Tag Archives: location

Game Review: Dokobots

I’ve been playing with Dokobots on and off since being introduced to it at WhereCamp. I liked it off the bat, but I don’t think there’s much to keep the player coming back over time. I have a few thoughts on how that might be fixed.
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WhereCamp PDX Reminder

WhereCamp PDX is coming up at the end of next week, Oct. 17-19. If you’ll be attending, take a minute to RSVP on Upcoming so we can plan for food.

In addition to sessions at Souk on Saturday and Sunday, we’re having a kick-off party at the Olympic Mills Building from 4-7pm on Friday. And for extra fun on Sunday, we’ll be running a set of urban and locative games. I’ll be leading a session of Cruel 2B Kind, a game that involves assassinating people with kindness. We’ll have details on how to sign up for this on the WhereCamp site soon.

I’m planning to do a session on Saturday about mapping food, so if you’ve been following the Ravenous threat for Superstruct, I hope you’ll join that discussion as well. Start thinking about your own session ideas now. Do you want to talk about location-enabled phone apps? The psychology of place? Open standards for geographic data? Anything on the people-place-technology spectrum is open for inclusion.

If you’re wondering how else you can help make WhereCamp PDX awesome, come to one of our last two planning meetings: tonight, 6:30PM at Produce Row, and the same time and place next Wednesday (the 15th).

Location Sharing Options

This week Portland added a new service to the location tracking options available. It’s called Shizzow, and it does a neat job of addressing the local Twitter crowd’s desire to see not just what others are doing, but where they’re hanging out (so we can stop by). I’ve been seeing a lot of people asking “How is this different than other services?”, and since I’m using most of them, here’s how things stack up for me.

Aside from being local, Shizzow has some of the details down that other services have struggled with. You get a time-ordered listing of where your friends are when you first log in, most of the time you can set your location by typing in a place-name (so you don’t have to know the address), and friendship is asymmetric (though you can also set your profile to private, and pick who gets access). There’s still a few places for improvement, but they nailed the primary use case really well. When the API is available, I think we’ll be seeing desktop and iPhone apps to make this even simpler.

Fire Eagle
Yahoo’s Fire Eagle just became publicly available this week, so this is the main one people are asking to compare. The main thing to keep in mind is that even though it stores and tracks location, this service is actually the most different from any of the others. Fire Eagle focuses on providing a secure repository for your location data, that other apps access through the API. The idea is to store your location in one place, then use it everywhere.I’ve only started to play with some of the possibilities, but given the interesting things iPhone apps are doing with its location features, I expect we’ll be seeing similar things with FireEagle integration soon.

So, BrightKite is like Shizzow. Except it kinda sucks. It handles location reporting pretty poorly most of the time, and frequently all you see is what city someone is in. I’ve also found it hard to tell where people I know are currently, at a glance. There are a bunch of UI details that rankle, like not having a log in form on the “Sorry, you have to log in to do that” page (maybe they finally changed that, but it was seriously annoyingUpdate: a commenter says this has been fixed). It’s trying to build up place info with photos and comments, too, but mostly I don’t care about that. Other services do it better.

Now, Plazes has been around the longest. Which you would think would be an advantage, but… They seem to keep making major changes that turn off the existing users (and add downtime). The Plazer, a desktop app that updates your location based on recognizing the wifi router you’re connected through (users add new places to the database), is a pretty neat feature, but it also doesn’t work when you’re not using your laptop. Maybe they were too early. It’s not a bad service, but it never really clicked. Nokia recently bought the company.

Twitter isn’t really a location tracker, but I have to mention it anyhow because people use it as one all the time. Portlanders are very familiar with seeing “I’m at Green Dragon, stop in and have a beer if you’re nearby”. Twitter recently added the ability to set a user’s location through the API, so the iPhone version of Twitterific uses this to try to flag messages by users nearby (alas, it only works if their location is set in the same lat/long format).

So there you go. Lots to play with. There’s a huge amount of potential to interlink services, both within this sphere and out to other kinds of data and interaction, and we’re still only seeing the first pieces.

WhereCamp 2008

This past weekend I attended WhereCamp, an unconference on all things geo-technology. I had a very fun time talking to everyone and camping in my Google tent.

I led two sessions: one on community-building and socializing with location-aware tools, and another the second day on social practice software, a term Anselm suggested to describe how we’re building Calagator.

Other things:

  • Good group of Portland folks there. Me, Paige, Anselm, Jason and the Platial team, three people from TriMet, in all maybe a dozen of us.
  • I bugged the TriMet team with all my burning questions about the tech side of what they’re doing. I hadn’t realized that they were such a key player in getting Google Transit started. These people need a blog. There’s a info about what they’re up to at http://developer.trimet.org/, and they’re really interested in hearing about anything people are doing with the API. I think I managed to convince Bibiana, the project manager, that they need to host a Portland TransitCamp. There’s some cool stuff they’re working on, and I’d love to see the local community collaborating more.
  • Open Street Map. I first heard about them in 2006 when they gathered people to map the Isle of Wight. It’s easy to take access to geographic data for granted when you’re in the US, but not every country treats it as public property. If you’re not familiar with this project, go read.
  • Andrew Turner and Seth Fitzsimmons led a lively session on privacy. The second half of the notes for this have a great summary of the current state of geo-privacy issues, which we talked through with the six de bono hats methodology.
  • Dave Troy presented a neat way of encoding location data called geohash. It turns your lat/long into a single alphanumeric string. The cool thing here is that as you lose characters from the right side, the sequence remains valid at a lower accuracy, describing a larger and larger bounding box. I could see this being really useful for a site that had location urls matching some collection of data. it’s human-editable enough that people could expand the search area just by editing the url.
  • NNDB does data visualization of the connections between people, that you can browse and edit. Best part: graphing conspiracy theories.
  • Rich Gibson brought his Gigapan camera. It’s interesting to look at the results from smaller and larger spaces.

I think we really, absolutely need to have a WhereCamp Portland. Let’s say in October. There’s just too much interesting mapping and location-geekery happening here to not do it. Who wants to help make this happen?