Yesterday’s excellent social media jam event featured Google’s Ed Parsons talking about the immediate and future vision for Google Maps, at the Capgemini office in Central London. Read on for some notes, comments and observations from the session.

Ed Parsons Talking Google Maps at Capgemini Ed Parsons Talking Google Maps at Capgemini

As first speaker, Parsons took the audience on a journey through Google Map’s current state and plans, including:

  • Map Annotation – a feature, currently in beta, of real time annotation of Google Maps, based on the user’s circle of trust. This level of customisation means that each user will have a unique Google Map experience based on their annotations.
  • 3D Modelling – In less than five years, there are plans for some 3D photo-realistic models of places and locations, in real time. This means the images generated will be almost indistinguishable from the physical version. However, some challenges to be overcome include real time simulation and Map animation – e.g. to get realistic effects for such things as parallax, the lighting on buildings or movement of leaves on trees etc.
  • Indoor mapping – Another initiative in the works involves mapping “the great indoors” i.e. providing maps and locations within buildings (e.g. via wifi) and integrating seamlessly with the outside environment. Essentially, you could use your mobile device e.g. Smartphone not only to guide you to a shopping mall, but also to a specific location within one of its department stores.
  • Future of Maps – Finally, according to Ed, the map of the future will not be a map at all, instead, it’ll be tightly integrated into contextual services accessible via such cool devices as envisioned in this YouTube video for the Google glass project. Such scenarios involve the use of real time information (e.g. about destination / routes / detours / traffic / historical preference / calendar etc.) e.g. in Google Now, to dynamically adjust the service / experience delivered to the user. Contextual services are really all about exploiting the value of information at the specific time of use, and it relies on ambient information in that magic zone between physical & virtual worlds.

In addition, attendees were treated to a quick overview of an interesting application of Map technology and audio, which essentially allows artistes to create an audio soundscape for specific locations. This topic was covered by Southampton University’s Ben Mawson, who is working on a technology that will allow users to enter and explore sounds linked in this way to a physical location, via their Android Smartphone.

Below are some comments, questions and observations from attendees including:

  1. The decision, by Apple, to introduce their own maps offering into the iOS may mean users not getting to play as much with Google Maps
  2. Google Maps and Circles are a natural combination for Map annotation, but this will depend on user uptake, and careful management to avoid coming across as overly intrusive to the user. It was suggested that an interface with Facebook would be great for such annotations, but don’t hold your breath.
  3. Battery life – In order to make the described features truly usable, the longevity of battery life must be addressed managed intelligently (e.g. GPS usage only when moving)

In all, this was a most interesting event, and a key take away for me was that contextual information and Augmented Reality have come a long way, but their full implications are only just beginning to be understood. This means they can easily become misapplied or overly intrusive, therefore due care must be taken over interpreting user intentions, as this could bring back similar issues of: IP rights infringement, user intent and privacy concerns, which dogged the music industry and its infamous Napsterisation.