Importance of mapping and geo-location

I remember reading up about the “mash-up” experiments happening in the “silicon valley” around 2007-2010 with a load of startups experimenting with the firehose of data from social media companies (Twitter/Facebook)l Some of them were acquired, some were shut down by common investors, some of them, possibly chased away or most likely most didn’t find a way around for their “ideas”.

I cannot comment (with authority) on the current deplorable state of “innovation” because there are far too many “ideas” chasing the mirage of AI (and fueled by VC firms with bets). They want to be acquired or become the “next big thing”. One of the most overlooked domains in the start up space (and the mainstream media) is the mapping.

Many moons ago, I was working with BlackBerry to bring forth a “mash-up” of the location data and map disease trends. I couldn’t pony up the resources and my repeated emails to the local health administration went in a black hole. I come across futile attempts to repeat the survey exercises when there can be an effective, real-time, solution on finding solutions to the administrative problems. Geospatial tagging will assume more importance in the future as machine learning combined with “computer vision” will make drone delivery feasible.

The importance of these developments is that a few corporations are sucking up the local data (geography) without the spin off benefits coming back to the communities that own it. For example, Uber relies heavily on algorithms to predict “demand” (which can be influenced by numerous factors) and uses Google maps for it’s backend. However, the traffic patterns and density is not relayed to the local municipalities who then may use the data to shape traffic flows effectively. This is just one example.

I came across this very interesting blog post here on the importance of open street maps.

I first used the Instagram API years ago as a graduate student to predict the popularity of trails in the mountains outside Seattle based on image density and tags, and it was very revealing. Now that API is closed and shut. But in the Instagram app today we get glimpses of a map. In Facebook as well, most notable in my personal use under the Marketplace, where I hunt for used Nordic skis or a coffee table from time to time. There is no independent app with navigation and the opportunity to search, pan, and zoom freely, but OSM is there. And I can tell people that they’ve seen this map that us OSM contributors produce when they use Facebook apps…..

We are starting 2021 with an OpenStreetMap that is perhaps more widespread than ever. It is commonly hailed as critical infrastructure across apps used by major companies, and my belief is that this is more true on the back-end than on the front-end where consumers and citizens see the map.

Mapping is indeed a critical infrastructure. However, it is painstaking complex to generate data points on digital maps. Google maps may not be the best solution but is the only one.

I will be looking at this aspect more closely because it ultimately ties in with the idea of making the healthcare delivery efficient.

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