Sunday, September 2, 2007

Human entity and it’s representation in today’s and future GIS social networks

Here you can download pdf version.

The growing importance of geographical information about locations forces us to look for new ways of gathering it. Static databases can provide us with enormous amount of geographical information gathered in one place. Updating that data is not easy. One of the solutions I think will appear in the future is dynamical database where people around the world would be filling information about their environment. However if we talk about geographic information we have to realize that simple human entity also should be described in a more specific way as it is also a GIS related information. I thought about appearing 3D geo-web solutions open on public, in that matter it sounds reasonably that there should be a new standard developed that would be responsible for describing human entity, ourselves literally speaking. Sooner or later that kind of descriptive file will be needed as we are more and more close to 3D virtual worlds that will begin to appear at first phase as public 3D social networks I assume (like GaiaOnline for instance). The file structure should be describing not only the personality of a human entity (text data) but should also cover more advanced features that will be needed later in 3D worlds, by that I mean virtual representation of human being, a 3D model. As we can expect file structure for that goal should have XML structure. We can easily include any type of text descriptive data as nodes in XML. 3D models can be expressed of course as XML files as well (Collada, X3D). The idea I have in my mind here is that there should be an editor (online, made in Adobe Flex most probably) available that would give user ability to easy create such a human entity description file (HED). Editor in its most basic form could be consisting of male/female 3Dmodel – user would apply his face photograph as a texture and fill the necessary text data. Then the application as a result would give a HED file to user which he can copy and keep in his devices (laptop, mobile phone). A standardized way of describing ourselves would be used by many social networks and applications that achieve data dynamically. The HED file would represent our personal data like fields of interests, hobbies, etc. And also a 3D model which would be a virtual representation of person. In the most basic format it would be only a standard 3D model with textures provided by user. But later on the online application for creating HED would give abilities to actually model ourselves to better represent in future 3D worlds. It is not an advanced process and similar approach can be used to modelling ourselves these days from photographs in DCC programs like 3D Studio Max. See figure 1 on the right. What is more, 3D model XML file formats like X3D or Collada give ability to describe animation. We could use it to create a specific way we walk or behave in 3D worlds, just like we do in reality. The description HED file or something very similar has to appear in the near future, I cannot see other way of evolving for social networks. What is also interesting here for me is the use of that HED files for GIS purposes that could be gathering automatically these files from our devices via Bluetooth or wireless networks and analyze our behaviours. For instance - the comparison where we are (location where HED file was gathered) with let’s say... what our fields of interest are – so that they could point us at things in nearby environment.

If we think about it in a broader view, we could also provide a similar standard file structure for description of buildings. Additionally, an application with friendly UI for its creation (our apartments or in more commercial approach cafeterias for example), and again the model and full description. The obvious drawback is that as it comes for buildings this data type should be administered in some way. People could be bending information about their homes and shops about their business. But that kind of dynamic approach would be better than manually gathered data, even if it has to be verified before applying to general database. People tend to give VERY DESCRIPTIVE information about themselves and environment if the purpose is to appear in social network or similar environment. That is one of unexplored sources that I think GIS should focus on. Employ in indirect way common people to gather GIS data.

Now how that HED file can be used? See the sketch and description below it.


// See pdf version for sketch

Sketch 1 : The simplest outline how the idea could look like in practice. HED files are copied to mobiles or laptop devices. When devices are in the same area, they are exchanged so that models can be viewed inside 3D environment.

We have people that have laptops and/or mobiles. Some of those people did go to online Flex application and created HED files for themselves (model, description, etc.). Now imagine you are drinking coffee in a restaurant. You turn on your laptop/mobile, start 3Dworld application (could be based on Flex and Flash Player on any other technology). Your laptop/mobile has Bluetooth turned on and is gathering information about the environment in a radius of 100 meters, in other words your application is looking for other people that have Bluetooth device turned on. Your Laptop gathers HED files from those people. You can look through a list of people, see how they look, what are their fields of interest, etc. (something like reality based virtual network). If we have laptops with GPS devices or mobile phone based localization we can actually place a person in our 3D application using his 3D model representation. The same could be done with building description files. So by sitting and drinking coffee you could be virtually walking in the nearby area and see the virtual people. Their position could be passed as a longitude/latitude values from GPS and calculated from position. In reality the practical problem would be that people have their laptops turned on mostly only during their work or at home. Mobile phones would be a solution as we carry them along with us mostly all the time. But having Bluetooth turned on is devastating for battery. GPS also positioning also doesn’t work inside buildings. However this solution or very similar using HED could be working very well in situations like conferences, meetings where plenty of people attend and we could be virtually exploring who is sitting next to us.

