Tag Archives: TED

Japanese Maps a Unique Challenge

The New York Times has a piece pointing out that the new iOS 6 cartography woes that Apple is experiencing are amplified in Japan which presents it’s own unique mapping challenges. Mainly because they are trying to jam a global mapping paradigm into Japan which has its own challenges.

… cities like Tokyo are changing fast: its 80,000 restaurants, for example, open and close at a rapid rate amid cutthroat competition. Navitime, another map app that has benefited from Apple’s map problems, updates its data every eight hours, and replaces a third of its seven million data points every year.

The photo up top is a common site in Tokyo outside of most every train station or at the top of every subway exit. The city is changing so quickly that hand drawn maps, often annotated with side notes, are the best indicator of the what is where for the dis-oriented visitor. The back of most Japanese business cards are often helpfully annotated with carefully drawn maps giving directions to the establishment’s location with instructions like, “veer 30 degrees left and head past the large Coca-Cola billboard and take the next left at the noodle shop.” Navigating the back streets of Tokyo is more akin to orienteering through the woods than walking the streets of a well organized city.

But the real kicker for anyone trying to enter the Japanese market is that Japanese love maps and mapping services have gone to great lengths to provide the most detailed maps they can offer. Navitime, mentioned in the NY Times article, provides maps that tell you how to get from one place to another when it’s raining and you don’t have an umbrella (through office towers, underpasses, by shopfronts with awnings). Below is a screenshot from one vendor showing different ways from point A to point B. The route on the right is how to get there if you have a baby carriage.

The Western mind boggles at the complexity of the Japanese mapping services. Fundamental aspects of mapping break down in Japan. In Japan, they label the addresses by blocks, not street names. As Derek Sivers says in the Ted video below,

“Blocks don’t have names, streets have names. Blocks are just the unnamed spaces in between streets.”

Think different Apple. Think different.

Location Traces as Art

Determined to teach others how much data telecom providers not only harness but retain, German Green Party politician, Malte Spitz, sued his cell phone service provider, Deutsche Telecom, for his location data. What he received was raw data of his location, signal strength, and when he was on the phone.  Working with the German newspaper Zeit, he then published this data spanning the six months between August 2009 and February 2010 and put it up on Zeit Online into an interactive map.

Publishing your movements has obvious privacy implications and that is precisely the point that Mr. Spitz is trying to make. Over 35,000 location coordinates were taken but even the New York Times article reporting on this project revealed that these were only a subset of all the data that could be taken. Each of the Spitz datapoints were taken when he (or his email client) was checking email via the Deutsche Telecom servers. Yet, even with this low-fidelity view, it’s easy to draw lines between the points and the sample set is large enough that it’s fairly easy to work out where Mr. Spitz lives, works, and other aspects of his weekly routine. The calendar bar on the site also lets you zoom in on where he spent Christmas.

Put another way though, having access to a private dashboard where I could review where I’ve been would certainly be helpful for my expense reports and letting me selectively publish my data would certainly save having to manually check -in and create visualizations as I did with FourSquare or the raumzeitgeist report provided by  dopplr showing your past trips (above).

TED just published a fascinating talk (Birth of a Word) by MIT researcher Deb Roy who used location traces at a micro-level (below) to study how his son (who was filmed and tracked for the 24 hours a day for the first two years of his life) picked up language. While the visualization was used to assist in research, it also wowed the audience at TED as a breath-taking visualization as well.

Does location data represent a new form of art?