Thursday, September 29, 2005


This blog is in danger of becoming moribund (or perhaps it already is?). I should crank up the output. Too busy at the moment I'm afraid.

Anyway, this is an interesting article in today's Guardian about Google. The author, John Battelle, posits that Google's ultimate mission is to make it possible to search the physical world like we can now search the digital world (from web, to desktop... to the city, to your home).

Let's break down Google's mission further. What is "information" anyway? In the end, it is data that describes something. Maybe it's a document on the web, but to think that is where it ends is to think small. Perhaps it is the location of your car, or the cost of a box of Pampers in a store in suburban Miami. It could be your wedding photos, or a video stream of a tsunami racing across the Indian Ocean. The first years of Google's rise have taught us that if something is of value, it needs to be in Google's index. What if the world becomes the index?

Thinking about the merger of the physical world with the world wide web might make your head hurt, but after you have reached for the aspirin, Google's mission starts to resonate with larger ambitions. Information is all around us, but how might the company make it accessible?
Now that so many things are digitally tagged in one way or another (mobile phones, RFID tags) it may well be that you will be able to search for them using Google or a tool like it.

In this context, the opening up of GoogleMaps makes sense as a stepping stone to this goal. GoogleMaps has already spawned lots of applications where people are mapping their cities in different ways. I've written about some already: the MySociety ones, and FoundCity. A new one I saw the other day on is mapping the movements of local rail in Dublin (the DART!).

Ben Russell has written about overlaying the Internet onto real space and the possibilities that arise from that... "searching for sadness in New York" being one evocative phrase used. But the possibilities are more tangible, in that people* now have tools to organise space and thus shape it in some way. GoogleMaps makes that easier, although you would still need to be fairly technical to make it work. But you don't need vast resources. I like the DIY nature of these projects at the moment, the fact that they’re being developed by enthusiasts rather than corporations.

But to return to the Google vision of being able to make all our information, in whatever form, accessible… I find all this exciting but also slightly scary... I'm always concerned about the privacy implications. However I am cheered by the fact that these Grand Visions never work out quite as completely as they're predicted. Technology generally lets you down. And one can never underestimate human nature in subverting technology.

*not everyone but we should come back to that.

Best names for fish and chippers

This is of very little relevance to the main subject matter of this blog, but I am including these because they are so good. One could imagine mapping them using a tool like FoundCity (tenuous link).
Spotted near Waterloo by me: Fishcotheque
Spotted on 2nd Avenue in New York by the Doctor: A Salt and Battery
I also like the Perki Chick in Dublin's Drumcondra although it is not strictly within the fish and chipper oeuvre. Think of it more as a Chicken and Chips specialist.

Monday, September 19, 2005

More new applications from MySociety

Google Maps is inspiring plenty of applications... Here's two more from MySociety. They're calling them 'back of the envelope' apps because they're not big and polished applications like PledgeBank and WriteToThem. Connect Wikipedia articles with the places they represent, making a useful new way of exploring that amazing online resource.
Share and discover local and geographichistory and trivia in an extremely
easy to use, user-authored fashion.People have already left some fascinating

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Back from Outer Space...

A combination of holidays and work has kept me away from this blog... apologies to any regular readers Out There. A couple of interesting things to report...

New summary report from the ODPM Social Exclusion Unit on Inclusion Through Innovation. The aim of the project is to
assess how the innovative use of Information and Communication Technologies
(ICT) can be used to promote equality of opportunity and improve service
delivery and outcomes for society’s most disadvantaged groups as well as those
who live in deprived areas.

it's currently in the analysis stage-- the whole project is due to finish next year.
This report summarises the results of a questionnaire sent out to local and national service providers as well as charities. Most people agreed the digital divide was widening due to the cost of ICT equipment, lack of suitable applications, lack of training and lack of access to ICT. However there is an opportunity to increase access to services through mobile technology and the Internet. They will publish an action plan building on this later in the Autumn.

An article in the Economist about the digital home... they are skeptical to say the least. The vendors view of the digital home is of converged devices and networks... We have gone that route-- our PC houses all our music and is used to watch DVDs. All very well, until it broke. Now we have no music and no moving picture capability. We have to read books! And talk to each other! We plan to unbundle our entertainment system pronto.

And finally... a variant on the flashmob/ mobile clubbing phenomena... Mobile Movies (thanks Justin). It started in California (well it was hardly going to be the West of Ireland, weatherwise)and involves a car, some speakers and a projector, email and a random location. Here's their blog.
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