Archive for September, 2008
I originally wrote this article for The Box, the Tuesday Technology section of The Press in Christchurch, New Zealand – it appeared on the 23rd September 2008. It also appeared on Stuff.co.nz.
Have you ever wanted to quickly find all the photos taken at your family bach? Chances are that unless you’ve been meticulous in filing your photos or tagging them with keywords, this could take quite a bit of time. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could click on your bach on a map, and bring up all of your photos within 1km, or display all of your holiday photos on a map? This is the promise of geotagging.
Simply put, geotagging records the latitude and longitude of the camera at the time the photo was taken and stores it in the image file.
Geotagging is not a new technology. It has been possible to geotag images for several years now, but previously only enthusiasts or professionals geotagged their photos, as it added extra steps to processing photos. It also required a GPS receiver that could record tracks – a breadcrumb trail of where the GPS had been. By matching the time in the GPS track log with the time that photos were taken, it is possible to reasonably estimate where the photo was taken. This took extra time and effort, and except for a dedicated few it was not worth the effort. The GPS receivers also added extra weight and bulk to carry around.
Recently GPS functionality has greatly shrunk in size and power demands, making it more friendly for the photographer by enabling the technology to be directly embedded in cameras and mobile phones. Already a number of camera phones support geotagging photos – including much of the Nokia N series, and the recently released Apple iPhone 3G. Nikon has embedded a GPS receiver in their new Coolpix P6000 compact, and provide an optional GP-1 GPS attachment for recent Nikon digital SLR cameras. As more devices support geotagging, especially more affordable cameras and mobile phones, the possibilities (and the risks) are going to grow exponentially.
Combining GPS receivers with other devices makes the whole geotagging process transparent and automatic, and requires no effort from the user. This is going to rapidly open up opportunities for all sorts of geotagged data. But is it just technology for technologies sake? Not really, there are existing applications for geotagging, and even more to be come.
Travel photography just begs for geotagging. It is a great means of recording where holiday snapshots were taken, as you can easily show people where you took the photos. Not only that, but as people upload geotagged photos, they become a great travel planning tool as you can see photos that other have taken in a location that you are travelling to, and find sights nearby that you otherwise may have missed.
Real estate also stands to gain from geotagged photos – by being able to quickly load photos of properties for sale into an online searchable map, it will be easier to browse location and appearance at the same time. Councils and infrastructure companies have been using geotagged images for a number of years now to assist with managing assets – imagine being able to take a photo of a pothole and send the image to the council without having to try and explain where it is. Geotagging even has applications after a disaster – teams performing reconnaissance of an affected area can take geotagged photos whilst they are there, and when they return to an operations centre, the images and their exact location can be loaded into a mapping system to help authorities gain a better understanding of the extent of damage.
Location-based technology does come with inherent risks – mostly privacy related. Although many people are comfortable posting photos online, they may not be comfortable allowing people to determine the location where the photo was actually taken. This may be particularly relevant in the case of photos taken at home. No doubt we will see tools evolve to help people manage the privacy associated with geotagged photos, but in the meantime it is worth thinking about the content of a photo before uploading geotagged photos online.
The benefits of geotagging for the most outweigh the risks, and will likely lead to novel applications. The Apple iPhone 3G already has interesting applications taking advantage of geotagged images. Exposure provides mobile to Flickr – a photo sharing website. The ‘Near Me’ function will get your current GPS co-ordinates from the iPhone, and use that to display geotagged photos from Flickr that were taken near your current location. You can then view a photo, plot its location on a map, and if you desire, Google Maps will give you directions on how to get there.
Geotagged images don’t have to be shared online to reap the rewards – it may be that the biggest benefit is just providing another means of managing the vastly expanding data in your own photo library!