Colombo and Kandy the first in Sri Lanka to get street level information on Google Maps

Colombo on Google Maps

Up until now, I’ve used Colombo eMap whenever I’ve wanted to plot a route in Colombo. Now there’s a better option.

Although it’s yet to percolate to the mobile version, Google Maps on the web now has street level information in Colombo and Kandy. Click the image above for a higher resolution screenshot. Google Maps also features photos and videos from users, so it’s only a while before Colombo and Kandy are nicely geo-annotated and referenced.

Compare Google Maps to the information available on Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, and the difference is evident. Click the image below.

Colombo on Microsoft's Virtual Earth
Colombo on Microsoft's Virtual Earth

With the Ministry of Defense ban on GPS on mobiles now lifted (it’s unclear if the ban was ever official and gazetted) we may see later this year the growth of the same types of location based services available in places such as New York that combine the power of GPS, Google Maps and mobiles. At the very least, it’s now much easier to tell someone exactly where one is located in Colombo. On the downside, the Google Maps only has the current road names – Flower Road for example is Sir Ernest De Silva Road – a name which few know and use.

Still, I’m excited at the prospect the information that allows one to discover a city and explore its features (bars to restaurants, temples to museums, parks to bargains) is coming home.

Information visualisation through Microsoft Photosynth: Potential for human rights documentation?

The video below really says it all. Sadly, Photosynth does not yet run natively on a Mac, but the concept behind this information visualisation is astounding. 

I’ve been following Photosynth’s development for a while (this TED video is a very early version – the programme now has more models and more features) and the potential this already demonstrates to change the way we see and manage digital visual data is quite remarkable. 

Just imagine how useful this technology would be in documenting sites of genocide, human rights violations or just neighbourhoods, places and communities at risk. A large problem of field level HR monitoring and violations logging is the lack of precise geographical coordinates (see earlier post on Geo-location and human rights) as well as, in many instances, a total lack of visual documentation.

A system that integrates Photosynth into its location database can over time create powerful visualisations of location data (from mapping the physical environs to complex walk-throughs of incident locations) that can help in HR protection, advocacy, activism and even in legal proceedings.

Using devices like an iPhone (that geo-codes photos taken), the Ricoh 500SE, a product like Eye-Fi Explore or even through geo-coding photos on Flickr (works great for batches of older digital photos or those that have been scanned in) you can get a wealth of image data to buttress other event and processual data related to HR abuses to create databases of great depth and scope.

This is something I’ll be both looking at closely and pursuing in my own work.