Saturday, February 26, 2005

On the map

I used to consult to "News Corp", the media conglomerate started by Rupert Murdoch, and which owns Fox etc. I was working for a digital map division called Etak, which no longer exists, but which was sold to SONY before it disappeared into Bosch's map division, Teleatlas.

The reason Rupert Murdoch was interested in Etak, was simple. He felt that if he controlled the world's digital maps, he controlled a superb advertising medium. He could make deals with all the major franchises, so that the McDonald's logo would be as big as a national park, when you were using a digital map.

Well, obviously the web has made this a reality beyond In-car navigation systems, as my printer uses ink to print ads with the maps that I'm given by Mapquest and Yahoo. Google has entered this territory as well, and clearly is working to merge its google adsense program with the brave new world of digital geography.

But there's more that Google could do with these maps, as geographers and GIS people have known for years.

I was reading about the war between Peru & Ecuador, involving several remaining indigenous societies, over drilling rights for US oil companies. This is not something people in the US are aware of, and there are battles like this over potentially profitable resources all over the world.

An active map that geo-located poverty, resource extraction, torture, exploitation, immigration barriers, flow of money, exports, aid, development etc., and tied these maps into news stories, would tell an amazing, compelling story.

I understand that Google's intentions are to "do no evil". For that to happen, when a technology is self-supporting or profitable, they need to use it to "do good". Making the world visible is clearly something they are doing faster than almost any other company ... but focussing on the bottomline means their new features will be more about movie reviews, and selling products & ads, than about actually building a model of the world from the available data.

One thing that could help ... if you ever post a story about something that's happening in the world, give it an address & a "latlong", so google can put it on the map.


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