the GPS device. Once the timestamps are lined up, the program then attaches the location information from the GPS to the photos and spits out a quick and dirty spreadsheet. All you have to do then is upload the photos to a server somewhere, and import the spreadsheet into ZeeMaps.

The good news is that if you have an iPhone or some other smartphone with GPS, this is even easier because they can geo-code photos. I made this quickie demo map using a photo I took with my BlackBerry after I “enabled” location tagging on the phone. I just took one photo, imported it into HoudahGeo, created a spreadsheet, and then uploaded it to ZeeMaps. The whole think took about five minutes:

For our final act, we used Google forms to build a dynamic map. In this case, that means a map where you can let people besides you submit info on a form that gets automatically added to a map without you lifting a finger. This was definitely the most challenging thing we’ve tried yet, and it caused a bit of frustration.

I won’t try to walk through the process here. But I’ll point you to this roadmap posted by Josh Williams, the instructor who led this section. Even with several instructors on hand to assist, this took most of us some trial and error to get working right.

But in the end, I did. And I think it’s pretty cool. If I had this on a site, I could offer folks a form like this. A person can enter the name of their favorite restaurant, click on the map, and then submit it.

The result automatically gets added here.

Because I now have maps on the brain, let me point you to this article posted by the New York Times‘ John Markoff this week about the coming revolution in our lives driven by the intersection of maps and cellphones:

With the dominance of the cellphone, a new metaphor is emerging for how we organize, find and use information. New in one sense, that is. It is also as ancient as humanity itself. That metaphor is the map.

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