Friday, September 30, 2022

The Poetry of Exploring The World

Just hit a milestone of 350,000 stories for a cultural atlas. Only Wikipedia has more English entries.

Food and Music were key themes. Food to reach stories not expressed in English words. The 2nd & 3rd largest encylopedias are in Chinese and Spanish.

Virtually walking around the world to learn things is faster than than by foot (I started by walking around one block in Greenwich Village collecting music stories). I was meaning to go more by foot at 300,000 entries (surpassing a German encyclopedia, 4th largest in world). But then the pandemic came.

You have to learn so much just to even see invisible connections and roots anywhere. Until then, we are blind in a world of our own. A narrowness at the heart of so many misunderstandings.

Had to browse a billion words to distill 20 million words for geographical notes, scanning 60,000 biographies. The joy was the geographical illumination, to deeply understand what happened at a place, what made a neighborhood and what highlighted a journey. There was so much unnoted cross-over between biographies. That's where the real history is. The invisible made seen. 

There's a poetry in combing through life to create a collection of experiences to live life. That's the current focus. How to explore all this geography in post card poems, mixtapes and scrap books. Travel expressed like haikus. Parts Untold. 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Spotifying the Map

 Your goal is not "zits on a map."

I'd never heard the expression for pins on a map until mapping 70,000 stories. 

Now I've mapped 335,000 stories projecting history and points of interest geospatially. As I dove into 40,000 hours of mapping, that line got bigger and bigger. Did I really want more zits to show? 

I started with a map of just one block in Greenwich Village which I physically circled many years, growing the "zits." Collecting 100s of stories on one block, aiming for a story in every building. But a pockmarked map was clearly not the best way to narrate the geography. 

The "zits" became more of an eyesore as I started to cover all of Manhattan and then journeyed worldwide, landmarking stories.  

On a sidebar, I filled out tweet-sized story bullets with profile, topic and geo tags. But even scrolling text like Twitter was cumbersome to explore geography. 

The best experience was staring at automatically-changing photos, showcasing someone's journey. A scrapbook of images travelling a route. Windows into a biography or topic (Noodles, Pizza, Soup, Patti Smith, Anthony Bourdain etc). It felt like walking the earth, keeping places alive. Not dead on a map. 

You could imagine so many visual experiences for voice command. Show me Keith Richards nearby or in Paris.  Show me Rock and Roll in Nashville. 

No different than social media, we look at pictures most and longest in duration in digital media. There's no competition from a map or even a streetview.  Photos rule for both engagement and traffic conversion. 

In a social media, where I share geographic stories regularly to 114,000 followers in NYC, it's obvious the engagement starts with a photo, especially one that is nostalgic, recognizable personally and cool. Something that triggers memories or a desire for exploration. 

On top of this, I got into deep map literature. 

A geospatial layering of interesting history by address by street. Here are stories you never knew on this street, even if you lived there. I try to stitch stories thematically to show a "geo-pattern." Here are my notes identifying notable addresses bundled by theme (e.g. music history), showcasing the regional identity of The Bowery:

A map, however, first only shows you places you might already know. In this case, just one street, The Bowery. A lot of visual redundancy would be in that viewing experience. 

Then there's the homogenous looking pins not reflecting the diversity or level of interest inside each point of interest. Pins are no match for headlines or photos. They're callouts but you're being asked to click each one in the primary view. This map of pins tells you nothing yet about The Bowery and shows a street you might already know. The primary layer has no added value: 

Though not obvious at first, for someone who passionately uses maps everyday to hunt for addresses (or for other research), over time it became very clear maps ironically do not draw traffic as much as other consumer content. 

We look at a map primarily for research, not pleasure. Only if we need to know where something is or was. At some place, possibly unfamiliar. 

That's not 24/7. It's not even for 1 hour. It might only be for a few seconds. Or, if you already know where all the streets are in Manhattan, you might not even need a map. 

Maps might look more interesting than pinned content as a primary view if what's behind the pin is less interesting than editorial or social media. But what if the pinned stories are more compelling? Shouldn't we show why a story is interesting inside each pin first? Pins are not pitching Points of Interest well. What do these pins tell you:  

Don't get me wrong. From childhood, I loved street maps, atlases and globes. But if I were honest, I loved songs, photos and stories far more. And maps stayed stagnant. The more familiar you got, the less interesting a map became.

