Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

Everything on the Earth’s surface has a location that can be expressed with just two coordinates. Using the new classes of geolocation tools, it is very easy to determine and capture the exact location of physical objects — as well as capturing the location where digital media such as photographs and video are taken. The other side of this coin is that it is also becoming easier to work with the geolocative data thus captured: it can be plotted on maps; combined with data about other events, objects, or people; graphed; charted; or manipulated in myriad ways. Devices we commonly carry with us increasingly have the ability to know where they (and, consequently, we) are, and to record our coordinates as we take photographs, talk to friends, or post updates to social networking websites. The “everything” in geo-everything is what makes this group of technologies interesting, and what will make them so much a part of our lives — geolocation, geotagging, and location-aware devices are already very nearly everywhere.


Geolocation technology is not new, but it is now commonly available in a growing range of devices like mobile phones, cameras, and other handhelds; at the same time, the software tools we use every day are beginning to include features that make use of geolocative data. Emerging third-party applications for mobiles that can obtain and transmit the device’s physical location give us ways to integrate our experiences in the physical world with those in the online, virtual world of the Internet. Where it was once time-consuming and tedious to attach geolocative information to photographs, video, and other media, it is now easy — indeed, often automatic — with many of today’s tools. It is increasingly common for photos and videos in online collections to “know” where they were taken, and social networking updates from many mobile devices are already geotagged automatically.

An increasing number of mobile and web-based services can respond to geolocative data in creative and useful ways. Radar (http://outside.in/radar) serves up local information like news, blog posts, restaurant reviews, and so on, based on a viewer’s location as determined from the IP address of the computer being used. Buzzd (http://buzzd.com) is a city guide and social networking tool for mobile devices, including not only local information but also user ratings and tips. Mobile Twitter clients like Trak (http://www.trak.fr/site/en/) and Twinkle (http://tapulous.com/twinkle/) add the user’s location to tweets, indicate nearby friends, and show messages tweeted in the user’s vicinity.

Collage (http://tapulous.com/collage/), a photo application for the iPhone, lets the viewer upload geotagged photos, browse photos taken nearby, and see photos as they are taken all over the world. Mobile Fotos (http://xk72.com/mobilefotos/) is another iPhone application that automatically geotags photos taken on the device before uploading them to Flickr. Dynamically updated maps on mobiles help travelers understand how to get from here to there, without having to first figure out where here actually is. The technology to capture and use geolocative data in user-friendly ways on mobile devices is just beginning to hit the mainstream, and we can expect to see tremendous development in this area in the coming months.

For those without devices that have built-in geolocative capability, a variety of free or inexpensive tools to capture and display geolocative data are available. The Photo Finder by ATP Electronics and the Nikon GP-1 are examples; they capture GPS data and synchronize it to a camera’s data card to geotag the photos automatically. Another approach is to use a specialized device like the GPS Trackstick (http://www.gpstrackstick.com) that can be carried in a pocket or glove box. It records the path it travels, and the data can be uploaded to create custom maps of walking or driving routes, hiking trails, or points of interest. Geotagging of media of all kinds is increasingly easy to do (or is automatic), and as a result, the amount and variety of geotagged information available online is growing by the day.

As noted in the 2008 Horizon Report, it is also becoming easier to create mashups using multimedia and geotagged data with online tools. Many free or very low-cost tools to capture and display geolocative data are available online and they continue to improve in usability and flexibility. Google Maps (http://maps.google.com), for example, offers a one-button way to overlay public, geotagged media onto the relevant section of a map as you view it; photos or videos tagged with the location in question simply fall into place on the map. A similar feature is available to place media onto Google Earth’s 3D display. With Flickr Maps (http://www.flickr.com/map), viewers can see at a glance what tags are currently being applied in a given region, or find (for instance) locations in North America where photographs of monarch butterflies were taken. Other mashup authoring tools give the user even more control, allowing the use of uploaded datasets, custom maps, and more.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, Research, or Creative Expression

Applications for research and learning that are quick and inexpensive but still very effective are beginning to emerge as the difficulty of capturing and using geolocative data decreases. Automatic geolocation opens opportunities for field research and data acquisition in the sciences, social observation studies, medicine and health, cultural studies, and other areas. Researchers can study migrations of animals, birds, and insects or track the spread of epidemics using data from a multitude of personal devices uploaded as geotagged photographs, videos, or other media plotted on readily-available maps. By placing collected data on a map and adding easy- to-obtain data such as weather, population, urban development, or other factors, researchers and students can study the patterns that emerge.

Existing collections of geolocative data are also becoming more accessible as the tools to search, organize, filter, and display such data become more sophisticated, easier to access, and simpler to use. Open databases like those listed by Academic Info (http://www.academicinfo.net/geogdata.html) have been available for some time, and now we are seeing online tools that can display those datasets visually in a variety of ways. The array of emerging web applications that combine topographical data with geotagged media and information are at the heart of geolocation’s importance to educational practice. Many such applications require no programming skills and can be used by students to produce custom visualizations layered over detailed maps or 3-D landscapes using real-world data.

Mobile learners can receive context-aware information about nearby resources, points of interest, historical sites, and peers seamlessly, connecting all this with online information for just-in-time learning. Social networking tools for handheld and mobile devices or laptop computers can already suggest people or places that are nearby, or show media related to one’s location. Virtual geocaching — the practice of placing media (images, video, audio, text, or any kind of digital files) in an online “drop box” and tagging it with a specific geographic location — is emerging as a way to “annotate” real-world places for travelers or tourists; enhance scavenger hunts, alternate reality games, and other forms of urban outdoor recreation; and augment social events such as concerts and other performances. Drop.io Location (http://drop.io/dropiolocation) is one such service. Mobile users can detect the location of nearby drops and retrieve any files they have permission to access.

