Geotagging Media to Map Communities
The whole concept of "geotagging" registered on my radar in late 2005. I can remember the first few websites that I saw using geotags. One was probably Yahoo! Local or something similar, but I didn't yet realize that a map of neighborhood stores and eateries was part of a larger phenomenon. Slightly cooler was housingmaps.com, a "mashup" feeding craigslist housing listings into Google Maps. Very useful, but somewhat prosaic. Another was part of The Freesound Project, a collection of user-submitted field recordings, and this was much more of a revelation. The recordings were geotagged media with a documentary component. It began to dawn on me how powerful that combination could be. Cambridge Community Television explores some of this potential with their upcoming ZipDocs seminar, in which students at CCTV will make a "video map" featuring the Cambridge zip codes.
In the last year geotagging media has been widely adopted by both large sites and DIYers. The quality of available tools and number of geotagging sites has likewise increased (some examples below). Yet, despite the number of projects out there, I still haven't seen rich media maps that really put the focus on documenting people and their communities. One of the more exciting things for me about geotagging media is the potential to better represent the social fabric of a community. Residents could, for example, describe themselves and their environs in short interviews that would then be geotagged and displayed on a map. Such an approach could portray a living, breathing community in a way not possible with traditional maps and demographic data. This is part of the idea behind the CCTV ZipDocs class.
A number of examples of video map sites exist, though none I found really put the focus on documenting communities. One such "not-quite-what-I-was-thinking-of-but-kinda-related" site is TurnHere.com, a site featuring semi-pro short videos about particular neighborhoods tagged for viewing in the very cool Google Earth application. The TurnHere videos provide one take on a particular neighborhood, but they are- a) oriented toward the tourist b) biased by the independent producers that submit them, and c) usually focus more on stores, bars, and restaurants than residents.
One reason for the dearth of community-oriented video maps may be the fact that much of the existing material is created by hobbyist users and often is not pre-planned or very intentional. Larger commercial sites may aggregate user-submitted videos onto a single map. One example of a personal, amateur vidmap using the Yahoo! Maps service features various locations in San Francisco (don't miss the "leotards" video). Mooom.jp from Japan is a good example of the aggregated, user-submitted model. I expect sites like youtube.com and blip.tv to soon follow suit and perhaps introduce a drag-and-drop geotagging interface like photo-sharing site Flickr.com did in August.
If I don't see what I want out there in cyberspace, why don't I make it? Well, there's no reason not to, the tools are definitely there. There are free, out-of-the-box solutions if you don't want to host the site and media yourself or learn the ins-and-outs of the Google Maps or Yahoo! Maps APIs. Mapbuilder.net is a third-party tool that uses a simple interface to generate a map for you. Wayfaring.com gives you the tools to create your own tagged maps within their site, and also introduces a social-networking element. I haven't tried embedding videos into a Mapbuilder.net map, but it was fairly straightforward with wayfaring.com.
Maps with geotagged media can add a whole new dimension to geographical representations of a community. There is a lot of potential for developing thoughtful uses of geotagged media, with applications for documentary media, urban planning, psychogeography, art, activism, and more. We're only starting to see the range of possibilities.