Tag Archives: Google Maps

Yeah, Pokemon Go Is A Real Virtual Thing


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A photo of a gravel street in Old Sacramento with a cartoon figure superimposed on it.

Rhydon has been seen near the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Beware!

A screenshot showing the Pokemon character "graveler" in front of a steam locomotive

Graveler in front of a steam locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum.


The social media landscape changes so quickly that it’s been difficult for the Media Platypus-ers to keep up with the rapid pace of things. Mostly it’s incremental– changes to Facebook algorithms, reading the extra ninety six pages of the latest ITunes Terms of Service Agreement, and wondering whatever happened to the first part of 2016.

But then comes Pokemon Go, and this seems to be a game changer. A silly game app with ridiculous characters that for many of us harken back to early childhood (or early parenthood) has come back, not to haunt us with memories of bad animation, but to get us out of our chairs and into the real world while searching for a virtual one. What a concept!

For the two or three people who have not heard all of the babble, Pokemon Go is an app for Androids and the iOS platform that puts you in a virtual reality platform on your device. Using your camera and the device’s GPS capabilities, you hunt for various creatures from Pokemon (Sand Shrew, anyone?) and in the right place you’ll find them and have various interactions, battles, and all sorts of nonsense that to the people around you who aren’t playing, will look really, really weird.

This really isn’t the first app that puts virtual reality aspects into historic areas. My historian friend

screenshot of the Ingress app, showing green and blue abstract polygons over a streetmap of a portion of downtown Sacramento California.

Ingress activity in downtown Sacramento. Who knew that there was such turmoil in our State Capital?

Kyle is addicted to Ingress, from the same developer, and in fact the Poke Stops in Pokemon Go are really the same thing that portals are in Ingress. I’ve actually used Ingress and as a result I understand even less of it (and it drains my phone battery,) but it involves portals and power sources that are constantly being seized by either the green or blue guys, and it just depends on what side you’d like to be on. The “adults” who are into Ingress can be also seen exploring historic areas and places they might not have otherwise explored, but rather than chasing silly cartoon characters, they are much more intelligently looking for portals and power centers to seize from the other entity.

I’m officially old these days, so it makes no sense to me, but with age comes perspective (I made this part up) and as an observer and a person who specializes in communication and enlightening people’s worlds, I’m delighted to see these things, even if I think they’re stupid. Why? Because they corollate with a theory I developed about geocaching in the early 2000s, about using technology to get geeky people away from their screens and into the outdoor environment that I think that everyone should be intimately acquainted with.

Without going into detail, I have tech-obsessed relatives who began geocaching, accidentally went outdoors, and without even knowing it, developed walking muscles, got tans, and learned about the natural and cultural environment while finding caches. Today I have a brother-in-law who is a world-class cacher, with thousands of caches to his credit, but he’s still very much a geek, and proudly so.

Pokemon Go is doing the same thing in a much more socially engaging way, or at least it’s really caught critical mass in a way that geocaching just hasn’t. It’s both funny (go to goo.gl/WEplXS to read people’s complaints about sore legs from too much walking while playing Pokemon Go) to experiences that are directly useful for interpreters (goo.gl/4RKgVR) in that Pokemon Go (and Ingress, and even another app called “Tour Guide” can help you learn about the cultural environment you’re in.) It seems to me that the opportunity to link Pokemon Go and other players with our parks and historic sites is just an opportunity begging to be exploited.

This isn’t to say that these are appropriate everywhere, and indeed, the administrators of Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. have asked people to respect the character and purpose of their sites by not engaging, and honestly I think that it was really stupid for Niantic and Nintendo to populate those sites with Pokemon characters (plus I wish that there was an opt-in/opt-out choice for businesses and landowners) but I’d prefer to dwell on the positive.

On the Facebook Group #diginterp, I asked the question of whether Pokemon Go was a problem for interpretive sites. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been NO! I think that a lot of interpreters and social media types are embracing the opportunity to engage with a new audience segment, sometimes even when they bump into you while staring at their device.

As always, I don’t know what will come of all this, but it’s a great new avenue into engagement. I just hope that we can come up with something that’s a bit more attractive than gravelers, sand shrews, and rattata!

Google Floorplan: That’s A Name, Not A Search Term


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photograph of the google indoor camera equipment

One of the interpretive sites I work at is pretty large compared to many interpretive sites—the primary campus for the California State Railroad Museum is over 200,000 square feet. Of course, this is nothing compared to, say, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg Russia, the Louvre in Paris, or any of the units of the Smithsonian, but it’s large enough.

