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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Howto: Geo-tagging photos for an easy map mashup

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Next month, I’ll be heading to the US to travel across the country and to talk to ordinary people about the issues that are important to them in the presidential election. I did similar trips for the BBC in 2000 (that’s me behind the floppy hair) and 2004, and I often credit the BBC’s Steve Herrmann for encouraging me to blog. This time I’ll be travelling with James Ridgeway and the Guardian Films team. Jim and I will be vlogging, blogging, Twittering and Flickring our way across the States. I’m keen to geo-tag as much as possible to give people another way to follow the story.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, both in terms of miles and in terms of the journalism so I’m looking for all sorts of time-saving ways that we can give the kind of rolling road trip coverage that is expected in the age of internet journalism. I want readers to feel as if they are there with us in the car. I plan to use Twibble mobile and Twittervision to geo-tag our Twitter updates. That’s tomorrow’s work.

Today, I’ve managed to figure out a way to easily tag and post all of my photos. I’ll be using a Nokia N82, which has an amazing 5-megapixel camera, brilliant (in every sense of the word) xenon flash and built-in GPS. Right before Suw and I left on our walk last week, I discovered the Nokia Location Tagger application. It automatically adds geo-data to the EXIF file of your photos. Nokia recently stopped work on the application, but there are rumours that it will be added to an upcoming firmware update for the N-series. UPDATE: Ricky Cadden, from Symbian Guru, says that the firmware has been updated. I’m still hunting for the setting to enable it, but it’s there.

UPDATE 2: Ricky comes up with the goods and how to enable geo-tagging with the updated firmware:

The setting is admittedly a bit hidden, you should open the camera and then press the left softkey to open the options submenu, and go into the settings. There you will be able to activate the geotagging feature. You can confirm this as a small satellite icon will appear in the bottom left corner of the camera viewfinder, so that you can easily see whether or not you have a good GPS fix.

It took from a few seconds to almost a minute for the Location Tagger application to acquire a location. I used assisted GPS, which triangulates using geo-data from mobile phone masts (cell towers) to help increase the speed and precision of the GPS. UPDATE: Ricky also said that the A-GPS works slightly differently in the N82 and other new S60 devices, using the data connection to off-load positioning tasks to a server to speed the GPS lock. The positioning information embedded in the photo files turned out to be scarily accurate, showing the outlines of churches where we took photos.

My next challenge was how to easily get the embedded geo-data into Flickr and out of the EXIF file. When I first uploaded photos, I found I had to cut-and-paste the geo-data from the additional EXIF data in the photos. That was too cumbersome. However, Flickr has a not quite, but just about, hidden setting to ‘Automagically import GPS information as geo data‘. Tick the box ‘yes please, that would be lovely’, and you’re laughing. I can even upload directly to Flickr from the N82, although my Pay-as-you-Go data tariff quickly becomes pay-through-the-nose so I rarely do that unless I’m near a WiFi hotspot. I usually wait and upload from the phone via USB cable to my computer.

With that problem solved, the photos were plotted on a map. You can now see an extra ‘Map’ option below each geo-tagged photo.

Flickr with geo-tagged informatioin

Also, at the bottom of your Flickr photo page, you’ll see feeds that have geo-data embedded in them, a geoFeed and a KML feed, the latter which can be used on Google Maps and Google Earth. (A Google Maps representative told me that a browser-based version of Google Earth is on its way, although it will initially only work in Internet Explorer.) UPDATE: Keir Clarke, from Google Maps Mania, says: “A browser-based version of Google Earth is already available. It isn’t restricted to Internet Explorer but is restricted to Microsoft operating systems.”

GeoFeed and KML feeds from Flickr

Now, this will show you the last 20 items in your full feed, and I will be travelling for more than a month and hope to shoot hundreds of pictures. How am I going to create some kind of archival map? Adam Franco has developed a wonderful script to generate a KML file from an entire Flickr photo set. Thanks Adam, it’s a brilliant piece of work with some basic options. You’ll end up with a KML file based on the name of your set. You can then upload the KML file to your server and either use Map Channels or Google My Maps to generate the map.

