Archive for the ‘mobile’ Category

Ushahidi: I couldn’t help it

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

I really enjoyed reading Haklay and Tobon’s (2003) article on PPGIS because it examines concepts that I can relate with my term project. The authors believe in information contributed by non-expert users in a constraint free environment; away from the office, possibly work, in your own personal space, or on the go. A decade after this article was written, mobile phones, especially smartphone apps, allow a user to both contribute and interact with non-expert generated information. I believe an ultimate PPGIS synergy has been created by linking FOSS together, in particular Ushahidi and OpenStreetMap, to represent geographic data contributed by non-expert users; on an online platform where you can text, email or Tweet information that you can then view interactively, on an OpenStreetMap interface.

User-centered design, development and deployment, and geovisualization are all critical components to a successful, efficient and usable platform. From the end-user perspective, these are all achieved. However, feelings may be mixed for developers. It is one thing to be able to send a text, Tweet, or email to a platform and interact with it, and another to use it as a template, activate, and maintain that platform. As much as these platforms are user-friendly, when will they become developer friendly? By developer I don’t mean a computer programmer, or a developer that is comfortable with coding, but someone who is new to it all but wants to learn; the non-expert of developers. Given all of this, I wonder what the authors would say of Ushahidi now. I believe in a constant need for improvement of open-source platforms, to strengthen the world of PPGIS. As difficult as the building process of the Ushahidi template can be for a newbie developer, I am astounded by the impact it has had and continues to have on the world of non-expert users.

-henry miller


LBS and User-Centric Design

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Location-based services (LBS) have already been widely utilized in daily life. By this means, users become both geospatial data providers and the information consumers. In the paper of Jiang et al. 2006, authors point out the LBS should be designed in a user-centric way. As LBS is a developing research field that includes the study of geospatial cyberinfrastructure, information technology, social theories, and data mining, we should take a careful look at the user-centric design in order to improve LBS.

Mobile technologies have contributed a lot geospatial data for LBS. With the development of wireless network, geospatial data, including image data, test message, voice data, and spectral information that are collected with different mobile sensors, can be easily shared over the Internet. But the large data volume becomes another challenge in LBS research; especially of user-centric design. First, not all the data contributed by user are equally useful for knowledge discovery and decision-making. So data mining techniques are necessary and it should also be supported by the geospatial cyberinfrastructure which is not directly visible for end users. Secondly, due to the large scale data and their temporal attributed, real-time computing are usually utilized to guarantee the performance of LBS is satisfying. Moreover, the limited resource of mobile devices require geospatial cyberinfrastructure at the backend to provide functionalities such as data storage, statistical analysis, visualization, to name a few examples here. All those functionalities should be kept transparent to the users, which further complicated the user-centric design research in LBS.

Another point I want to indicate here is the lack of standard criteria for evaluating LBS. As new technologies bring pervasive computing concepts in LBS, how to measure and evaluate the performance of LBS systems are great challenges in the future study.



Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I have heard much about location based services lately and prior to reading this paper had merely thought of it as Google Maps on a smartphone. It was interesting to read more about it and the issues it faces particularly that of privacy and surveillance. As my pseudonym suggests, I enjoy being outside not merely because it is nicer than being inside but partly because nobody knows where I am when I go outside and go hiking or canoeing etc. As mentioned in class, few people recognize location privacy and freedom and fewer still realize is being lost.

Before the advent of cell phones and the internet, if someone wanted to find out where you were going they needed to ask you. Today, they may not need to. They could just see if they have you on Foursquare, if you’ve updated your Twitter location or posted your plans of Facebook. Who says they even need to be good friends to be able to do this? You may have met them once or twice at a school activity etc. and thought you might want to stay in touch with them but they now have access to a huge amount of information about you and particularly your location. This leads to the importance of privacy not only in relation to strangers but perhaps also to acquaintances; you may have met them but do you really want them aware of your every move, literally?

Privacy with respect to strangers, institutions, governments etc. is even harder to obtain as these bodies do not need to know you to obtain your information. In the case of governments and institutions, they may obtain it by attempting to order it be given to them by the companies. In the case of strangers, hacking is not uncommon. It seems to me with one’s location being updated and distributed online or even via a phone, it would be all too easy for someone to follow that person, learn their habits etc. and could be dangerous to their personal security.

The Yao article mentions there are efforts in place to try to create frameworks for increasing security but that these have so far been limited with few studies performed. I feel that much more time and energy should be put into increasing security but that perhaps users should be educated on privacy issues from a young age when they begin using LBS technology so that they are aware of exactly how accessible the information they post online may be to those who are looking for it.

