At Last, a Zoomable World


It’s sometimes hard to get my friends excited about the technology I’m interested in, and that’s often down to the fact that a) the exciting stuff is often a big shift in what that technology can do and b) I’m not good at explaining these things to people, especially in wine bars, for some reason.

Last night, for example, I was trying to get someone excited about the Nokia N95. It’s a good phone, but the thing that most gets me excited is the ability to take good photos (5 megapixel camera) and then immediately upload them to Flickr (or anywhere else) via ShoZu, with a GPS tag attached. I just love that idea because it pulls all these technologies together (camera, phone, GPS, 3.5G connection) and makes something of them:

  • it’s seamless. I don’t need to do anything except say yes when a message pops up answering if the photo I just took should be uploaded
  • it’s instantaneous. As soon as the photo is uploaded it’s visible on Flickr. Anyone who wants to can see what I just saw.
  • it’s physical. Now my photo can be seen in geographical context, or seen on Google Earth, or whatever.

But this is just the start. We’re getting closer to a zoomable world, as imagined by the likes of the late Jef Raskin. Images will become the way we transfer, navigate and access all sorts of data: it’s often easier to navigate through thumbnails than it is through filenames. Think Google Earth using 3Dconnexion’s SpaceNavigator but applied to information. The closest I think we have at the moment is TopicScape. For a sign of what this might look like, check out Microsoft’s photo-based acquisition, SeaDragon, which will make viewing everything, from maps to newspapers, something that we can do on more or less any device. (See Long Zheng’s blog post for a demo at TED, and tools like Widsets for pushing the boundaries of what can be viewed on a small screen.)

The other big change coming that appears in the demo above is that this data will become more meaningful as it’s incorporated into bigger arrangements of data. Instead of us just uploading and tagging/geotagging photos, those photos will help make up 3D maps of the world– check out the BBC/Photosynth gallery in Long’s excellent post on this. Imagine that tied to Google Earth-type environments, and then imagine it time-tagged as well as geo-tagged, and you can see the possibilities. Suddenly every photo we take will fit somewhere into a greater mosaic:


This is why I think people should buy phones like the N95, because I think these tools — camera, phone, fast connection, GPS, editing features — are going to make ordinary folk much more excited about the content-creating revolution that started with blogs.