The Economist (subscription required) dives into what it thinks is the next generation of the Internet: the Geoweb. Interestingly enough, it formalizes the thoughts of TechConsumer author Marion Jensen who received attention when he wrote on this subject two months ago. While Marion stopped short of calling the location-based Internet Web 3.0, it’s good to know he is not alone in his concept of the “next big thing.”
Apparently, the geoweb already has an emerging architecture: traffic jams, seismic tremors, crime rates, and melanoma stats are just a few areas where data is being collected and tied to location. A new discipline of “geographic information systems” (GIS) is on the rise, which includes fancy software used mostly by governments and companies to analyze spatial data. And the data “tend to be of impeccable quality.”
Combine the analysis and data quality of GIS with the visualization of the geoweb and things really start to get interesting. One example: Last year geodata for 13 American air-force bases were compiled and put into a modified version of NASA’s World Wind geobrowser. This made it possible to do a walk through of 3-D models of each base while analyzing multiple layers of data. The project cost less than one million dollars and is expected to save the air force five million per year due to faster decision-making. In this case, live video from a construction site is tagged such that contractors and vehicles are identifiable. Planners can assess a proposed building’s effect on runway visibility. And an environmental engineer can see 45 years of relevant documentation while viewing a plume of contaminated groundwater.
But at what cost will this new world come to us?
“Indeed, all the features—good and bad—of the internet will eventually gain new dimensions on the geoweb. Bots and intelligent agents will crawl it. It will be populated by avatars, as Second Life becomes first life, and it will enable the inverse: telepresent machines roaming the real world. Ghostly, private worlds will be overlaid on reality, sensitive only to members. The malicious possibilities are sobering: location-based viruses, geohacking and, worst of all, geospam.”
Though, Google Earth’s chief technologist Michael Jones has a decent comeback response: “I think there’s a social barrier to everything new.” He believes in the availability of useful information and thinks it outweighs concern over surveillance and loss of privacy. He pointed out that five or six years ago people were worried about camera phones. But now “everyone just presumes that everybody has a camera on their phone—it’s nothing special.” The lesson of previous technologies, he says, is that “we all are happy to tolerate things that would have previously been considered intolerable.”
What will it take before this is widespread and in front of the consumer?
“…[T]he incorporation of satellite-positioning technology into mobile phones and cars could open the floodgates. When it is available, simply moving about one’s neighbourhood can then be tantamount to browsing and generating content without doing anything, as demonstrated by a company called Socialight. Its service lets mobile users attach notes to any location, to be read by others who come along later. Taken further, the result could end up being a sort of extrasensory information awareness, annotation and analysis capability in the real world. “When that happens”, says Mr Jones, “then the map is actually a little portal on to life itself.” The only thing that can hold it back, he believes, is the rate at which society can adapt.”
I don’t mind admitting my mixed feelings on this one: Cool but scary.