Thing #11: Geotagging

I chose Thing #11 thinking that I had no real knowledge of geotagging since I haven’t forayed into social check-ins such as Foursquare yet. I was, however, surprised to find while reading the first Wikipedia article on geosocial networking that geo tagging has many other uses and forms. For instance, pulling up a list of restaurants on your smart phone that are in proximity to your physical location and then accessing user-generated reviews, ratings, and pictures is one use, while social shopping in which a user provides data such as links or images of items they have purchased is another; the latter is especially interesting when users of social shopping websites have to physically visit stores to capture sensor data in order to gain points for discounts. In fact, it is plausible to think that such applications could work for libraries or museums as well by encouraging visitors to add favorite items to a social app. This would both promote the institution to the user’s network and increase visitorship–the payoff could be earning enough points for a free admission, complementary coffee in the cafe, or a discount at the museum store.

Geotagging is simply the process of attaching location information to objects such as videos, photographs, websites, or text messages, which can then be searched and located according to that geographic information. With photography applications the metadata can be attached at the time the image is captured if the device has a GPS system installed, or it can be added later. Images can also be attached to a map in a program such as Flickr, which assigns the information based on the map location you select. Searching for images (or blogs, articles, etc.) using geotags can provide users with information about sites, objects, and events that may be in proximity to their location or a location they are planning to visit, which could be an effective research tool.

Twittering time away
Users can set their Twitter accounts to automatically add location information to any Tweets. Truthfully, this feature seemed a little creepy at first, but I think with the increasing popularity of check-in programs people are just getting more accustomed to the idea of sharing their location. The benefit of enabling this feature, according to an article by, is that Twitter can tailor the trending topics to your position, which could in some ways actually be useful. For example, news and event information that could pertain to you based on geographical proximity would appear, as opposed to more generalized trends such as celebrity gossip. Of course, there is an advertising angle as well since obviously targeted marketing is a big deal to businesses. However, it seems possible for non-profit institutions to get in on the location based service targeting as well. Tweets and ads based on library events, new exhibitions, resources, and so forth could be directed via local trending feeds. Since reaching users is always a tricky part of social networking, this could deliver timely information to people that are in the area but not necessarily followers of the institution. Yes, it’s advertising, however I think it functions more like the kind of announcements people see on PBS or hear on the radio rather than the more malicious spam-type event ads that we have all come to loathe.

Flickr and Geotags
According to TechCrunch, the Flickr geotagging feature allows users to, among other uses, create a customized map showing photos assigned to their place of origin. The simple act of tagging the photos with location data (which can be accomplished by dragging an image onto a map) makes them searchable by location; the images can be tagged from country to street level. This is a popular feature, as a visit to the Flickr homepage reveals that 4.5 million items have been geotagged this month alone. Of course, identifying information for photographs is important, so it is not surprising that geotagging is popular. It’s also useful to be able search for a city and see interesting images from the area. For instance, I searched Gainesville, Florida and saw some views of Payne’s Prairie that I haven’t noticed before–and for that matter, that we have a Sonic Drive-In here. This is admittedly data that is more socially functional than academic, however it could help people to get a grasp on an area that they plan to visit or discover interesting things about where they reside.

Libraries and museums can also use geotagging on Flickr for more rigorous intentions. The Library of Congress uploaded thousands of images a few years ago with the hopes that people would tag the items with all kinds of information, including locations. This was wildly successful and proved to be a formidable research tool for the librarians. Libraries can also create resources by, for instance, tagging numerous resources they have uploaded so that they display on a map. I could imagine viewing historical stereoscope cards of Florida or African beaded aprons on a map that associated the image with a particular place. Such additional visual and textual data adds layers of meaning for researchers and helps users to understand the proximity of objects to one another.

Applications fro Information Literacy

Geotagging has a few significant possibilities for information literacy purposes. First, it can allow users to receive location-specific news; this could be especially useful to students in business or journalism fields who may need to keep abreast of localized news topics. Using the geosearch in Flickr could also provide valuable research information for students in a variety of fields. For instance, searching for art or artifact imagery within a specific area of Australia might reveal photographs of works useful for a presentation; it could also help in narrowing a topic by revealing a particular type of artifact that is found in certain areas. Even more significantly, it might be possible to find contextual photographs that have been tagged by geographic location. This, of course, would simply be another manner of search strategy, but is one that could at times be quite useful.