The conclusion here is that not only locations but people are also very significant geographical information. Gathering knowledge about them should be developed, and by them I mean not community but entities that then can be grouped. The big advantage in presented process is that you don’t have to describe each person as they do it by themselves. Dynamical, always up-to date creation of GIS data. As it comes to HED, it can be either understood as a single XML file (standard that need to be developed) or a package of few other XML based files which would seem more logical (Collada or X3D for model + XML descriptive file + JPEG textures, etc.). HED files could be also used as a standardized way of exchanging data between Web 2.0 social networks which doesn’t exist at the moment.

By Marcin Czech


Friday, August 24, 2007

Project started : GIS with Flex 3D in game industry and social networks

While developing the 3D environment for GIS in Adobe Flex (, I mentioned several times about some other fields that this solution could be interfering with. While I was studying at the University, during my breaks I used to play a very simple geographical game ( Now this game can be addictive believe me, but the only hangover I get after playing this game... is knowledge about world. Now this game is not so popular because of lack of proper marketing and poor graphics (although it has many visitors), but can you imagine if companies like Google or ESRI would install such an option in their web-based products? With the superb user interface and variety of data they posses... This would attract plenty of new users most probably. The reason is simple – the mixture of education and relaxing game (the relaxing “waste of time” is justified by the user because it is in big percentage educational application as well). Multiplayer games can be even more addictive. Again, geosense gives us ability to compete with other users, competition based on actual, useful geographical knowledge. In geosense we can compete only with one player at once, but imagine system like Google Maps and 20 people competing against each other online... Let’s say using the knowledge about lakes and rivers spread all over the world. The element of multiplayer competition is very important if you look at gaming industry and especially at solutions like Blizzards World of Warcraft, this is actually what keeps those games on the top. Now this is just a simple example to show you that this idea would work, everyone would find something interesting for them (you could be using data for wine regions or history events for example). The thing worth noticing here is also that systems like ArcWeb Explorer or Google Maps have already interfaces that could be used for such a type of online entertainment. Ok, but those are ideas that actually Google or ESRI could use. My imagination with GIS based gaming goes a bit further.

We all know how social networks like Facebook work, how they gather people, and how people create content on their own. These days it is so important like an e-mail client or a messenger and plays a great role in creating & showing our own personality as well as meeting new people. This is huge amount of information that can be connected with spatial data that GIS provides. In the most general words : I believe that spatial data based social network can be a great extension to Web 2.0 social networks, or be build on top of them. This kind of data is already in use in social networks you say... showing your location using Google Maps from web service for instance is a very popular feature. But probably as you can expect I have in my mind using 3D worlds to create actually virtual cities, where people could walk and interact with each other, kind of multiplayer game. Now that kind of solution based on true geographical data achieved from GIS systems, and personal data from social networks could be a great step to ‘Matrix like’ world. Let me visualize this for you. Let’s say you come from a town named “coffeebag”. You go to the main web page of spatial data based social network. You type the name of your town “coffeebag” and the 3D environment based on that town is loaded for you (Adobe Flex swf with our GIS 3D world representation – see my latter blog). Now, you go around the city and the information about people from... let’s say facebook for city of “coffeebag” is loaded to the 3D environment so that it corresponds to the exact “lives in” field they provided in social network. So while going around the city you will see who is living across the street or what kind of shops are in the corner. The information from the social network could be displayed when you approach the door. Let’s go further, why not to meet on the street with other person that is wandering around? Why not to chat with him or do a video conference? Now, this I believe can be done using Flex messaging system which gives us ability to share information (messages or position in the world) among all the clients that are connected to the server. Remember that strict geographical building data is not the only data type that we can get from professional GIS. You could see if a person that you are talking with in 3D world is living in the area that has big crime rate for instance. Now this actually starts looking like a live game and starts interfering with many other fields again (like online surveying or observing people behavior). And as you know people like watching reality from virtual perspective, this is a factor that social networks are build on, a new way they can express themselves and more people they can reach.

In this project blog I will try to develop GIS based multiplayer online world using idea from my last blog to represent 3D GIS environment in Flex. I will connect it with Flex messaging system to achieve 3D game like look (FPP). Then we could see how practical connection with social networks could look like. I will also try to show some other ideas connected in wider perspective in something that I call Geographically Aided Game (GAG) or Spatial Data Aided Game (SDAG). Game that uses data from GIS to create reality-like environment or provide data about that environment. Ok, let’s have some fun then.