OK, admittedly, I liked spinning it more than viewing it. Like popping bubbles on packaging (which is similar to popping pins).

During the pandemic, I got rid of my data services because we had the world's longest lockdown. I had to stop for directions once and got guided to a crossroads where he said be sure to try the burger and milkshake there.  Something my GPS could not even tell me. 

What a selection for discovery: 

What I found is that I could survive without GPS to head to a new destination. I only got lost once, but it forces you to meet people, locals, and ask for directions. This local once lived where I was headed and had stories to tell. 

I had to prep longer looking at streetviews to familiarize myself with visual beacons. I also had to write down instructions. And even then, I only spent 20 minutes at most looking at a map. I am spending more time writing this.

Being mapless by phone did make driving more pleasurable. I paid more attention to the road in front, the scenery and visuals, looking for beacons, more than I normally would. I was no longer traveling with blinders, relying on convenient GPS.  My eyes were wide awake. 

That became a refreshing novel experience for me - or more accurately a renewed experience.

In cartography, a map is a geospatial projection, but it doesn't have to be a roadmap, showing you what you already know or don't need.  

Photos (with soundtracks even) can be projected geospatially, like windows into a place or journey. A smarter streetview deep mapping geography with layers of interesting stories. 

To generate traffic, the best content has to be projected. Content one needs first, for pleasure. 

So the goal is the reverse of many mapping communities. Zits on a map are last for research. The content hidden by the pins are first. 

They also need to be organized intelligently for exploration. For viewing and publishing. 

Cartographic blogging can draw traffic in a compelling way. But not if "zits on a map" are the primary interface. 

You can zoom in for even more zits on the block. But you can't see any narration for the block, unless you click several times. This violates a cardinal principle of hierarchical navigation in user experience design. 

The primary layer needs to achieve an end goal ideally, engaging without leaving the page. Imagine if you kept on being required to click or leave Instagram. You would no longer be glued to it as a viewer.  Even in map tech presentations, people zip by the zits, faster than a weather reporter.  

But in great storytelling, a storyteller holds you captive to the stories. That's when cartography becomes more frequented as consumer product. 

Spotifying the Map is a good metaphor. 

Songs are intelligently playlisted for experiencing music. You don't even need to read much, the music just plays. If need be, you can search, explore, read and click to hear. Song metadata is not covered by pins.  

GPS experiences - geospatial experiences - should be like soundtracks. A rabbit hole easy to experience. 

Maybe it's a jukebox of postcards, visually compelling with ancillary notes and maps when desired. Just tap to see the back. The primary layer shows you what you might be interested in.  The pin just covers a map, covering what you already know is there. It's not a mystery door. 

Maps can still be accessed to show patterns of someone's life or a group of people's lives like these pinned strings behind Feist. But the primary attractions are the stories, images and music of Feist -- pitched first.  

Cartographic digital gardening is needed to display what people want to see first for pleasure. 

There are tremendous possibilities for intelligent connectivity between collections of stories so when I'm exploring jazz in Paris, I might be taken to St Louis too or a cool personal jazz record collection or cool jazz photos, all geographically mapped but connected by correspondences. Cool exploration routes. 

Geography can be playlisted meaningfully. Bucket-listed and scrap-booked. Linked to other cool collections. It's about designing the cartographic collection first (a new visual map) that pitches what is interesting. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Smarter Streetviews

No different than interesting people, the coolest maps are smart, with the best Points of Interest. They have great character (cool filtering). Not just looks.

Why do 80% choose Google Maps (Streetview/Satellite)? The best map has the best data.That's the universal rule for any data visualization. You're only going to be as good as your data. 

Cartographic "data" can always be enhanced instead of staying static with the same old names on a map, with familiar looks day after day. 

A "Deep Map" adds a fresh, colorful 3rd dimension. Far past dynamic Waze traffic reports.

Here's E.T.'s view flying on a bike in 1982 over White Oak Ave (between Tribune & San Fernando Mission) in Porter Ranch (CA).  

Here's a widely available Streetview from a photo collection, not in Google Streetview: 
Did you know Kobe Bryant in his last flight flew by where E.T. flew? Red marks E.T.'s  take off route below. Green marks Kobe's last flight path along San Fernando Mission Blvd:

It's possible to know every point of interest Kobe last flew over by routing a flight path: 

He flew over where Frank Zappa was based in 1961. Today there's interesting info available at all notable addresses he flew over. The 3rd dimension of cartographic data.

