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Mapping the World
Jamais Cascio, 12 Jan 04

The era of ubiquitous always-on wireless networks accessible through mobile personal devices (less buzzwordy version: being able to communicate and get on the web everywhere and at any time via something you carry or wear) is just beginning, and we're now starting to see glimpses of what this world will look like. One of the more intriguing emerging technologies is collaborative mapping. The notion is that people don't just want to know where something is (and how to get to it), they also want to know what other people think about it (and how reliable those opinions are).

MUDLondon is one approach to this model. It's an odd mix of very old-school text adventure ("You are in a 10x10 room. There is a door to the North. It is closed. There is a passageway to the east. You see a goblin in the room." "Go North." "The door is locked. The goblin attacks you. You have died."), WIKI, and an underground city guide. Eschewing any fancy GPS location finding, it relies on contributors to identify and update which roads lead from which parts of the city as well as what you may find in various locations. As you may expect, it's done with more than a little attitude:

the user is encouraged to connect new places to the model, augmenting it with his or her own mental map, annotating with descriptions, known postcodes (which are automatically converted and cross-referenced with other grid location data). ref erences to external URLs, reviews etc can be added and annotated in the RDF model.

MUDLondon is accessible over instant-messaging clients Jabber and AIM -- the latter meaning that a number of wireless handheld devices can talk to it.

The MUDLondon website includes links to a variety of collaborative-mapping efforts as well as to some of the underlying technology proposals. Right now, this technology is primarily text-based, but one can easily imagine how graphical maps and photo-cameras can add visual appeal in the months and years to come. Moreover, the implications of this sort of tool are pretty huge. Annotated maps and guides, layers of data about locations around you, the ability to leave messages for other visitors... and adding in cheap GPS systems gets around the more tedious aspects of entering in which roads lead where and would allow users to focus on the fun parts -- telling other people what they know.

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