Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mapping Contenders: A More Writable Space

Over at The Map Room, Jonathan Crowe posted a few notes about MSN Virtual Earth that tipped me on to a few ideas and the Virtual Earth weblog where MSN is inviting input.  In light of the clamor raised over two notable features at Virtual Earth--the absence of Apple headquarters and the presence of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, Crowe verifies (if there was any doubt) that VE uses "very old imagery."  As I see it, the age of the satellite images concerns me less than their superior resolution.  Right, already been over this.

And yet, the release of Virtual Earth comes with a need to understand the temporal dynamics associated with the images.  Could be that we perceive them as timeless or, equally implausibly, as ever-current--maps of both "here" and "now."  Wave to the camera on high.  Seems likely enough that we'll see this synoptical, real-time satellite cam soon enough, but in the interlude between now and that bright future moment, I think the horse race between Google and MSN for the best mapping venue is really fascinating.

One, I expect (yeah, pure spec-ulation), will steer toward the commercial flows--the trafficking of people and goods, roadways and restaurants, hotels and coffee shops.  This site will be determine its quality and future developments around issues of advertising and appeals to hubs of marketable activity.  The other (or perhaps yet an other) will also integrate some of this commercial flavor (i.e. need to find the nearest Denny's?).  But this one will develop capacities (functionality?) for other kinds of capital.  How impressive it would be to have one of the map-aspirants (Yeah, Google, you...or MSN, you.) devise our shared world as a space to be written--inscribed with the memory-notes and also with links (even blog activity, for example)?  I'm getting dreamy with this, I know (was cleaning the bathroom during this thought...chemically inspired--Comet and Tilex), but think of this: a mapping site that gives us ways of seeing patterns beyond the roadways and coffee shops, something that takes into account the topo-logical haze in language--either in the Zonal Memoria notes or in the composing that is done in/at/around a point.  This is rather jumbled, so let me try it another way--listed:

I want to be able to:

  • See my zonal memoria notes layered with the same kind of notes by others over a common space. 
  • Incorporate photos, either by link or with thumbnails.  Flickr world map and Mappr both have shades of what I want, but I don't need the whole globe at once as much as the local sites (sliding between them is okay).  Give me neighborhoods, city blocks, better detail--like the detail we get in VE. And be able to mix the images and the text, play them together.
  • Selectable tags (applied by users or derived by parsing) that sift away a particular layer of discursive activity for a particular area.  Let's say we have a square mile.  I want a way to lift a tagged set of writing/photographic activity involved with the area.  In this sense, the system would be friendly to social geography (like the mapping hunger in Onondaga Cty. project done here at SU). Oh, and give us a couple of classes of tags: arch tags (broad, engulfing) and minutiae tags (narrower).
  • Selectable periods of time.  2000-2005, let's say.  Or January of '04.  Scaling down to months--in terms of temporal sorting--would be good enough for me (the others, they'd want something more probably). This will get easier as the imaging systems get snappier. But it would make it possible to watch a site evolve (even if only year by year).
  • Include audio and video files--the full documentary effects.  These can be tagged, too.  Why not? 
  • Block spam from this space.
  • Visualize the development of multiply composed (multi- in both people and technologies), multiply constituted texts as they relate to particular places.  This is a set of conditions, I think, making possible Barthes' notion of mapping mythologies. Watch them morph--fads, trends, mass consciousness, the popular, political ideologies, diet, etc.

I'm sure systems exist for processes like this in geography programs (yes?).  I'd say one of the web's mapping contenders could blow it open by giving us a more writable map with a social quality, a space where so many of these writing technologies might converge in exciting ways.

Added (something in the arena of what I'm thinking here): Geotagging del.icio.us. And geotagging Flickr. Terrific, this one (and up for almost a month already).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at July 26, 2005 8:46 PM to Distances,Rhetorico-Geography