If you only want the most recent photos, you can just use the KML or geoFeed from Flickr and use that URL. If you only care about the last 20 photos in a set, you can get a geoRSS feed simply by adding &georss=1 to the end of the feed URL. Google My Maps even has an import feature if you can’t host the KML file yourself. (Or for some reason the powers that be won’t give you access to a server. Not as if that ever happens.)

You can choose whether you want a satellite or map view. If you can’t use an iFrame in your CMS, throw it into a widget on Widgetbox. You can usually find a code format that your CMS will like (or allow). And voila. You now have lovely map ready for embedding using an iFrame. These are pictures from our recent walk along the Offa’s Dyke Trail.


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9 Responses to “Howto: Geo-tagging photos for an easy map mashup”

  1. Keir Clarke Says:

    A browser-based version of Google Earth is already available. It isn’t restricted to Internet Explorer but is restricted to Microsoft operating systems.

    Here is an example with your Flickr photos:

    http://keirclarke.googlepages.com/offa.htm

    You will need to have installed the Google Earth Browser plug-in to view the map.

  2. Ricky Cadden Says:

    Kevin

    Great post! Just wanted to let you know, the latest firmware for your N82 supports geotagging right in the firmware, without the need for the Location Tagger application.

    Also, on the latest S60 devices such as your N82, the assisted GPS actually functions slightly different than how you described. It’s easily confused, though, as A-GPS is used to describe both methods.

    The latest S60 phones actually use your phone’s data connection to send the raw GPS information from the satellites to a central processing server, which performs the necessary calculations, and then sends your actual physical location back to the phone in a more usable format. This is faster than waiting for the phone to perform the calculations, as the server obviously has more resources. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-GPS)

    Aside from that, great writeup, and awesome pictures, too!

  3. Wolfcat Says:

    One point to note is that the geotagging can sometimes can have a nasty lag and a bad memory effect. Sometimes Location Tagger will grab the last location (although you can set the frequency of this) and if you move to far between locations your tags can be a long way out.

    But your post is very good and well written.

    The other thing to note are that you can always change the geolocation later in Flickr under the organise option.

  4. mohamed Says:

    Nice - look forward to following your journey!

    We used location tracker when one of our journo’s did a trip across the Sahara :

    http://labs.aljazeera.net/node/18

  5. Paul Bradshaw Says:

    Why not use ZoneTag? This beta Yahoo app allows you to take and upload your picture to Flickr with GPS data automatically included.

  6. Kevin Anderson Says:

    Ricky, Keir and Wolfcat,

    Thanks for the information.

    Paul, you could use ZoneTag or Shozu to add the geo-data. I tried Shozu, but it was a bit more data intensive than was affordable on my plan. ZoneTag was a bit of an interim solution, providing location data from mobile-phone masts until GPS was integrated into the phones. With integrated and relatively efficient GPS in the N82, it was a bit more straight forward for me. But in the end, it probably is down to personal preference and the handset you’ve got.

  7. Strange Attractor » Blog Archive » Mapping out my US election road trip for the Guardian Says:

    [...] mentioned that I would be taking a road trip speaking to voters across the US about the issues that would decide the presidential election. After I wrote that post, Grzegorz [...]

  8. Four points from this week’s Digital Editor’s Network « Sarah Hartley Says:

    [...] available social media tools. Geo-tagging everything as he went, Kevin was able to produce an interactive map of the journey. His coverage totalled 50 blog posts, 1,600 tweets, 2,050 photos and covered 4,000 geo-tagged [...]

  9. Strange Attractor » Blog Archive » Guardian election road trip review: Geo-tagging Says:

    [...] As I mentioned last summer, one of the things that I wanted to try was geo-tagging. I was inspired by the GPS and geo-tagging function in my Nokia N82 to add this to our coverage. [...]