Cool ideas

Before I start delving into the strategic planning morass, I thought I’d give you all a heads up about some cool stuff happening in technology.  I guess the rest of the world has decided to catch up to what libraries have been doing for a while: integrating databases and maps.  Mark Briggs writes about a couple of new examples from MSNBC and a company called Everyblock.  In the first, MSNBC is exploiting our fear of bridge collapses in the wake of the Minneapolis bridge collapse to get people to their site.  Ostensibly they are showing us how many bridges are between two points on the map, then you can mouse over a bridges and get info on when the bridge was last inspected and it’s current condition.  But there’s no deeper data than that.  We’re told that a bridge is “functionally obsolete” and then you have to look it up to see that that means that the bridge might not have modern lane widths, approach roadway alignment, clearances, or ZOMG lower than standard carrying capacity.  There’s no information about how far off standard the bridge is, which of the item(s) it is suffering from, or really anything meaningful.  You’re just told that the bridge is “functionally obsolete.”  Also, you can’t take any route other than the one that Microsoft provides for you.

This is a marriage of some of the worst parts of technology.

Everyblock is at least striving to provide some richer more contextual data.  But so far it’s limited to three cities and isn’t really a map type of application.  It’s more of an RSS feed for a zip code.  Which is useful, but not really a map.

I currently use GMAPS-pedometer for all sorts of cool stuff. Originally conceived as a way for walkers and joggers to map out a course for their 2 mile jaunt, I use it for a number of mileage and elevation related tasks.  I often use it to settle an argument about how far away something is.  You’d be amazed by how few people are actually aware of how close they are to stuff.  2 miles is about a 30-40 minute walk and I bet you’d be surprised by how many shops and services are within two miles of your house.  Of course, GMAPS pedometer suffers from myriad data problems but it’s still fun and not there to scare the crap out of you.

Taking the GMAPS idea and melding it with the MSNBC idea is a map generated by two of the most creative Technology companies on the web.  I can’t find the original, but a functional model is on Brady Forrest’s blog on the O’Reilly site.  Basically, what it does is generate a map of London based on average tube travel time and overlays housing costs.  Both of these things are on a slider.  So say you wanted to know where housing was available for a median price of £200,000 ($400,000), you just slide the slider on the right down to the number you want.  Then, let’s say you wanted to have a daily, one way, commute of less than 60 minutes; go ahead and slide that slider.  Welcome to Tottenham, hope you like the smell of mid-table stagnation (yes this is a football–soccer–joke)!

OK, seriously, all the same complaints of the above maps are still relevant.  But I see this as one piece of an emerging useful, visual based information technology; imagine if you could do that and then overlay crime, and amenities like brand new football stadiums, and pull layers off and… well… and really have a GIS map online, free, and available to the public without restriction.

Wouldn’t it be  cool if libraries did that kind of stuff?

I think it would.

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