What to do with geospatial traces
Yesterday, the FT had a very interesting piece about "geospatial traces" (i.e cell phones and GPS signals). It's called "Rome – as you’ve never seen it before" (by Richard Waters). The question the author address is the very recurrent "What if the location of all those devices could be pinpointed at any moment, showing where their owners were coming from or going to?". Drawing on the example of "Real Time Rome" (aggregating data from cell phones, buses and taxis in Rome to better understand urban dynamics in real time), the article describes potentials uses for geospatial data gathered from various sources. This can help to get some representations (why not by using mash-ups), of traffic flows or pedestrian movements. Eventually, showing those information could influence people's behavior as the author says or "be a goldmine" for urban planners".
This is of course related to the "social navigation" issue developed by Dourish and Chalmers in the paper "Running Out of Space: Models of Information Navigation">:
In social navigation, movement from one item to another is provoked as an artefact of the activity of another or a group of others. So, moving “towards” a cluster of other people, or selecting objects because others have been examining them would both be examples of social navigation.
Why do I blog this? since my research interest are related to how people use/benefit/infer things based on others' whereabouts, this article was interesting for different reasons. First, the fact that it's in a business newspaper is interesting from a foresight viewpoint (it means that this sort of ideas get closer to people's reality and is trendy even out of academic or artist circle). Second, it shows that that apart from the "social navigation" usage as well as the "goldmine for urban planners" there is nothing new under the sun. I'd be interested in more playful ideas: a simple one would be what Justin Hall proposed: "Passively multiplayer gaming" (see description below), using geospatial traces could be a way to improve MMO character or so...
At that point, turning your life into one of Hall’s passively multiplayer games is simply a matter of adding game logic. (...) Your ‘character’ could gain levels and skill points by checking e-mail, going to saxophone lessons, or writing a column for Gamasutra. Spam e-mails could be turned into enemy fire. Heck, the aforementioned cigarette break could help your friend poison a horde of aliens with toxic chemicals, if you wanted it to!
What else? of course the opposite of social navigation could be cool too (not going where the crowd goes...) but it's way too simplistic.