Saturday, January 26, 2008

Geo Specific Story Telling, Cool Concept? (almost)

GPS (Global Positioning System) and GIS (Geographic Information System) have historically been some pretty geeky topics. Flickr, with some encouragement from it's very hard-core GeoTagging Flickr user group, was one of the earliest services to really bring this idea of logging location as a context to user-generated media to the masses (the photo-enthusiast masses anyway). Many other services have followed suit, and the prominence of Google Maps and Google Earth have also fueled this whole GIS topic.

Now Nokia, with these GPS enabled phones including the Nokia N82, which I am test driving in participation with their Urbanista Diary campaign, is attempting to demonstrate this "beta" idea of geo-specific story telling such as with a travel diary, with possibility to go "real-time" in this capacity. For sure their are some individual early adopters out there before all this, but is the technology ready for the masses? Perhaps more importantly, are we ready?

This post shall discuss their technology mostly, my experiences with it so far as a storytelling/sharing platform. It's certainly an intriguing concept, and Nokia, by no means has the market cornered on this. Please consider that this is the opinion of capable, albeit new, user to this technology in general. Addressing if we are ready is worth an entire post (at least), and perhaps one I'll write after the experience.

The tools provided by Nokia for this undertaking are comprised of 4 parts primarly:
  1. A GPS enabled camera phone (mini-computing platform), the Nokia N82 in our case.

  2. An application on the phone designed around athletic workout performance logging, which has the side benefit of catching and uploading photos taken during a running log.

  3. A web service for sharing these "workouts", This presents a bunch of information you'd expect to see in an athletic analysis of a "workout", but also displays a GoogleMap with a line indicating your path, and photos you'd taken associated to points on that line. You can add captions and view individually photos one at a time on the workout page too.

  4. A combined "interface" for the 4 travelers of the "Urbanista Diaries" (link), plus the blog widget of the similar intent included on this blog.

A quick "impression" of my findings relevant to the task of each, as this post is already long, I'll share specifics and my plan to compensate for problems later:
  1. Phone: Nice product, perfectly capable... only complaints about the hardware are mostly minor... better battery life, keypad usability, and camera-mode ergonomics being the biggest complaints. Forgive the details but I'm not really a phone geek, I'll post more specifics later.

  2. App: Simple enough, but horribly off-task when it comes to mobile/geo "story telling". Covers the basic requirement though, and that is provide waypoint data that can be later associated to content. Seems to take eons to find your location at first start up, and draws quite a bit of battery when actively logging. A couple features that should be user tunable are not.

  3. Service: Again, woefully off-task. We are told it's in "alpha" even for the athletic uses, so one would hope they plan a major overhaul/relaunch if they wish to take these other activities more seriously. But as it is, it's buggy, painful/slow to use, and lacks many things one might expect, and have come to expect (if not demand) if it were really to function as a user-generated content sharing service. What's more is we were told not to even attempt the "live logging" mode during our journey, for it is far too unreliable still. But it is what it claims to be in it's current manifestation, a sports/workout logging/sharing service... how boring. ;-)

  4. Inteface: Nokia put some effort into this one, it's very slick! It is unfair to judge this one as a web-service, because it's really just some promotional media. But slick usually comes with a performance hit and this one packs quite a punch. The flash combined with GoogleMaps and speed at which it delivers photos in the slide-show mode is almost unusable. All the bare-bones essential elements are there, slideshow, captions, map, route taken, photos as placemarks etc etc... but somewhere they completely botched the usability in favor of looks. Ironically considering the intent, it is also quite hard to "follow" someone via this interface. I think it's meant to maybe use once, get a thrill out of, and hopefully buy a phone (never to look back). Certainly not your next killer web 2.0 or social media application. But I rant a bit, my main quarrel with it besides the speed, is actually a GoogleMaps API shortcoming it seems, the lack of detail (waypoint count) in the routes you can render as polylines), resulting in a map display that has a huge margin of error relative to the actual path I took.

All that complaining and I haven't even started my trip yet!? Well, I like to be familiar with my tools including their strengths, weaknesses, and limitations so that I can utilize them, compensate for them, workaround them, and sometimes capitalize on them to maximum impact. How, would you imagine, that I wound up throwing a camera in the first place?


I hope Nokia and WOMWorld weren't lying when they indicated they really wanted our unbiased opinions. This trip was meant to be a "challenge", which I am still excited about and up for... but I think the challenge part was supposed to be the journey... not the tools, which were pitched to us as simple, capable, and perhaps even pleasant.

Subsequent posts will also indicate my "plan" for a tool set to accomplish this mythical "mobile geo-specific storytelling", and my trials and tribulations coming up with one. I plan to do this extra work so readers and friends can "really" follow along, and do it with free tools already out there.

If you read this all the way to the bottom, you GET A TREAT!

Kinetic 926 (by mtnrockdhh)
Kinetic 926
originally uploaded by mtnrockdhh

Some glorious interference patterns in a camera toss by David Hull, my ever dilligent moderator of the Camera Toss flickr group.


Chicago Wedding Photojournalist said...

I'm looking forward to jumping into your project - it's an interesting concept and I've thought about getting a GPS unit - and almost did at Photo+

But might this just be the tedium that pushes us over the technological clif....

Unknown said...

I agree, hence an interesting time to experiment with it. Decide early if you wish to adopt it or boycott it.

Stay tuned, i'll be posting a lot more about the alternative tools I've been playing with (not just the Nokia suite). And definitely check out that flickr GeoTagging user community I linked to.