With a Deep Map, you can enhance locations, creating the ultimate Streetviews with already collected visuals. For Blonde On Blonde (1966), Bob Dylan was photographed by Jerry Schatzberg at 375 West (NYC), a building no longer there. 

It took PopSpots  5 years to find this address, scouring old photos. A location can also callout old photos already archived in online collections, showing buildings no longer there today. Ghosts: 

Other music locations still exist in current Streetviews that can be enhanced and visited, like for Bob Dylan's album cover Highway 61 (1965), photographed by Daniel Kramer, at 4 Gramercy Park West (NYC), once home of his manager Albert Grossman. You can enhance an existing Streetview with a personal photo and album cover (a PopSpot): 

This cartographic data already exists as do collectors' photos to enhance what we can see in GPS or by searching streets. 

The hard work has been consolidating geographic collections - collection after collection, geo-tagging stories one biography at a time, finding each address. One is surveying the land for the most interesting culture and visuals. 

The Points of Interest then need to be themed by genre (food) and subgenre (pizza). Geographic experiences also need to be playlisted across genres (Willis Tower is a scenic point to see Chicago, then have Chicago style deep dish pizza at Pizzano's).
Over a decade, I personally collected and connected 333,000 Points of Interest curated for food, music, movies, literature, art/inventions, old/artistic photos, biographies and journeys worldwide. It was laborious: 12-15 hours a day (mapped while isolated from society in a forest at first), but a labor of love unlike going everywhere in Google Streetview.  

These are Places you want to taste, see, hear, feel and touch. Tasty pizza or soup nearby. 

The last 4 years was spent next to a library, culling info not online, but only in memoirs, cultural books and documentaries. Bob Dylan nearby and afar. 700+ addresses now centralized. 

The data got smarter over time with intersections of notable people, sharing routes, with unique regional identities and patterns emerging. I saw things you could not see in history without mapping biographies. The aggregation flavors a street in a new way. 
English Literature grad Janie Tsao worked in IT for Sears Roebuck 1975-1983, now Willis Tower, which has an incredible view of Chicago (above), whose movie locations have the highest box office success for non-Blockbusters (a film scout's paradise).

Janie later pioneered Wi-Fi and home networking in LA, starting Linksys (1988), as a mother of two. She started in her garage with spouse Victor, who worked at Taco Bell in LA.
There's a community that collects interesting "locative media" to use a term cited by William Gibson in Spook Country (2007). Some specialize in movie locations, others in music, history and other topics.
Some location IDs can take years to find. It is like a music fan's treasure hunt, in search of the Holy Grail. I still have not found the swimming hole dubbed the Ball Pump where R.E.M. was among 30-50 friends who would sneak onto private property to skinny dip 1979-81, outside of Athens (GA). It inspired Nightswimming (1992). An important biographical footnote.
Cenotes have been beautiful to map.

For me, collecting cartographic culture is in anticipation of new ways cartographic info can be projected in GPS, maps, augmented reality and maybe even handheld holograms (or 2D light projections) one day.  A map is any kind of geographic projection. 
U2's Bono is seen above behind a blue car walking by 10 Cedarwood Rd (Dublin), where he grew up, a projection at United Center (Chicago). Gavin Friday who named him Bono lived at 140 Cedarwood. Guggi lived at No 5. Geographic memories are projected. 

Geographic captions can also get poetic with deep thoughts. Below is “Xenon for the Peggy Guggenheim” (2003) by Jenny Holzer in Venice projected at Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande. She has many geographic thought bubbles worldwide. 
For now, as an explorer of culture, I desire a smarter Streetview with greater character and richer Points of Interest. This 3rd Dimension of cartographic data "deep maps" what can be shown at a place, adding deeper flavor.

Part of my collection has been shared with a community of 114,000 New York City followers I manage in social media. I'm always trying to show rare interesting blind spot stories in streets. "I lived there and had no idea." 

Times Square is the most photographed place in history and it's been interesting to have visuals and stories for 125 years at almost every address. The depth of cartographic artifacts has been incredible. Truly the Crossroads of the World....where the "medium is the message."
Imagine a map that had more info than just names of places. One that can tell you what notable stories happened inside any building, show biographies of its people, defining taste across geography. 