Relatively simple applications of geolocative data like these represent its earliest uses in websites and mobiles, but this cluster of technologies is developing very rapidly.

A sampling of location-aware applications across disciplines includes the following:

  • Literature. Geotagging and virtual geocaching can be used to create annotated maps and real- world locations related to works of literature, enhancing the experience of reading the story. For instance, out of personal interest, one reader created a map of the course described in The Travels of Marco Polo, including passages from the text, photographs of the places mentioned (historical and contemporary), annotations and links, and other information (http://idlethink.wordpress.com/2008/08/31/indulgence-sin/).
  • Medicine. The University of Florida has used a 2-dimensional web-based Transparent Reality Simulation Engine to teach students how to operate medical machinery for several years. Recently, the addition of a GPS-enabled tablet device has allowed learners who are spatially challenged to experience the transparent reality visualization overlaid directly onto the real machine, enabling them to use the machine’s controls rather than a mouse as input to the simulation. Geolocation is used to track the tablet and align the physical machine with the visualization on the tablet.
  • Games-based Learning. The Local Games Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (http://lgl.gameslearningsociety.org/) is developing “local games,” learning experiences set in real- life neighborhoods and ecological habitats. Combining geolocation and alternate reality games, local games immerse the learner in a physical space as they explore the unique characteristics of the location and its inhabitants.

Examples of Geo-Everything

The following links provide examples of a variety of applications using geolocation, geotagging, or location-aware devices.

CommunityWalk is a tool that provides a way to create and annotate custom maps with geotagged data and photographs uploaded or pulled from Flickr.

Geocoding with Google Spreadsheets (and Gadgets)
(Pamela Fox, …And Other Fancy Stuff, 27 November 2008.) This blog post includes step- by-step instructions for embedding a gadget, created by the author, that plots addresses from a Google spreadsheet on a map, providing latitude and longitude data that can be used in other mashups.

Geonames is a comprehensive geographical database containing millions of geographical names and features worldwide. The data is licensed for use under a Creative Commons attribution license.

The Mapas Project
The fledgling Mapas Project at the University of Oregon is dedicated to the study of Colonial Mexican pictorial manuscripts. Geolocation is being used to link real-world locations to those represented on the maps.

Mediascape is a tool for creating interactive stories that unfold as the viewer moves through physical space and time. By tapping into the GPS on a viewer’s mobile device and incorporating multimedia as well as interactive controls, every mediascape offers a unique experience for each viewer.

Next Exit History
Next Exit History is a project by the University of West Florida and the University of South Florida designed to provide geotagged information (podcasts and other media) to assist tourists in finding and learning about historical sites in Florida that are near major interstate highways but often overlooked by visitors.

Paintmap is a tool that allows artists to place their works on a map to indicate the physical location of the subject of the work. Users of Google Earth can also add artworks as an additional way to annotate places.

For Further Reading

The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about geolocation, geotagging, and location-aware devices.

7 Things You should Know about Geolocation
(EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 27 August 2008.) This article provides a concise description of geolocation as it relates to tagging media, suggests educational applications, and discusses opportunities and concerns related to geolocation.

Geotagging Photos to Share Fieldtrips with the World
(David Holmes, GeographyTeachingToday.org. uk, undated.) This article describes applications for the geotagging of photos in teaching geography and suggests ways to geotag images.

How Your Location-Aware iPhone will Change Your Life
(Adam Pash, Lifehacker, 5 June 2008.) The iPhone’s location-aware features enhance a host of applications from social networking tools to geotagging photos taken by the phone to nearby restaurant recommendations.

Location Technologies Primer
(Eric Carr, TechCrunch, 4 June 2008.) This article explains the technologies that are used for location-awareness applications.

Notes from the Classroom: Exploring Literary Spaces via Google Earth
(Jerome Burg, Google Lat Long Blog, 25 June 2008.) This post, written by the retired English teacher who created GoogleLitTrips.com, describes using Google Earth to enhance the teaching of literature.

Delicious: Geo-Everything
(Tagged by Horizon Advisory Board and friends, 2008.) Follow this link to find resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report, including the ones listed here. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hz09” and “geolocation” when you save them to Delicious.

Posted by NMC on January 18, 2009
Tags: Chapters

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[...] trends to watch in the next 10 years are mobiles and cloud computing (within one year or less), GeoEverything and the Personal Web (within 2 to 3 years), and Sematic-Aware Applications and Smart Objects [...]

March 12, 2009 12:49 pm

[...] Geo-Everything. Geocoded data has many applications, but until very recently, it was time- consuming and difficult for non-specialists to determine the physical coordinates of a place or object, and options for using that data were limited. Now, many common devices can automatically determine and record their own precise location and can save that data along with captured media (like photographs) or can transmit it to web-based applications for a host of uses. The full implications of geo-tagging are still unfolding, but the impact in research has already been profound. (Horizon Report, 2009) [...]

March 28, 2009 1:41 pm

[...] De meest essentiële geografische vraag is: waar ben ik? Maar wat we zien met de opkomst van internet en technologische ontwikkelingen als GPS, is dat we er een vraag bij moeten stellen: en waar ben ik in relatie met al het andere? Het Horizon Report 2009 noemt dat de trend Geo-Everything. [...]

May 7, 2009 6:19 am

[...] According to the 2009 Horizon Report Brian linked to, the time-to-adoption horizon for “geo-everything” is 2 to 3 years, but I would argue that we’re ahead of the game here in North [...]

June 29, 2009 12:59 pm

[...] Geo-everything [...]

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