Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Mapping the knowledge landscape

Update on the 'context machine'
There has been lots of feedback from my previous post around building a 'context machine' – so much so, I'm keen to keep on thinking about that. To help me get there, I'm delighted to say that IBM have invited me up to LA to the last wrap up Deep Dive on media on the 8th of May. They even had the courtesy to blog me in return.

Meanwhile there is plenty of activity around which can get us thinking about the tools and information sources that might produce a New Zealand version of the 'context machine" – and yep – for me – the start of this thinking needs to be local, but still have an international focus.

Mapping – Google Earth team with Tourism New Zealand.
One example of this energy was announced last week when Tourism New Zealand and search engine Google held a joint briefing session to show the new a layer ™, the first time that a tourism authority has developed an official "layer" for Google Earth.

Not familiar with Google Earth? It's worth checking out. It's a 24 meg program you download onto your computer from Google – it uses satellite imagery, maps, and terrain and 3D buildings to provide in-depth, easily accessible geographic information. And if, like me, you tried it before, and didn't get much satisfaction with it, try again , it is much improved. In fact, increasingly, you can see its potential as a tool to map social and cultural information and data.

The Tourism New Zealand example being a case in point; by clicking on, for example, Napier, and you are presented with a mini web page of what has to say about this jewel of the art deco . And, of course, why; that Napier's misfortune in 1931, when it was almost levelled by an earthquake, has led to the city's world famous point of difference, as having one the most outstanding collections of 1930s architecture in the world.

To make this happen, Tourism New Zealand sent them their data using the Google format, KML. Google is actively seeking these partnerships, you can see one, for example, which shows the locations from the Da Vinci Code.

Tourism, New Zealand, claim, with some justification, to be in a different league, with at least 180 places described on Google Earth, with of course links to the detail on the main site at This of course is the same site that has won the prestigious webby award [the so called Oscars of the Internet] for the last two years in the tourism category. So this is a class act for Google to be picking up.

To be fair to them, at the presentation late last week in Auckland, they seemed to be aware of that. They, Google, also spoke enthusiastically about doing more in New Zealand, and indeed hinted of an expanded presence here, including their own offices. Tourism New Zealand in turn was keen to emphasise that they too saw this as the start of a bigger relationship.

Widening the lens
All of which is good for the growing interactive tourist market. However, as I listened to the presentation it struck me how much there was still to be done in the New Zealand culture and heritage space to convince them of the potential of next generation mapping– for example how difficult would it be for Te Ara, the brilliant New Zealand online encyclopaedia to be similar cut up and showcased on Google Earth, as well as on some of the other mapping options, including the local but totally excellent

On a related track – what about, the expensive, but slow to fire, cultural portal from the New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage. They have events galore on the web site, as well as a good decent set of RSS feeds. But you will struggle to hear anyone associated with the project give any clarity whatever as to what others see as their inevitable next step - develop a small freely available software module [api] for other cultural agencies, especially the regional ones, to share their data, as well as play NZLive on their sites.

Actually its worse. It's as if they don't have any sense of what their online collaboration strategy is in the immediate, and midterm. Does this bother them? Doesn't seem to - they remain this magnificent island of sensibility amongst a sea of misunderstanding as to their role?

But if you get started on one set of heritage/memory/ cultural institutions in New Zealand, why stop there: what about the digital collections of TePapa, the Museum of New Zealand, or the National Library. The latter had a fairly expensive makeover recently, but you would be forgiven if you had missed what the new strategic direction, if any, this new look and feel is trying to achieve.

As for TePapa, their site is a great marketing tool, and last year , what the billed as their first online exhibition hit the screen at . It was really good. And it too, got a Webby endorsement. Now, as you will find out if you click the link, it seems to have disappeared of the face of the web?

Which is such a pity. For a minute there , it looked like they, TePapa, had begun to show they understood
the potential of their online role? And, had had this recognised! Ah well , we can only wait for their next rush to the head.

In the meantime, even taking the most optimistic view, you struggle to see what the New Zealand culture/heritage and memory sector want to do with the web – shove up a few interactive maps of the building, and hope it will pass them by without too much disturbance of either the cabinets in the basements, or the curators in their cubicles?

Or a radically new platform which could transform not just their institutional practice, but their whole relationship with their collections, and the user base.

Meanwhile, though I have my own issues with Google Earth, [too much middle earth, one ring to rule them all for me] - there is no doubt whatsoever of their sincerity or their commitment to pushing the envelope on cultural and social mapping. I would just like to see the debate deepen, and the playing field get a bit busier.

It would also be really nice if comments like this could provoke a debate, especially in the institutions under discussion?

And please, can we loose some of the defensiveness?

First, I am on your side! Second, I know there are some excellent people in these knowledge institutions who not only understand the potential of the digital paradigm shift, they are a key ingrediant to its success.

And finally, because, there is far too much to do - and too much fun to be had in the doing, especially around mapping the knowledge landscape.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you would consider it relevant, but I wonder what comment you might have for things like and I prolly won't come back in to see follow up comments (wish there was a way for comments to feedback to me in Blogger :( so I'll keep an eye out for a new post about these if you think it worth it.

Anonymous said...

It is indeed sad to see the loss of the Maori showbands exhibit from the Museum of New Zealand - this had the potential to be a tool to be a magnet for more memories and stories - rather than just a temporary exhibition.

Unknown said...

Good to read your comments on NZLive Paul. Interestingly enough we (Eventfinder) have had an API in place since prior to NZLive's launch, and publicly accessible for at least six months. We offered them access to the API before they launched but they weren't interested - a shame because it would have saved them a lot of money in building & maintaining their own database.

James McGlinn
Technical Lead
Eventfinder -

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