-Outdoor Addict

Motivations and LBS

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

I really enjoyed reading the article by Jiang and Yao. It was incredibly informative and set up a great framework for me to use when thinking about LBS in the future. The authors mention that “[c]lustering the users in terms of interests, behaviors and personal profiles is an important step towards a better understanding of the users” (715) and discusses grouping users based on the amount of information they desire. I think it would have been insightful to also note the different motivations behind locational-sharing.

A recent New York Times article claims that LBS, despite enthusiasm from investors, have yet to become very popular among users. I think being responsive to users’ motivations for location sharing will be important for LBS gaining more popularity. For instance, an app designed for individuals to share their locations on social networks should understand that one of the reasons people do so is for reputation management. People will share locations that present them in a positive light (e.g. popular restaurants) and keep other locations (e.g. casino) secret. Since individuals are selective about which locations they want their friends to see, this group will not be receptive of an LBS that constant tracks their movements. With regards to the temporal resolution of data, individuals may not want to share details about the duration of their stay at any one location. Other motivations for locational sharing could be fun/gaming and earning “badges” and to discover new places in town (e.g. Yelp).  Further, Lindqvist et al. (2011) “did not find that discounts and special offers [to be] a strong motivator for checking in” for users on Foursquare (a social location-sharing service). However, the authors note that if more business used the service, this could change.

Thus, motivations among naïve users may be useful for developing LBS that are more specialized and responsive to specific needs. These considerations will in turn shed useful insights on the types of privacy settings that will be most appropriate.


Lindqvist et al. (2011). I’m the Mayor of My House: Examining Why People Use foursquare – a Social-Driven Location Sharing Application.

The development potential of LBS

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

I liked the article’s overview of LBS – it it consists of, how it’s different from a regular GIS, and what kind of data analysis can be done. There is also a good overview of the issues with using LBS, such as interoperability. Interoperability, I think, is even more important than emphasized in the paper. Although location-based services aren’t restricted to expensive hi-end devices like smartphones (the article doesn’t even explicitly mention LBS in the cellular phone market), it is still fact that certain kinds of phones can benefit more from LBS (i.e. smartphones) than other phones (feature phones + ‘dumb’ phones). This brings to mind a video I just watched where Eric Schmidt of Google gave his views on future developments in internet and telecoms at a couple days ago (not actually directly relevant to LBS). However, he made it clear that, while there are many users with fancy smartphones out there, there are still 5 billion without them, or running on older generation hardware (and networks). I think this is another factor that is holding back the development of LBS. The user base may be large, but still not homogenous, as there is a whole range of devices out there (2G to 4G/LTE). Eric Schmidt gave his opinion that the divide between those that have the cutting edge of devices, and those that don’t, will persist for quite a while longer. If this is the case, LBS will have a tough time being deployed globally, as developers will have to try to design their systems for many different devices, with different operating systems, different processing power, and different capabilities. It may be the case that LBSes for mobile phones will have to be split into hardware specific categories, but since this hardware availability varies with geographic location, there will be a large portion of the world where a certain service will be unavailable. In the final part of his talk, Eric Schmidt answered questions, in which he stated something along the lines of ‘the smartphone of today is the feature phone of tomorrow’. It certainly seems the case in the mobile phone market where certain features are becoming more commonplace, and processing power and memory is constantly increasing. If this is the case throughout the world, then we should be optimistic for the spread of LBS throughout the world.



LBS, compatibility, and user-friendliness

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

One of the aspects of the article that I found to be most interesting (and relates to my GIScience topic of error and uncertainty) is the mis-matching of geospatial data collected by various individuals or agencies. This also relates to the lecture on spatial cognition, as the data being generated by native and non-native users is greatly influenced by the ways in which spatial knowledge has been gained, whether consciously or sub-consciously. In order to foster LBS activities such as predicting locations, this information is likely to be required to be compatible, which seems like just as challenging of a task as creating universal ontologies.

Catering LBS to the needs of various users is also an interesting and challenging subject, especially as applications and platforms are hindered by features such as small cell phone screens. For various applications, for example, the article notes that a wide array of layers and sources are needed to provide the required information. Also challenging is deciding how to model this information in a user-friendly manner. The article notes that including landmarks, for instance, may be more beneficial than information such as street names. As has been noted in previous posts, the notion of differing needs with regards to presenting information on a screen is also imminent when designing systems for disabled individuals. Since even using a map-based application may be difficult, text-based descriptions may be required instead.

