Where 2.0 - Google Geo Dev Day

So I finally got to see the much lauded "GooglePlex" (formerly known as the much lauded SGI-Plex). The place is large, and very much a college campus. As has been mentioned elsewhere, the Google 'Campus' is replete with volleyball courts, swimming pools (with full-time lifeguard), mini-kitchens that are no more than 100 ft from any employee (they admitted to gaining a 'Google 20' during the first couple of months), scooters, lava lamps, et al.

While all of the food, drink, etc. is cute, and very much intended to keep employees at work, rather than wanting to go home, I feel that the overall effect was attained that Google is a dynamic, creative environment. There aren't the age-old water coolers to flock around, but small kitchens, couch circles, and whiteboards. People are free to decorate their cubicles, and there are even "famed" cubicle decorations that are explicitly shown on the tour.

Overall, it seemed like a good effect for a large company to try and maintain a sort of "small-company"/startup feel. Of course, this is only on a 40 minute tour, and no experience actually working with the management and teams, but it still gave a good feeling. Everyone was smiling.

The Real Deal

After all of the "oohs" and "ahhs" of the campus (and getting to eat in the Google "No Name Bar"), we came to the real point of the day, Google strutting some geo-stuff.

Now, coming to Google, I wouldn't have been able to pick out Sergai or Larry from a lineup. So I was surprised when 3 guys came up on the stage in the demo room, and 2 of them were introduced as such. My first thought, "wow, they look really young". Not your typical 'white-hairs' (at least not yet), but guys that looked like it would be fun to hang out with.

New stuffses

As has been announced/discussed elsewhere, Google released a new version of GoogleEarth with yummy interface goodness, and the really cool ability to display nice models using textured 3D geometry and raster images. This is all handled by the new and improved KML 2.1, which is the XML geo-format Google inherited from Keyhole and competes with GML and GeoRSS.

One of the really strong messages from the demonstrations was "Where you look is where you search." GoogleEarth is "just another browser", like Firefox, though it is a much different paradigm.

As the program lead of GoogleEarth posed, consider the following situations. A user wants to find out about Shakespeare. They can:

  • Navigate to Scotland and then search for Shakespeare. This would display important locations in Shakespeare's plays
  • Go to a Shakespeare website and find a map of pertinent locations

Both are valid means of search, with different basic paradigms of what a user wants to find out (spatially pertinent information)

Where are the Pixies

I managed to get myself into the Pixie Hunt, which was a photo scavenger hunt, geek style. Each team was fitted with a cellphone, GPS puck, and list of tasks they had to get their photo taken doing. Standard embarassing stuff like: Make a Human pyramid including at least one stranger, or have a team member give a stranger a rose using their teeth.

The new premise was that photos were uploaded after taking to a Flickr pool, geotagged, and scored by the server. Your team could also see the other pictures that had been taken by other teams for the same task.

The game was fun, as it involved lots of semi-tired, hopped up geeks running around San Jose generally menacing the population. Restaurant Maitre 'd are incredibly useful in these situations. Utilize them.

However, there were some logistic issues, which illustrates why it's worth having conferences like Where. The phone application was slow, and a little difficult to use (disclaimer: I was not the captain of the team, so I didn't get to hold the phone. I just got to stand in awkward positions while the captain had to deal with the interface and slow camera). Also, we had a bluetooth GPS puck with us, which should have geotagged all of the photos. However, at the end of the hunt, we didnt' see the results.

What should have happened was there should have been a Map display of all the teams routes, where they took pictures, and how they all overlapped. We would be able to see if we all took our photos of being thrown out of a restaurant at the same restaurant, or if we had our Guiness pint in a real Irish pub, or just some local pool hall dive.

It was still a fun game. It would be neat to have a "generic" scavenger framework where a user could quickly fill in their scavenger tasks, upload it all to any players' phones, and the server would handle the responses. Perhaps YAP (Yet Another Project).

And so, after a full day of fun, its off to bed.

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Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.