I’m not alone in this: reflections on social media and digital connection

Social media, digital communication channels, and cell phones often get accused of alienating people, enabling bullies, and breaking down the human ties which are the foundation of society.

Bullshit. Personally, I am far happier on a day-to-day basis thanks to these technological tools. They have added considerable love, meaning, joy, and value to my life. With their help, I’ve been able to offer nurturing and support to far more people I care about than ever would have been possible otherwise.

So I wasn’t surprised when a recent Pew study found that 85% of adult who use social networking sites say that people are mostly kind. Also, 68% reported they’d had a experience on social media that made them feel good about themselves, and 61% had experiences that made them feel closer to another person.

I know I’m not alone in this…

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Practical example of low-tech augmented reality: My phone’s camera

I was in Louisville, KY over the weekend, staying in an upper floor of the Galt House hotel, which offers an excellent view of the Ohio River.  In the wee hours last night, I awoke for a bit. I noticed that outside my window, I could see the bright blue lighted sign of a large office building. But my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. I could see the sign, but no matter how much I squinted I couldn’t make out the name declared by the sign.

This bugged me — and when stuff nags at my mind, even weird minor stuff, I have a hard time getting back to sleep. The hotel room was dark, and my eyeglasses were out of reach. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. But my cell phone was within reach, on the bedside table. (It’s my main alarm clock.)

So I grabbed my phone and snapped a quick photo of the building with the blue sign. Then, looking at the phone on my phone’s screen, I could easily read: Central Bank.

sign on top of their downtown Louisville, KY building.

This satisfied my nagging curiosity, kind of like scratching an itch. I was soon back to sleep.

It occurs to me that this is a potentially significant use of augmented reality enabled by mobile devices — and the only “app” I needed was the software controlling my phone’s camera!

Most AR apps I’ve seen are kinda gimmicky or not very compelling. For instance, seeing local coupon offers overlaid on a camera app (which Junaio does), or local tweets similarly overlaid, hasn’t really thrilled me.

But being able to compensate for poor vision or a lack of information about what things are? That’s useful.

Now if only someone could do a similar service for audio that would automatically filter out noise in a train or bus station to tell you what the hell those announcers are really saying…

Everyblock’s New Geocoding Fixes

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Adrian Holovaty. (Image by Additive Theory via Flickr)

Recently I wrote about how a Los Angeles Police Dept. geocoding data glitch yielded inaccurate crime maps at LAPDcrimemaps.org and the database-powered network of hyperlocal sites, Everyblock.

On Apr. 8, Everyblock founder Adrian Holovaty blogged about the two ways his company is addressing the problem of inaccurate geodata.

  1. Latitude/longitude crosschecking. “From now on, rather than relying blindly on our data sources’ longitude/latitude points, we cross-check those points with our own geocoding of the address provided. If the LAPD’s geocoding for a particular crime is significantly off from our own geocoder’s results, then we won’t geocode that crime at all, and we publish a note on the crime page that explains why a map isn’t available. (If you’re curious, we’re using 375 meters as our threshold. That is, if our own geocoder comes up with a point more than 375 meters away from the point that LAPD provides, then we won’t place the crime on a map, or on block/neighborhood pages.)
  2. Surfacing ungeocoded data. “Starting today, wherever we have aggregate charts by neighborhood, ZIP or other boundary, we include the number, and percentage, of records that couldn’t be geocoded. Each location chart has a new “Unknown” row that provides these figures. Note that technically this figure includes more than nongeocodable records — it also includes any records that were successfully geocoded but don’t lie in any neighborhood. For example, in our Philadelphia crime section, you can see that one percent of crime reports in the last 30 days are in an ‘unknown’ neighborhood; this means those 35 records either couldn’t be geocoded or lie outside any of the Philadelphia neighborhood boundaries that we’ve compiled.”

These strategies could — and probably should — be employed by any organization publishing online maps that rely on government or third-party geodata.

Holovaty’s post also includes a great plain-language explanation of what geodata really is and how it works in practical terms. This is the kind of information that constitutes journalism 101 in the online age.

(NOTE: I originally published this post in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

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Los Angeles Police Geocoding Error Skews Crime Maps

LAPDcrimemaps.org has some recently revealed geodata flaws.

LAPDcrimemaps.org has some recently revealed geodata flaws.

Crime maps are one of the most popular and (in urban areas) ubiquitous types of geo-enabled local news — and they’re a staple of the Knight News Challenge-funded project Everyblock. This data comes from local police departments — but how reliable is it?

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported a problem with the Los Angeles Police Department’s online crime map, launched three years ago…

LAPDcrimemaps.org is offered to the public as a way to track crimes near specific addresses in the city of Los Angeles. Most of the time that process worked fine. But when it failed, crimes were often shown miles from where they actually occurred.

“Unable to parse the intersection of Paloma Street and Adams Boulevard, for instance, the computer used a default point for Los Angeles, roughly 1st and Spring streets. Mistakes could have the effect of masking real crime spikes as well as creating false ones.”

Apparently the LAPD wast not aware of the error until alerted by the Times…

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Google Earth and News: Make Your Own Street Views (and More)

A render of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado...
The Flatirons of Boulder, CO, as rendered by Google Earth. (Image via Wikipedia)

Recently Frank Taylor blogged about a cool Google Earth trick that could be an intriguing visual online news tool: homemade street views.

The example he cites is from Taiwan, where developer Steven Ho lives. Taylor wrote:

“[Ho] has been waiting for signs Google would bring Street View to Taiwan, but finally couldn’t wait any longer. So, he spent a few days making his own Street View panoramas for National Taiwan University campus. It turns out March is the month when the Indian azalea bloom, so he decided to take his street view photos along the famous Royal Palm boulevard. Steven took the time to not only take 150 panoramas, but also process his KML [Keyhole markup language, which is to Google Earth what HTML is to Web browsers] so it looks and acts just like Google Earth’s Street View imagery. He also added in some 3D buildings for the campus and the palm trees.”

The result is impressive. If you have Google Earth installed (and I recommend upgrading to Google Earth 5.0, which was released in February), then download Ho’s Taiwan street view and open that file in Google Earth. After it zooms in on Taiwan, click on any of the camera icons to start your visual wandering of the campus.

If you don’t have Google Earth, here’s a video screencast of what the experience looks like:

This made me think: What if a news organization offered this kind of immersive experience related to a news story or ongoing topic?…

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