A map that can connect you to a like-minded place anywhere in the world. It goes far past the nearby radar. One where you can follow footsteps of notable people or similar tastes. It can also shine a light on your blind spots. That's the 3rd dimension of cartography.
The trick is how best to package the most interesting Points of Interest in a personalized way as soon as you land at the airport (for example), and are on the go. 
Welcome to Barcelona. A concierge can tell you where to go like Alexa with presentation for rapid transit. Not shoving 100s of items at you but a handful. Useful for a GPS guide in a car, phone, taxi/bus, hotel/home.  

As illustrated above, cartographic visualization (map tiles) do not necessarily have to show Road Maps primarily. The best maps have the best data. Not data you already know. Blind spot data is primary. 

On-the-go, screen real estate could even get small and be text-only. 

Audio guided tours might be enhanced with geo-tagged songs. Music can Spotify a map. A soundtrack for geography: 
An enhanced car GPS guide might only be a glance-worthy jukebox of postcards showing Top 5 places to eat lunch, find a pizza slice or have craft beer. Or it might even enhance hands-free voice-activated call and response tech. Where can I eat? 

Here's where your favorite singer or Anthony Bourdain had lunch. Best meals for $10. This is all about smartly tiered visual/audio decision making. The 1st decision isn't how to get there. But where to go for a call-to-action. The location pitch is the #1 map tile.  It has to pitch much better than a pin on a map. 
Road Maps can be ancillary visuals if you don't know how to get there. But they're also unneeded primarily if you are local and know how to get to there. The majority of a user's experience should be *interesting* blind spot data and visuals you cannot find on most maps. The unfamiliar and desired. 

Taste-driven Places like Songs also have to be playlisted for personal experiences. It's all about connective attributes connecting personally. 

I see a day when cartography will have influencers like Youtubers or Instagrammers, who are licensed guides. Bob Dylan himself can guide you to his Places. He might even pop by to speak live virtually wherever you are. There can be MixTapes of Places by star guides. It's not the world of GIS as we know it today. 

It's all about having collections and curators who package geographic highlights. "New Data" not in GIS to power the most interesting cartography. And that's exactly what the world of digital gardens is doing. 

The world of collections can be vast. But simply imagine if everything you collect in your living room can be tagged for display to represent your personal taste (something regularly swappable). A digital garden is like your book or record collection on display, but linked to another collection. 

That in turn can branch you to other cultural trees to explore related worlds.  Digital gardens are "mutual friends" connecting to each other in a culturally genetic way. My record collection can be connected to Bob Dylan's or Anthony Bourdain's. I can then find like-minded Experiences. That in turn can connect directly to Places to experience live. 

Geographic matchmaking is about connecting personal tastes in geography. There might even be a day where friends leave things for you. Scavenger hunt treats at friendly Places. A personal treasure hunt. 

This is a direct-to-location blogging platform. One that needs competition for the best content (best "data") to yield the most rewarding Points of Interest. After this, there's nothing more powerful than a direct-to-location consumer world. 

Like Michelin Guide, data needs to have minimum value standards to be effective. 3 stars (worth a journey in itself), 2 stars (worth a detour) and 1 star (worth a stop). A reason to travel far by car.

The map with the best data will win, but there are also artistic values in how cartographic artifacts are combined in an overall experience. Vibe matters for engagement.  

In recent years, I focused on Food and Music (passionate daily calls to action for me), which can diversify deeper into cultures abroad, places Google could not reach. There's even a map of soup. 

There's also an incredibly invisible Native American and Black History behind food and music we love. The jazz, blues, rock, soul, funk, disco and hip hop we regularly hear. The chocolate, fries and tomato sauce we taste. Taste of the conquered has migrated worldwide to Places to create like-minded experiences. 

History is not just generated by aristocratic literacy and conquest but also by songs and oral culinary recipes of the conquered, surviving even longer, prevalent at cool Points of Interest. 

I want to go past Wikipedia into the blind spots of geographic perception. Blind spots are the most treasured spots of explorers. 

Points of Interest are all about geographic influence and taste migration.  Permanence weighs heavier than trendiness for locative notability. And survival of the conquered in history covers more culture than anything else in the world.  

Friday, November 5, 2021

Coding Taste in Geography

There is a lot to discover in your blind spot. 

A "deep map" offers far more depth than Google Streetview, beyond wading in shallow waters of cartography. And that's what I want as a traveler or cultural explorer. 

So how do we see points of interest meaningful to personal taste? That dives into how discovery itself is personalized. A new way of seeing geography, history, and people. A new way to explore interests. "Deep Map literature" is all about this - more than a 2D view of a place. 