As a final note, Jiang et al. discussed combining the functionality of geometric and symbolic models to include the advantages of both in an LBS. Perhaps this idea is similar to designing road signs, for example, where efforts are made to allow those who may not speak the native language or are illiterate to be able to navigate their way. Like the article notes, no assumptions can be made about a user’s prior knowledge of GIS or spatial environments, which may include vey basic notions such as literacy. As GIS students, it is easy for us to overlook or take for granted the knowledge we have gained through our education, so being able to understand the needs of others will certainly be a challenge.

– jeremy

LBS and Naive Users (A.K.A. Me)

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

I must say I appreciated Bin Jiang and Xiaobai Yao’s article “Location-based services and GIS in perspective” a great deal for the myriad ways it helped to explain LBS technology in light of GIS science’s research agenda, particularly given how ubiquitous they are in our everyday lives right now. The key section, to me at least, is where the authors argue that these technologies tend to be “generally oriented to naive users” (719) because potentially everyone might be a user some day. In a nutshell, that naive user is me but with one important caveat. I do not own an IPhone, tablet, IPad or any other generally accepted form of LBS technology. While I’d like to think I’m relatively sophisticated in using modern, online technology, I simply can’t bring myself to buy any kind of tablet because I’m not able to distinguish how my using it would be different from using my computer. Generally, as cell phones go, I’m that guy who walks into the store and demands the cheapest, most-unbreakable phone I can get. Perhaps I’m old, but a phone should be a phone and nothing more, by my way of thinking.

So I found this paradigm of the naive user engaging with LBS technology particularly interesting when the authors got into discussing how research into “spatial ontologies”  and “geographic representation” could be closely tied into work on LBS platforms. The authors approach it from the perspective that such research can help to “set up a common ontology for LBS for knowledge sharing among diverse users” (718). This might be one direction such a flow could be viewed: previously developed ontologies of geographic space shaping the manner in which LBS networks/devices display such information. But, I would think such a flow might move in the opposite direction too, in that many LBS users might influence definitions of geographic space according to how they use their devices. As the authors note, aspects of spatial cognition will be very important to LBS device design (719). Or, put simply, naive folks like me will want simple ontological definitions so they can understand/use these devices better.

But, let’s remember to put this in perspective. Not everyone uses these devices the same way and people like me have taken themselves out of the game entirely. So, how do designers define ontologies that fit all of the diverse users around the globe? I know interoperability remains an important idea as we discussed with Renee’s talk about ontologies, but at what cost? Take this example: A little while ago, a friend took me on a kayaking trip around the Boston, MA harbor islands. He did not bring a map. After a long day, we found ourselves still on the water in the dark searching for the island where we could camp. We knew we were close but his IPhone was on the blink – at least as far as its star charts, GIS, and map technologies were concerned. Needless to say, he was not pleased. For my part, I found it amusing he thought such devices would work on the ocean (albeit still within 5 miles of shore).

Perhaps just a technological infrastructure issue – but the point is still the same. If we’re thinking about defining standards for the information these devices display, what happens if our standards disenfranchise kayakers? More to the point, what about users in Africa who find landmarks such as a neighbor’s field more useful than street grids with names? The authors touch on this idea, but how do we allow naive users to generate data and give input on the ways these devices work as they become yet even more commonplace across the globe.


DISCLAIMER: My parents do both own complicated, new-fangled cell phones that allow many of these LBS functions. And, yes, I have used them many times and helped my parents figure out how to use them – since I somehow am a bit more adept than they.



Evolution and Emergence of LBS

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

The challenges of LBS are incredibly interesting, and seem to me to encompass what many of the challenges within GIS are today: the limitations of the hardware, and the limitations of the user.  I particularly liked the term “naive user”, implying to me not just that the user doesn’t understand, but that they are adaptable to the technology available.  This coincides with the idea that context is important for LBS because of how the data is displayed and how people are taking it in.  The language, the visualizations—user interface seems like a highly evolving and necessarily important field.

Previously in class we were discussing how maps are evolving to meet the needs of users, as opposed to having users bend to the will of the map, so to speak.  I see LBS as a form of Maps of the 21st Century.  Constantly evolving with, contextualizing, re-contextualizing, adapting, and shaping the world and users around it, LBS takes the qualitative data and attempts to reinterpret it in a manner accessible and useful to many users.  However, I do agree with Madskiier_JWong when they suggest the user is in many cases passive—while technologies are working to evolve to needs of the user, it would appear that on-the-ground, the user is in many cases taking what is being provided.  It will be interesting to see how the technology evolves to incorporate real-time demands of multiple users and presents them uniquely to the variety of consumers.