We are also well-known, so there are entities who want to partner with us for increasing their visibility. Politicians, historians, railroad companies, even bands often come to us wanting to use the venue to make a visual and emotional connection. Google is not one of those entities who need us.

After all, Google pretty much rules the search engine business. Google owns YouTube, the most widely used video platform. Google maps pretty much rule the roost. Heck, “google” is both a trade name and a verb, and it achieved that status much more quickly than, say ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Xerox’ did. In fact, just as I’m writing this today, Google has released a new Google maps app for the iphone to replace Apple’s really poor substitute, and Google rose 1.3% while Apple dropped another percent.

So imagine my surprise when I received not one, but two emails from actual, verified Googlians. They are suddenly very interested in coming to the California State Railroad Museum. And get this– they wanna map the inside of the facility!

This is actually pretty cool, and there are two things going on. First of all, Google wants to map the interior of our public spaces, and we’ve already given them our floorplan maps so they can show the interior of the building. For us, this will work because, like I said, the main campus is HUGE. As we continue to use and possess more and more smart devices– phones, tablets, perhaps ankle bracelets for some of my “friends” (ahem,) then you might be actually able to find, say a child who’s wandered off inside a museum or art gallery or shopping mall. You could arrange to meet your friends at the Mona Lisa, or even specify which table they can find you at in a restaurant. Google indoor views have already been added to some of the large casinos on the Vegas strip. Compare the view of New York New York between the satellite view and indoor map view. Imagine that you’ve never been there before. Which makes more sense?

Satellite view

Map view

Full disclosure– I’ve increased the saturation of the Google map portion in Photoshop to make it easier to read. The contrast is actually pretty low in the actual map view. Setting that aside though, which one do you think would be more useful for a newbie to navigate with?

I thought so.

Of course, compared with a casino, whose floorplans are widely thought to be consciously designed to prevent you from ever seeing daylight again, our facility is much, much simpler.

Basically, to provide a floorplan, all you have to do is to upload it, and match three anchor points over a map view of the facility. We’ve done this. The next step, of course, is the paperwork. We have to certify to Google that we are the owners, we are responsible for the content, and that the content is accurate. We also need to work with Google to ensure than non-public areas are not shown. Google will then send out some Googlians to collect some data points with GPS units so that they are sure of the accuracy, and they will redraw what we provided in a manner that’s consistent with their standards.All of this makes sense. I hope that we get this done soon, but I work for a governmental agency, and deliberation and delay are part of the decision process. I’m pretty sure that we’ll get there though.

Photograph of a car with Google Street view cameras on the roof

Google Streetview car receiving a ticket.

photograph of the google indoor view camera

The Google ice cream cart/indoor camera.

The second thing that’s going on is that another portion of Google maps has contacted us about doing street view inside the museum. Have you ever seen the Google vehicles shooting streetview images? The indoor streetview does essentially the same thing, but with an ice cream cart.

We have a few more hurdles for this one. Logistically, we’ll have to arrange probably several evenings after we close so that visitors aren’t in the images. This will make the dataset cleaner, plus eliminate any privacy issues that might pop up. The second issue that I foresee is to have our curators check on any copyright issues for visual media that we have. We display historic signs, paintings, photographs, trade labels, company trademarks, and original visual media that we need to check on, just in case we don’t have the rights to show them in this new way. If there are any issues, Google will simply blur the object to make it unrecognizable, just like they do for me when I keep jumping in front of their cameras as they cruise town.

I’m not exactly sure when we’ll get to this step- I’m still working on coordinating our staff and the Google reps, and then they’ll have to make one or more trips here with their equipment, but I’m thinking that this will be pretty cool. I’m not a shill for Google, and I’ve had my own difficulties with them, but this is pretty cool.

Or it’s another horrible example of losing privacy, of reducing the joy-inducing unknowns that I and many others have when we come to new places, or it’s part of the homogenization of the world. I suppose that it’s whatever you want it to be, like most new media that we talk about here. Part of me has that lingering dread of cheapening and dumbing down of our society, but hey, these are all just tools. They can be used for good or bad purposes. I prefer to see the exciting possiblities, and yet another new way of connecting with our audiences.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, then read about it on Mashable at mashable.com/2012/11/23/google-maps-floor-plans/ , try maps.google.com/help/maps/floorplans/ for some general help and an overview, or take a look at some of the places where there are floorplans available, at support.google.com/gmm/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1685827 . Since Google is the owner of the Android operating system, the technology so far seems to be skewed toward Android users, but there’s a desktop app, and I’m pretty sure that an iphone app will appear eventually.

