Archive for the ‘Location’ Category

Mining Flickr to Build 3D Models of the World

Microsoft’s PhotoSynth tool is jaw-droppingly awesome. But, because it’s a Microsoft project, the technology is unlikely to appear on some of your favorite non-Microsoft online apps, like Google Maps or Flickr.

However, our friends at ReadWriteWeb stumbled across a very similar tool — at least in terms of the end result — developed by the University of North Carolina in conjunction with Swiss university, ETH-Zurich.

The team has developed a method for creating 3D models by pulling in millions of photographs from Flickr and using some fancy algorithms to generate 3D models of local landmarks. Perhaps even more impressive the results can be generated using a single computer in under a day.

Project lead Jan-Michael Frahm touts the project’s efficiency saying, “our technique would be the equivalent of processing a stack of photos as high as the 828-meter Dubai Towers, using a single PC, versus the next best technique, which is the equivalent of processing a stack of photos 42 meters tall — as high as the ceiling of Notre Dame — using 62 PCs. This efficiency is essential if one is to fully utilize the billions of user-provided images continuously being uploaded to the internet.”

While the results are cool and would make an impressive addition to any number of geo-based services, more serious use cases include helping disaster workers get a better idea of where they’re headed and the extent of damage.

So far the researchers have released a movies demonstrating the technique on landmarks in both Rome (get it? built in a day…) and Berlin, and the results are impressive. For more information on how the process works, check out the UNC website.

See Also:

File Under: Location, Social

Google Hotpot Smartens Up Local Search, But It’s No Yelp Killer

Google has unveiled the awkwardly-named Hotpot, which is a kind of ratings tool and recommendation engine for Google Places.

As you review restaurants, music venues, stores and the like, Hotpot’s recommendation engine learns what you like and suggests other places you might like. Throw in recommendations from friends and Hotpot starts to sound very useful. Indeed Hotpot is useful, bringing location-based searching, algorithms that learn what you like and friends’ recommendations together in a single place.

But, perhaps because of that combination of features, it’s also awkward to set up and poorly integrated with the rest of Google’s services. It has some features that trump its main competitor, Yelp, like the awesome search tool. But the social and community aspects of Hotpot — features Yelp handles well — are too difficult to get set up.

Which isn’t to say that Hotpot isn’t useful. You just have to clear its awkward silo-style hurdles first. If you head over to the new Hotpot URL, you’ll be asked to sign in with your Google account and then to pick a nickname for use on Google Places.

Once that’s done you’ll need to find your friends and “add” then to your list of Hotpot friends. Setting up Hotpot feels a bit like you just slipped back in time five years to a web where every social service is an island.

It could be that Google was worried about another Buzz-style backlash if it made Hotpot’s social features automated. Instead, everything is manual — you’re presented with a list of friends that you can add (follow might be the more familiar verb here) much like the process Google Reader uses.

However, with Reader the sharing notices are sent inside the Reader web app. With Hotpot, the notices are sent to your friend’s Gmail account for approval. Worse, there doesn’t seem to be an “Add all” button — if you’ve got 300 friends, you’ll be click “Add” 300 times.

Once you’ve made it past the initial hurdles of setting Hotpot up, its results are actually pretty good. Having only tested Hotpot for a few hours, it’s hard to judge the quality of recommendations, but as a simple Google Places search tool, the interface is clean and easy to use.

Continue Reading “Google Hotpot Smartens Up Local Search, But It’s No Yelp Killer” »

File Under: Location, Web Services

Personalize Your Map With a Custom Map Marker

If you’re adding a map to your website, why settle for the vanilla design when you can customize it and leave your own personal mark?

This tutorial will show you how to create a custom map from scratch, then add a little unique flavor to it by replacing the standard “map pin” icon with a custom icon of your own design.

To do this, we’ll be using Mapstraction, a library that creates map code that can be reused across all the big mapping providers (Yahoo, Google, et al). Mapstraction also allows for multiple types of customization such as custom info bubbles and graphics like the one we’ll be dropping onto the map.

Note: This tutorial is adapted from the book Map Scripting 101 by Adam DuVander. Adam is a former Webmonkey contributor and executive editor of Programmable Web. In his book, he shows how to use all of the features of the most popular mapping APIs, and how to mash them up with data from other sources like events calendars, weather services and restaurant review sites to make a variety of custom maps.

This exercise comes from chapters 1 and 2 of Adam’s book, and it is reprinted here with his permission and that of the book’s publisher, No Starch Press. It isn’t a word-for-word excerpt. It has been slightly adapted to work as a web tutorial. You’ll find dozens of in-depth exercises — including the full version of this one — in the book itself.

Create a Mapstraction map

Mapstraction is a little different from Google Maps and Yahoo Maps. Mapstraction is an open source JavaScript library that ties into other mapping APIs. If you use Mapstraction, you can switch from one type of map to another with very little work, as opposed to rewriting your code completely.

Using Mapstraction limits your risk to changes being made to an API. For example, if your site’s traffic takes you beyond the limit for your chosen provider, or the provider begins placing ads on the map, Mapstraction lets you switch providers quickly and inexpensively.

To use Mapstraction, you must first choose a provider. In this example, I’m using Mapstraction to create a Google Map.
Continue Reading “Personalize Your Map With a Custom Map Marker” »

File Under: APIs, Location, Social

Facebook Opens Up Places in its API

Less than a full day after launching its new location-sharing feature, Facebook has opened up Places to developers.

Thursday afternoon, developers gained access to users’ check-in data via Facebook’s Graph API. Developers can also access check-in data from locations, like restaurants and businesses, to see who’s checked in there.

As we mentioned in our coverage of Wednesday evening’s launch, the Places data is read only for now. Applications can’t write or search Places data through the API. Those features are only available to Facebook’s launch partners for Places — Gowalla, Foursquare, Yelp and Booyah — while the kinks get ironed out. Everyone will get access to write and search Places data within a few months, according to Facebook.

The documentation for the Graph API has been updated to provide instructions for calling Places.

So sayeth the man page: “Every check-in is associated with a check-in ID that represents an object in the graph. Check-ins are associated with locations represented by Facebook Pages; the location must have a Facebook Page ID, whether the Page was created on Facebook directly or using the Open Graph protocol.”

If you don’t want to join in any of Facebook’s check-in reindeer games, the How-To Wiki has instructions on disabling Places in your account.

See Also:

File Under: Location, Visual Design

Beautiful Websites: Stamen’s Pretty Maps

We’ve seen some colorful map mashups in the past, like Hypercities and HeatMap, but few are as abstract and beautiful to look at as Stamen Design’s Pretty Maps.

The aptly-named app pulls sets of geodata from various freely available open mapping projects and plots them atop one another. Pretty Maps grabs street-level data from OpenStreetMap (the “Wikipedia of maps”), land formation data from Natural Earth and place-name and place-shape data from Flickr shapefiles — Flickr’s outlines generated by the tags people have attached to photos taken in that place. So all the data is from crowdsourced databases and either public domain or licensed through the Creative Commons. The maps are generated using TileStache and PolyMaps, two open source tools developed in-house at Stamen.

The result is a map that’s not so much usable for navigation as it is pretty to look at. Cities degrade into abstract and unique blobs, with pastel colors overlaying one another. The shapes are alien looking in texture and density, but instantly recognizable if you’re already familiar with the terrain.
Continue Reading “Beautiful Websites: Stamen’s Pretty Maps” »