Looking into LBS it seems that while an upcoming field, in practical application for the everyday user, it is still quite new, and just beginning to catch on with people, with regards to programs such as foursquare, the friend finder for mobile phones.  To me, this lack of immediate uptake on some forms of LBS references another important limitation the authors spoke of, that of privacy.  And not even necessarily that people can see where you are going and collect information from you, but that it is being built into devices where the default is to track your movements—it is not necessarily something you must seek out yourself.  I think as it gains popularity, however, the privacy issue will come to the forefront, and like with the internet, users will become more aware of their rights, how to properly protect their privacy, and where to draw the line.


Location Based Services (LBS) and Context

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Jiang and Yao’s (2006) paper discusses LBS as geographic data and services offered through mobile networks and the Internet to handheld devices and traditional terminals. They bring up major issues in LBS including context-based modeling, and conclude with this interesting line:

“The boundary [between GIS and LBS] could be even more blurry in the future    when conventional GIS advances to invisible GIS in which GIS functionalities are embedded in tiny sensors and microprocessors”. – Jiang and Yao, 2006

This line implies in part a passivity by the general public in determining what LB-information is served to them. Granted, users have indirect input in the form of how often they visit or search specific websites (influencing how algorithms determine your preferences), but the automating of deciding what to show can hinder geographic understanding. LBS has significant power in conditioning our spatial cognition (e.g. people viewing cities as gridded and ruled by roads in North America thanks to Google Maps). The authors describe context-based modeling as a hierarchical categorization of the environment that is updated on-the-fly. It would be interesting to allow the user to assign priority to specific features of a context to optimize the use of limited computing resources; a billboard advertiser may be more interested in up-to-date information on how often busses pass by his ad than the amount of foot traffic on the same street. This also introduces active decision-making by users and is probably more practical as a blend of intelligent human input and technical ability of computers for context-based modeling. My main concern is that sensors typically provide point-specific data for location, and struggle with describing the space around them. Such a view can lead to tunnel-visioning or reductionism into Start-Point, End-Point. Incorporating context is needed for understanding the spatial interrelationships of features.

As a side note, the extent to which users can search for specific things is likely to increase exponentially as our world becomes increasingly sensor-filled. This brings up the debate of how to appropriately restrict and limit access to LBS.   

– Madskiier_JWong

GCI: Quality over quantity

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Yang et al. (2010) have helped clarify the complexity of Geospatial Cybernetic Infrastructure (GCI). However, the field covers so much ground that, at times, I found it difficult to grasp. The definition and scope of GCI is very, very ambitious: to utilize data resources, network protocols, computing platforms, and services that create communities. These communities comprise of people, information, and technological tools, which are then brought together to “perform science or other data-rich applications in this information-driven world” (264). Furthermore, the objectives are vast, where responsibility is placed on many variables: social heterogeneity, data analysis, semantic web, geospatial middleware, citizen-based sciences, geospatial cloud computing, collaboration initiatives. With so much going on simultaneously, it should not come as a surprise that organization is one of the main challenges in GCI. Perhaps covering less ground may lead to higher quality progress.

Despite the many obstacles that GCI must overcome, the advancement of Location-Based Services (LBS) (especially mobile technology) and digital earths have shown the potential for GCI. They are largely ubiquitous due to their user-friendly interfaces. Along with such developments, the attractive end-user interface component is significant. However, should primarily be informative, not just pretty. “The geospatial Semantic Web is a vision in which locations and LBS are fully understood by machines” (268). I believe this vision should be extended to humans also understanding (as close to “fully” as possible) the meaning of the geospatial Semantic Web.

Qwiki is a platform that represents both the semantic web and information processing. A combination of intelligent agent (primary) and human participation (secondary), it is a dynamic, visually emphasized version of Wikipedia. Here we have a conglomeration of different areas, supporting the multi-disciplinary aspect that GCI aims in representing and also the challenge of “how to best present data and information from multiple resources” (268). Qwiki has the potential to help organize enormous amounts of geospatial data from different domains, resources, applications, and cultural backgrounds. That is, if the data becomes digitized. Even though I advocate for quality, I believe quantity in terms of data organization is key as it is the first step towards knowledge building: data to information to knowledge. Organized data, in turn, prepares for advances in other areas of GCI to meet the proposed objectives.