And in the meantime, happy holidays everyone!




Finding Your Way With Google Map Maker


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I’m a guy who really loves maps. I guess this is a symptom of being a visual person, and it reminds me of one of my favorite jokes, about not getting a job as a cartographer in Arizona because I had no sense of Yuma. Still, maps and understanding of landforms are important to many interpreters. Human culture, emigration, development, agriculture, and on and on and on are all dictated by topography. The routes we travel on today in many cases are defined by what people did hundreds or thousands of years ago. Maps, whether planimetric, topographic or “artfully” constructed, help us understand nature, humanity, geology, botany, agriculture, and the evolution of our plant and many species of life.

I’m not a cartographer of course, certainly not in the formal sense. I have drawn a few maps, though, and I’ve plotted GPS waypoints and I’ve downloaded survey data onto basemaps, spent more time dreaming with Google Earth than any one person should be allowed to do, and I stumbled my way through a GIS course but still can’t use ArcView very well. I keep thinking that I would if I could, but probably not. Maybe I’m a wannabe cartographer.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve historically been frustrated with Google maps, though for my money, they’re better than the other alternatives. I get frustrated with them because, for all of their strengths, they’re still full of crap. Some of this is intentional, to trap companies or individuals who may steal or reverse engineer their map data. Google (and Bing and Yahoo and others) introduce intentional errors into their maps. In the trade, these are referred to as “trap streets.” Wikipedia has a generic article about this at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trap_street . Other errors are based on old data, incomplete source information, and things like that.


A satellite view of the South Auburn (California) area for illustration only

Hmmm. How many errors can I find in my neighborhood, that is, outside of my noisy neighbor?

View Larger Map

But I digress. If you’re tired of looking at Google maps of your park or site and grinding teeth over the errors, you can now fix them. It’s little known, but you can now edit Google maps!

www.google.com/mapmaker is a new site to me, but it’s been around since 2008. Unlike my own Google maps, which allow me to put placemarks, routes and descriptions on maps that I can then post or send to people, mapmaker allows users to modify the data on maps that everyone will see. This is yet another type of crowdsourcing, or as Paul might think of it, having too many players on the field. In one sense, I can ensure that things I care about are accurately reflected, but in another sense, why isn’t Google paying me to fix their errors or stuff that they’re just too lazy to do right the first time? Oh Google! You let me ask you the most ridiculous questions many times each day in my quest for knowledge and entertainment! I suppose that the least I can do is give something back! So much for my rationalization.

Basically, when you go to the mapmaker site, you can find and choose a feature and submit your changes. Some of this is form based, some are radio buttons, and there is an opportunity to write an explanation or justification. Sounds pretty easy, but it’s not as intuitive as I’d like. Maybe that’s again because I’m a visually oriented person and I want to see the changes immediately. Fortunately or unfortunately, Google doesn’t work that way. Changes are moderated, and what Google calls “experienced users” review changes before they go live. The timeframes for changes to be effective can vary quite a bit. Also, the sequencing for making changes/edits can be a little confusing. When I select a placemark or icon to edit, it’s sometimes not obvious to me what I need to do to create a change or delete a duplicate landmark (and boy are there lots of duplicates in the area I’m working on right now!) The good thing, however, is that you can become a reviewer, which I’ve done. Boy, I just can’t wait to get me the power to create and/or delete features from the earth! Oh wait? my reviews are then reviewed? Oh man…..

If you’ve stuck with me this far, GOOD FOR YOU, but what does this all mean and why should you care? I hoped that we wouldn’t come to this question; you should intrinsically care. Those of us who are interpreters are, I hope, interested in everything that goes on around us, we’re interested in showing, telling and helping people learn about the world around them, and we’re interested in accuracy. Sure, c’mon, admit it! Don’t you feel better now?

So go on, take a look at Google mapmaker. You can dip your toes in, or you can jump headfirst and share even more of your knowledge than you did previously, and perhaps, just perhaps, you’ll remove one of those intentional map errors that caused me to end up on what seemed like a one-way dead-end street in Los Angeles a few years ago.