A couple of weeks ago when I was writing the joke article on optimizing roof ads for Google Maps , I happened across this weird satellite picture when browsing the downtown area of my city, Dallas:
(This weird situation of buildings apparently leaning into one another is caused when two or more satellite pictures, each taken at different angles to the buildings, are stitched together. This phenomenon is referred to colloquially as the “Google Escher Effect”.)
I thought it was particularly amusing, so I posted the screen capture to my account on Flickr , and then sent it out to a few friends, and lazily posted it to a number of groups in Flickr that would have an interest in the pic. When researching appropriate related groups in Flickr, I noticed that there are quite a few groups dedicated to “GeoTagging ” — this new and rising trend is something that’s got a lot of potential which businesses involved in local search may not be aware of yet, so I thought I’d mention just a few details and ideas on the subject in conjunction with Google Maps expanding their level of detail for European maps.
Simply defined, GeoTagging is the act of associating geographic location data to other media such as sites, webpages, RSS feeds, images, video files, etc.
Most commonly, the geographic location data is in the form of a longitude and latitude pair of values, called geocodes. (Longitude and Latitude are the standard coordinate values which can be used to plot any point on the Earth — think of them as being similar to X/Y coordinates, if you’re unfamiliar with the terms.)
So, how might an image be GeoTagged? Let’s look at this example in Flickr — a picture of a child eating ice cream in London  — the photographer added three tags to this photo:
The latitude and longitude of the geotag associate the photo with the location in Great Britain. Below the photo’s caption, there’s a link called “Fly to this location” which requires that you have Google Earth software client installed on your PC. If you have that software installed, when you click on the link the software will launch and visually zoom you over to a satellite pic of of the location of the cafe in London’s Chelsea neighborhood where the photo was taken.
The rising popularity of Google’s Maps, coupled with the ease of their use has made it so that more people are GeoTagging by just linking things directly to their associated location as shown in the Google Map. For example, see this photo of a farmer’s market that is linked to it’s location in France on Google Maps .
The attachment of geolocational info with various media is interesting, but is it going to be generally useful?
Well, I can see a number of possible applications just off the top of my head — here’s a few:
- If you’re travelling, how cool would it be if you could look up a point of interest on a map, and then call up all sorts of blog articles and photos associated with it? (Check out Virtual Tourism  site to see videos of major wonders of the world, all tied to their Google Maps locations.)
- If you’re planning to move, and you see a home listed, how cool would it be if you could call up all sorts of photos taken of that neighborhood before ever visiting the place in person?
- What if you had a GPS attached to your camera, so that each photo automatically had geocodes tied to the images, along with the direction you were facing and angle when the shot was taken? Sounds convenient for personal use and for various business uses. This has already been developed .
- The restaurant industry and chain stores also perform all sorts of research to find and select good places to plop their stores — surely it could save some time if it was easy to locate lots of images associated with an area.
- Directors and film scouts often travel around seeking ideal places to film scenes — what if they could search virtually instead of physically for great spots? With image search engines they could find pictures of environments that looked right, and then they could look up the geolocation associated with the image and the would’ve saved a lot of travelling about, perhaps. Or, what if they expected a location would work — they could check it by attempting to locate all photos and videos associated with the spot.
- Imagine if there’s a court case involving some location, and some sort of question was raised about that location — what if you could pull up a map of the place, and then find all sorts of photographs associated with the place, taken from every different angle by all sorts of random people?
- For local businesses, it may become quite useful to post images related to your store and products on sites like Flickr, and to then geotag them to your map location — and even link the descriptions back to your business’s website. (Also, be sure to optimize for Image Search.) This photo of an Italian brodetto dish  is what I’m talking about — notice the listing linked to the restaurant’s website in the caption.
The concept of GeoTagging is a very strong one, and the more interlinkages that are produced between different types of items and their associated locations are going to continue to produce some really fascinating opportunities.
We’re already seeing all sorts of interesting mashups of things which have been produced with the Google Maps API, so you can look forward to seeing even more interesting applications occur when people begin exploiting the data tie-ins that are going to be possible through the use of GeoTagging data. As Google expands their Maps to Europe and other countries, the incentive to usse their Map API only increases, too.