Cultivating Spatial Intelligence

Spatial Information in Design Education

Sharing GeoTemporally Referenced Photos

The 2011 Mumbai Studio explored new ways of organizing resources gathered and created by the studio. New tools for attaching geographical and temporal references to resources allowed us to more effectively share resources within the studio. Organizing resources in a three-dimensional geo-browser developed associations among contemporary and historical images, putting our images of the future into context. Publishing selected resources in the GeoWeb extends the our explorations of alternative futures for Mumbai to new audiences on the World Wide Web.

On our site visit to Mumbai, the studio split into three groups to explore and collect photographs. Each group carried a Geographic Positioning System receiver (GPS.) Digital image files have the capacity to carry embedded tags that can provide data about the image. Digital cameras embed a time-stamp into each image file. We used a free software tool , GeoSetter, to correlate the timestamp of each photo with the point collected by the GPS at the same time (give or take 30 seconds.) Having established the latitude and longitude of the photo, GeoSetter automatically embeds additional place-name references by looking up the coordinates of the camera position in a web gazetteer, or geographical thesaurus (Geonames). These references allow the images to be discoverd by searches on various alternative place names.

Once georeferenced, our image files may be browsed frm a map interface. (Google Earth.) Thus what would ordinarily be an incomprehensible aggregation of image files becomes a coherent reference collection for the studio. Selected photos may receive additional metadata, including titles, credits and captions that become embedded into each photo file. Uploaded to photosharing sites like Flickr and Panoramio, the resources that we have gathered become part of the growing societal information infrastructure on the World Wide Web. When our resources are discovered on photosharing sites - through keyword or map searches -- the captions will lead others to the resources and findings published by the Mumbai Studio.

Commercial photosharing sites have become a useful resource for designers and other spatial scholars. Most often images on these sites are contemporary; contributed by photographers and tourists. In time, these photos will become precious records of places that have been transformed. Thus, the temporal references in photographs will be a critical parameter for indexing and searching, as is now demonstrated in the photosharing site, HistoryPin, a site for sharing images of the past. Designers can add a critical perspective to these image sharing sites: First, because the sites that that we focus upon are on the cusp of transformation. Second, designers are particularly interested in creating and sharing images of the future!

Developing coherent understanding from otherwise independent observations and ideas is the essence of scholarship and of intelligence. New conventions for referencing and exchanging information on the World Wide Web have rejuvinated our ancient means of association: geographic coordinates and time, which have been part of world-wide human culture for millennia. Time and space are fundamental, natural, domains of association for phenomena. As we stand at the edge of a new epoch of multidisciplinary coalescense of scholarship and intelligence, it is time to wonder: what are the new referencing systems that will help to connect ideas within and across domains other than simple space and time?