Thursday, June 24, 2010

Apps4NSW Winners announced

I have just got the official email - the joint winners in Apps category and, $15,000 in prizes each, go to (drum roll)... :

Demographic Drapes submitted by NuMaps

Suburban Trends by the Smart Mashups team (the second mashup win for this application!)

I have written about both applications before while reporting on Mashup Australia competition. It is not a surprise that applications focused on thematic mapping using statistics and demographic information came on top. There is a huge demand for such information not only from governments but also from business and private citizens. And even less surprising is that both applications are build on the backbone of Google Maps. Traditionally, such tools could only be created with high end GIS servers and although there is quite a capable server behind all NuMaps drapes/ layers Suburban Trends demonstrates that similar functionality can be achieved with much simpler, non-spatial tools.

The second prize and $10 000 was awarded to Bike Community Hub by the Bikey team and third prize and $5 000 to The School Hall by Jack Zhao:

Prizes were also awarded for ideas in open and school categories. The news is so fresh that the official Apps4NSW site has not been yet updated but I guess more information will appear there soon.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Google launches Fusion Tables

A few weeks ago Google announced the release of its new data service – Fusion Tables. Last week I finally got a chance to play with this latest tool from Google. It is a very impressive tool, with even mightier potential! Ok, it’s early days and currently available functionality is very simple but I am very excited about what it means for the future.

For a start, and there is no doubt about it, Fusion Tables is a database - and spatially enabled one! It can already be used as a replacement for myriad of low complexity MySQL tables that power so many websites. Fusion Tables supports simple SQL queries quite well. And since it can store KML objects, it is also a potential substitute for basic PostGIS, ArcSDE , Oracle Spatial or SQL Server with spatial extensions. It can’t yet handle more complex shapes (like multi part or doughnut type polygons) but when Google enables that functionality Fusion Tables will inevitably become the tool of choice for spatial applications developers working with Google Maps and Google Earth. Why would you bother to maintain your own servers (even if software is free) when Google can do it all for you for nothing, and in no time?!

When I first wrote about the Ingenuity of Google Map Architecture I concluded that there is a good change that Google Map and related applications will evolve into a very powerful set of tools, more than enough for many common GIS tasks. And it is certainly happening! I put forward a suggestion that in order to become a fully fledged GIS, Google Map needs map server functionality and a dynamic vector data management module. Google went about implementing the first one in its own way but it is practically there now: any large KMZ file is rendered as an image on Google Map. And Fusion Tables is a starting point for server side vector data management capability (starting with simple queries, although efficient serving of vector data is a longer term proposition). There is also available a little known Gogole cache database – which allows to enable efficient client side vector data management as well. When all three are ready to be put together to support Google Maps and Google Earth, it will be a mighty powerful GIS package!

Related posts:
Free GIS Tools - Google Map
Googe enables map customisation

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Extraordinary Taxi Ride

How best to present a journey of 11 ordinary individuals from around the World in an ordinary Australian Taxi through not so ordinary Western Australia outback? Of course, on an interactive Google Map! The map is a part of The Extraordinary Taxi Ride website created by WA Tourism to attract local and overseas travellers to visit this wast and unique in many respects part of Australia. It has been created with Flash version of Google Map and depicts the route the travellers took on 11 individual trips. The map is annotated with commentary and photos marking significant points of interest along the route.

According to the announcement from WA Tourism Minister “…the campaign website had more than 160,000 visits, with people spending 15,000 hours following the ride”. “The campaign has many months to go, but already generated media exposure worth more than $2.6million and reached a potential global audience of more than 60 million… also had an immediate effect on tourism business with travel partners reporting double and triple-digit increases in bookings to WA.”

This is one more example of creative use of spatial technology in tourism marketing and PR campaigns. The key point is that simple online maps are finding their way into more and more diverse range of applications, not necessary as the main feature but nevertheless, as an important element of the overall package. There is enormous opportunity for creative application of traditional GIS functionality however, the simplicity of building interactive online maps also poses a challenge - it is not easy to convince project sponsors to use experts for the task rather than just web developers and graphic designers.

