Gee! Oh! Am I Geo Ready? Geosocial Applications Have the Potential to Transform Market Research, Data Collection, Maps, and Other Things That Are Critical to Libraries

By Abram, Stephen | Information Outlook, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Gee! Oh! Am I Geo Ready? Geosocial Applications Have the Potential to Transform Market Research, Data Collection, Maps, and Other Things That Are Critical to Libraries


Abram, Stephen, Information Outlook


Geo is hot, hot, hot! It started long ago, but went big when the U.S. military stopped scrambling the geolocation signals from satellites and services like General Motors' OnStar were born. Before that happened, I was privileged to see GPS in action on my brother-in-law's fleet of ships on the Great Lakes, where he knew, at all times, the location of every ship within six inches.

Today, all of the cool kids are playing with Foursquare and becoming mayors, or they're collecting badges in Gowalla. They're divulging their locations for every Starbucks venti latte or bagel place on Twitter and Facebook. Lordy!

Is this just another waste of time, or does it have the potential to change the face of the Web yet again? Can it provide helpful information for special librarians in specialized settings, or is this just about contextual savings coupons for retail consumers in Groupon?

My take on geo is that it's a little of both. As is the case with so many other technological programs and systems, playing with geo tools and features in a casual way can help us evaluate and understand their potential and maybe even spark our own imaginations. So this month's column is a return to my favorite theme--play.

Understanding the Lingo

It's good to get the lingo straight so that we can at least sound smart about geo. Wikipedia does a fine job with the basic definitions.

Geolocation: "... the identification of the real-world geographic location of an Internet-connected computer, mobile device, [W]ebsite visitor or other."

GPS (global positioning system): " ... a navigational system involving satellites and computers that can determine the latitude and longitude of a receiver on Earth by computing the time difference for signals from different satellites to reach the receiver."

GIS (geographic information system): "A geographic information system, or geographical information system, is any system that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that are linked to location."

Geo-IP: Geographic Internet protocol address location services can help you identify a virtual mobile or Web visitor's geographic location information (country, region, city, latitude, longitude, ZIP code, time zone, connection speed, ISP and domain name, IDD country code, area code, weather station code and name, and mobile carrier) using an IP address look-up database and technology.

Geotagging: Also called geocoding, geotagging is " ... the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as photographs, video, websites, or RSS feeds and is a form of geospatial metadata."

Geocaching: "Geocaching is an outdoor activity in which the participants use a GPS receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called 'geocaches' or 'caches') anywhere in the world."

Now you have the basic words for a conversation. Let's move on and talk about how geo affects librarianship.

The Potential for Libraries

I've been playing with several geosocial apps for about a year. My personal experience is that they're fun and that there is an enormous potential here for libraries. We've become very used to search engines like Google and Bing sensing our country and serving up a geo-located interface. This is different--it exploits a much finer granularity.

I loaded Foursquare and Gowalla onto my iPhone (although they work on other smart phones and the iTouch as well) and personal computer. I tried to get Loopt, but it wouldn't load on a Canadian phone (I'd enjoy hearing from anyone who has tried Loopt or any other geo-application). I have also permitted Twitter and Facebook to know my location and provide geolocated experiences and ads.

I use these services in certain specific situations. For example, I always use them when I'm at one of the 100-plus conferences I attend annually. I use them in airports, too. …

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