This 3rd dimension is about digging up meaningful cultural regional data (stories, people, places) and connecting them in a way that defines their geographic influence. 

A historian or curator can meaningfully articulate data but most algorithms today do not. They are more mathematical. More quantitative than qualitative -- and limited by data inputted. 

I spent the summer mapping 750 National Geographic journeys of a lifetime and another few hundred "Ultimate Food Journeys." The connections between places made me see how culture regularly migrates and is correlated to where we want to travel. What happens in New York City spreads around the world from punk to fashion to social media. 

Geographic stories (e.g food and music history) and personal connection to them (my flavors, my culture, or something to broaden my mind) need to be curated and connected meaningfully as personalized points of interest (my interests). 

For a traveler, discovery lenses also need to be dynamically refreshed, to see new things constantly.  Connected to related "objects," not necessarily at the same spot.  Intelligent recommendations. From local to afar. 

With more interesting data, cultural "routes" become interesting like the Mississippi Blues Trail. Two places in the world with similar tastes can be connected -- like a thread connecting two pins on a map. People, food and music have migrated there from somewhere else. One book I mapped focused on how noodles spread around the world, which I augmented with notable noodle spots worldwide. It's like defining the quintessential road trip - where memorabilia and photographic milestones will be collected for a scrap book. 

Like the Michelin Guide, we must ask, is the destination worth an entire journey (3 stars), a detour (2 stars) or a stop (1 star).  In music, the artist you want to go the extra mile for is the artist you love. The longer you travel to reach art, the more important the art is to you. 

Convenient art is not always healthy. In that sense, social media does not offer any journey. Scrolling is not even stopping. Spotify offers no trip to the record store. No lingering with an album cover. Once an essential part of fan loyalty. Once part of the emotional depth we had with music. 

If we look at Places as a set of objects (a class), they typically have attributes like GPS coordinates and street addresses. And we typically just see cities or businesses named at Places projected on a map in 2D. It's flatter view of the world.
Social media and Wikipedia might augment geography with a geotag or check-in function, but at an overwhelming volume, and often shown in a way unfiltered by personal interest.

I've collected 333,000 geographic stories of interest now, all geotagged by place (people and topic tagged too in many cases), culled over 10 years. 

Living next to a library full of docs, I went deeper than the internet, as I soon realized Google and Wikipedia focus most on English stories in the West, and even then they are still short on African American stories critical to food and music. The journalists, national historians, and Wikipedia writers didn't go there.  A major blind spot. 

It's true - data is biased and algorithms amplify that. Even on maps, there's a reason why Western nations look bigger on maps. Ask yourself why Greenland looms large - it's not for its amazing Thai food today or ancient Viking migration.

To balance this, I started to focus on geographic layers of food and music stories (culling stories of the conquered and illiterate in history), and topped it off with amazing world travel stories, to yield the Anthony Bourdain view of exploration. 

But it still was an enormous volume that needed to be contextualized in niches, or combos of stories. Chaptered for episodic exploration. We need to convert volume into a starting point of interest.

Everyday I highlighted 10 stories on Facebook (less than 1% of the archive) to connect them thematically in one daily perspective. A mood. 

But no platform offered me effective tools to create a class for these connected geographic stories with common attributes. 

A "photo album" does very little to connect like a "playlist" which only exists for music & videos. And more can be done than a playlist. 

Digital Gardens (collections blogged) are starting to connect to other Digital Gardens like playlists connecting songs. Imagine everything in your living room tagged in a personal collection. It's also geographic (from some place, at some place, related to many places).  

Imagine collectors connecting each other so each collector discovers more. But today's available social platforms mostly rank posts by popularity and engagement, without curation connecting stories. And in a fixed environment of a relatively fixed friends/followers list. At a certain point, the number of friends added diminishes. 

Randomizing (shuffling) also does not work because context matters to thematically connect stories like a MixTape. That's the difference between a MixTape and iPod shuffle.  Or, a playlist vs a randomizer. A culture is represented in a MixTape, whereas any culture is repped in randomization. 

To connect stories well, attributes need to be smarter, showcasing a taxonomy of taste - how places, people and events there connect. Interests then define journeys or routes of discovery people want to take. 

We already see a bit of this on Spotify. Thematic curation defines what is heard. Genres and music genes define related songs. People with similar culture connect songs.