First spotted on:

Related post:
There’s nothing like Australia
Maps in Viral Marketing

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Weather maps for winter resorts

It’s winter again in Australia! Queen’s birthday long weekend marks the official start to skiing season. The easiest way to look up weather conditions for winter resorts is to visit snowfields weather maps for NSW and Victoria. The maps show locations of those resorts, the latest temperature from the Bureau of Meteorology weather stations as well as contain links to the latest forecast for the regions. Embedded webcams from several resorts allow checking actual snow conditions. The maps are a good starting point for exploration of more detailed information about each of the resorts.

Another website maintaining comprehensive winter weather information- including long range forecasts and snowfall models - is And, offshoot of a very popular has also some relevant information covering Australian snowfields.

This year Perisher Blue resort deployed Google Map also as an interactive virtual tour application. It is simple but quite clever concept of overlying a hardcopy trail map of the resort on Google Map and marking important features with categorised icons, matching “the perspective” of the printed map image. The map also has a number of embedded 360 degree images from selected points on the mountain tops that can be viewed in an interactive manner. It gives a good feel for what to expect when you visit the place. But no matter how clever the computer application is, it will never convey the real “chill and thrill” of being there in person!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tracking things with maps

Maps and Geographic Information Systems are well suited for tracking things. Today just a couple of examples to illustrate usefulness of maps and spatially enabled technologies to monitor “assets” and follow “what’s happening”.

The first example is a tool from ZenTracker utilising Google Latitude service, which tracks location of service subscriber's smartphine in real time, and Google Map, to show that location in geographic context. ZenTracker then checks the smartphone location against user-defined rules and sends a notification if the location matches a specific rule. It is a great tool to monitor, for example, movements of kids. If they leaves a defined safe location a notification will be sent to alert a parent about the event. A year or so ago an announcement about a similar paid service, made a prime time news in Australia. ZenTracker basic plan is free and you can track up to 6 smartphones. For small companies, it is a very cost effective way to monitor location of trucks or delivery vans or sales force, provided you can equip them with appropriate smartphones.

The second example falls into “event tracking” category and is just a basic visualisation approach to put "things into perspective". Gone Google map shows locations of businesses using Google Apps and it was created as a part of a campaign to persuade businesses to switch to Google Apps. For Google, it helps to track uptake of its applications in different geographic regions (and to make a point that many are using them!). For general public, it offers the opportunity to track who is adopting Google Apps in the local community (and to promote own business if they are users of those apps!). The information presented in a tabular format would not have the same impact.

First spotted on: Google Maps Mania

New spatial industry news portal is the latest initiative of Intermedia Group – a publisher of many industry related magazines and a new owner of Position Magazine. Basic information is free and visitors can subscribe to a weekly electronic newsletter (also free) but most of the content is accessible only on subscription. I don’t know how true is a statement accompanying website launch that this is “…Australia's first news website for the geospatial industry” but it certainly adopted Mr Murdoch’s latest online news model - locking information behind paywalls.

Position Magazine had quite a good following amongst Australian spatial professionals. I do occasionally flick through it myself and always find a story or two worth reading. Summaries of the latest developments in the industry and new product information section are also good read. Transition from an enthusiasts driven, single title single industry publication to a publication that is a part of a stable of titles covering a wide variety of industries may be considered a sign that the spatial industry in Australia is finally getting noticed... Or at least is indicative of publisher’s confidence that the market is big enough to warrant some attention, for a profit.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

There’s nothing like Australia

Tourism Australia has just launched a new global advertising campaign to promote Australia as a tourist destination. At the “heart of the campaign”, as described in the official media release, is an interactive Google Map Flash application featuring almost 30,000 images and stories submitted by the Australian people. All images are referenced to specific locations on the map and even remote places get good coverage. It is a simple image browser concept but quite attractive in design and functionality.

“… research found that 80% of Australians wanted to promote their country as a travel destination so we invited them to share their pictures and stories at the campaign website,” reads Tourism Australia media release. “Australians have identified our people, wildlife, beaches, the reef, the outback, vibrant cities and laid-back lifestyle as the things that make Australia a unique and special place to visit. These suggestions are highlighted in all the elements of the new campaign.”

After somehow controversial but attention grabbing “Where the bloody hell are you?” slogan used in the 2006 campaign, the new one - “There’s nothing like Australia” – may appear a bit plain but it certainly reflects well what Australians and visitors who ventured Down Under think about this place! However, because Australia is so unique, there are certain things you should be aware of, not to spoil your holidays. Here are a few words of advice: “What every traveller to Australia should know”.