A Time/Space Search Engine That Doesn’t Exist Yet

I just finished writing a post on the Click2Map’s blog , Is Pointless Geotagging Disturbing?, about geotagging and how its integration into our existing social networks feels awkward. To explain how I feel about geotagging, I make a comparison with using our real names online, and how it went from being a big no-no ten years ago, and then turned into the best way to connect with the people we already know.

I want to expand on the thought that geotagging is used in an awkward manner today, but how it could become a resourceful content for a search engine that doesn’t exist yet.

Journalism is mutating these days; its traditional top-to-bottom information flow is being reversed. Citizen journalism is breaking through. Twitter has proven to be a unique news breaker, because each word submitted to the database gets instant visibility. Therefore, the news breakers have become the people who witness events on the spot. They spread the word way faster than a traditional newspaper would.

Citizen journalists are not professionals. They are individuals who happen to be at a specific place, at a specific time, during a specific event. What they express during this specific place/time/event has value because it provides info on an occurrence that questions us. It is a basic socio-psychological mechanism in action: If an event generates anguish, humans need info to appease this anguish, to make sense of what goes on. We’ve created God to make sense of the world. Rumors spread because they provide answers to questions that do not have answers.

Citizen journalism makes geotagged data useful by tracking individuals that meet the time/space criteria associated to an event. I don’t see any other ways geotagged data is used today. However, here are a few ideas of how it could be used:

Sometimes, people will place an ad in the newspapers’ classified section to find a person with whom they exchanged eye contact one morning in the subway on the way to work. Let’s say I am publishing this ad: If there was a database that was withholding any GPS trail generated by every individuals out there, I could do a time/space search, and send an alert to all the owners of the devices that coincide to my search query. The alert could be anonymous, and would simply invite the sought-after person to reply if they want to get in touch.

Presented as is, the idea might sound a little flacky, but I think it should be divided into 2 main components:

1. The Geotag search engine, kind of like the Google’s database of geotag data, which would gather all that info and make it available to trusted third-party Websites.

2. The already existing social networks that have become trusted carriers of our online identities.

The geotag search engine would just provide the time/space intelligence that creates knots between GPS trails. Once an individual expresses the desire to connect with other GPS trails, the search engine could ping the existing social networks, sending the info that someone is trying to get in touch with one member of the network. The individual is then free to accept the connection request, or refuse it, and everything remains anonymous.

So to get back to my initial idea, I think there is a wide-open opportunity in the search space for geotag search engine. It is not really clear today why this information would be useful for the mainstream user, but I have no doubt that the more we connect through GPS-enabled devices, the more it will start to make sense. And once people will understand the value of such a tool, then the search engine that is technology-ready to provide answers to time/space queries will rise very high.

I know that most of you think that this is a scary idea to be directly contacted by just anyone. It’s not. I interact on a daily basis with other peeps on Twitter, even though I have never met most of them. By following links, they can get my real name, probably my address, the restaurants I go to, the place where I work, the things I like, and so on. That never led to any undesirable event, and I don’t think it ever will.

What do you think?

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