-henry miller

Mobile Positioning – A Useful Tool or a Breach of Privacy?

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Thanks, AM for a thought-provoking post.

Ten years ago, few would have imagined that almost every person on the street would be walking around with a cell phone – or two. Even five years ago, few would have imagined that cell phones could be more than simple communication devices: location based services (LBS) for phone-users such as GPS-assisted navigation, location-based business searches and more are becoming even more mainstream. LBS are possible because mobile phones must be in constant communication with nearby cell towers to be able to receive calls or other information. Knowing the location of towers, the time and the strength of the “ping” (communicated signal), one can calculate the location of the cell phone user at a given moment. Newer phones, particularly “smart phones”, have built-in GPS chips that give even more precise and rapid mobile positions.

Mobile positioning, however, is becoming increasingly used in less traditional ways that extend beyond simple navigation-based services. Cell phone companies are selling locational information to parents, emergency response services, governments and the police (for investigative purposes). Verizon, for instance, offers a “Chaperone” service, whereby “parents can set up a ‘geofence’ around […] a few city blocks and receive an automatic text message if their child, holding the cellphone, travels outside that area” (Nakashima 2007). While this example in and of itself raises many controversial issues of privacy, the scope of the controversy is small in comparison to the more ‘professional’ uses of geospatial information.

In the monumental O.J. Simpson case in the late 1990s, engineers, on the fly, were able to triangulate Simpson’s position and movement patterns using his cell phone pings (Brandt 2004). This was the first major use of mobile positioning for any other reason than to provide cell service and many argue the point at which more interest grew in the power of LBS. The evolution of the use of mobile positioning for non-communicative uses has continued. In 2006 when a family in Oregon disappeared on a road trip, emergency services used a message sent to the father’s cell phone to locate his stranded vehicle (Reardon 2006). However, the most publicly known use of this technology has been of late, in a murder/disappearance case that has been swarming the news of late and caught my attention.

On July 15, 2008, 2-year old Caylee Marie Anthony was reported as being missing for a month by her mother, Casey Anthony. Dubious information surrounding the disappearance of the child has led authorities to investigate Casey for murder charges, and mobile positioning has been a key investigative tool. Authorities accessed the records and discussions of Casey’s cell phone calls prior to Caylee’s disappearance and used the cell phone pings in the time around those calls to delineate a search area for what they believed would be the child’s body. The story has gained momentum, as thousands of concerned citizens banded together in October to search for Caylee’s body in this area. (Orlando Sentinel ND)

These uses of mobile technology ten years ago would have been unconventional, but are becoming increasingly more mainstream – a situation that raises a lot of concerns. While it is obvious that mobile positioning is an incredibly powerful tool, its use is of concern for individual privacy rights. Moreover, as the information related to mobile positioning and GPS technology is highly personal and real-time the ownership of this information and its availability to institutions is a hot debate. Who owns geospatial information and what they choose to do with this information is a key issue in geospatial information ethics. In a worst case scenario, the image that readily comes to mind is a “Big Brother” type of society in which geospatial technology can be used to track the movements of individuals (think of the “Chaperone” service gone wrong), spy on their activities by linking this information to cameras and other recognition technology and consequently be used against them. This possibility, unfortunately, is not far off. In terms of the judicial use, as in the Caylee Anthony case, at what point is the use of this information considered too much or unethical? And as this data is considered by many to be unbiased and veracious, what then, when hackers and other technology manipulators start to interfere? To prevent this situation, governments must place stringent privacy laws on industry and think ahead of the current technological developments.

Ellen Nakashima. 2007. Cellphone Tracking Powers on Request. Secret Warrants Granted Without Probable Cause Friday, November 23, 2007; Page A01.

Andrew Brandt. 2004. Privacy Watch: Soon, Your Cell Phone May Be Tracking You. Feb 25, 2004.

Marguerite Reardon. 2006. Turning cell phones into lifelines. ZDNet News: Dec 5, 2006.

Orlando Sentinel. ND. The Caylee Anthony Case WebsiteOrlando Sentinel. Last Accessed Today.

use your iPhone to get out of your car and use public transport

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Seattle Metro (Washington State) has just announced Tracker Map View, a JAVA applet that shows you bus locations in real time. This, along with their Commute Calculator eases your way out of your car and into public transportation.

If you’re like me, you wait until the last minute to catch the bus. No worries, the system will send you an alert when it’s time to leave the house.