What I Saw and Learned at Where 2.0

April 27, 2011

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This was the first time I have attended the Where 2.0 conference. I generally go to a conference with a specific agenda – people I want to meet and business I would like to conduct. I approached this conference with nothing more than a list of sessions I was interested in attending. Like every conference I have attended, the best information is in the halls. Tech bloggers and media outlets have already reported on the “big news” highlights. I am going to share some high level general observations. 
As I listened during the first morning, I began thinking about ways government should consider using services already used by the public. Why would government invest in developing an app if it could leverage several that the public already uses? For example: Imagine checking in while getting your driver’s license and being notified of other government services specific to you that are available within a mile of your location. Yes, I realize there are a number of legal issues to consider and a dozen reasons why that just wouldn’t work, and government should just build something new.
An overarching theme throughout the presentations was how to actively provide users with more information specific to their location. This begins to get at part of the “check-in, so what?” question. Check-ins seem to just be part of an evolutionary process. The more you play, the smarter the system gets, which results in predictions that could guide you to things in which you are interested. In theory this will make your life better.
The overlap between traditional GIS and things presented at Where 2.0 made the lines blurry, but I doubt many took notice. In my mind, there is a clear intersection between the interest in “place” that companies have been exploring for the past five years and the work the GIS industry has undertaken for the past 20 years. I am not suggesting the areas are one and the same. I am suggesting each has something to offer and I didn’t hear any company working to leverage the strengths of both. Or maybe I just missed it.
Seems all companies include an API of some sort. It also seemed apparent that it was just as important to each company to have developers use its API as it was to have users using its service. Think on that for a moment… This results in the need for a service to remain available. I wondered what business would consider building its business on government APIs for fear of sustainability.
I would be interested in attending WhereCamp next time. [Editor’s note: “WhereCamp is a free unconference focusing on all things geographical. The best way to describe it is as a geo-happening where all types of geo-locative enthusiasts come together and have informal discussions on what interests them.” (cited from WhereCampPDX)]
The Where 2.0 conference certainly provides a great deal of value for a number of its attendees. I am not sure it is a fit for my day-to-day work. I would recommend it to individuals involved in Web development of any kind, including government staff.
The following were some interesting things that jumped out to me for various reasons. I will not attempt to explain why, as most will seem obvious and not revolutionary. That said, the impacts should not be overlooked.
Facebook: Intersection of temporal, location and connections. All about “where am I” and “what is around me.” Mobile as a sensor.
Group messaging and conference calling from every phone. Lowest common denominator is text messaging. This is an intimate tool. You should have stronger bonds with people in your group. Company seems to be in touch with reality of fewer novice users.
Integrated game mechanics to result in a useful outcome.
Build, Play, Value, Critical Mass
Turning use into value - it has to be about more than just playing a game.
Any product that can be distributed digitally will be; any product that is built of atoms will require an outlet for physical touch.
Links I followed up on after the conference. 
Ushahidi, Check-ins Experimental Functionality  
Bing, Read / Write World 

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