january 2008 archives

Monday, January 28, 2008

Neighbo(u)rhood 2.0

The new services and products launched by Urban Mapping, Zillow, and the Dutch CBS in the first weeks of January may herald a new trend that affects online mapping: Neighbourhood 2.0. It does not only mark a shift from the global to the local, but also a further step in the democratisation of cartography: opening up neighbourhood data to both the (GIS) specialist and the (map reading) end-user.

For long, online mapping companies have been competing on geographic coverage. Although this is still important (Microsoft Live Search Maps and Multimap recently added maps of China to their services), hyperlocalisation is the new thing. Over the last year, mapping portals such as AskCity, Google Maps, Yahoo Maps and MapQuest have introduced the option to search by neighbourhood, powered by Urban Mapping's Neighborhood Database and Maponics' Neighborhood Boundaries products. Whereas mapping APIs have opened up the wealth of world-wide maps to many websites, the free neighborhood API launched by Urban Mapping has opened up the neighborhoods of the US and Canada for creating mash-ups. Through its SOAP-based web service, you can for example find out the name of the neighborhood for any given pair of geographic coordinates.

This is all good and well for a neogeographer. But what do you do if you are a GIS specialist or so-called paleogeographer in search for neighbourhood data? Fortunately, online real estate service Zillow.com now provides boundary lines of over 7,000 neighborhoods in ESRI Shapefile format for download from their website. Don't simply dismiss Zillow as old school, though. The Zillow API Network enables neogeographers to pull in lots of city and neighborhood information into their own mash-ups.

Surely, I would not group the latest launches under the term Neighbourhood 2.0 if they did not do away with the differentiation between experts and amateurs. In particular, the fair amount of neighbourhood statistics available from the Dutch CBS used to be only available as downloadable ESRI Shapefiles for GIS specialists. However, as of early January, Statistics Netherlands also offers its neighbourhood information to end users through Google Earth.

The next step for Neighbourhood 2.0 would be for end users to easily move boundaries on the map, similar to the search-enabled drawing tools on AskCity. They can then adjust the delineation of neighbourhoods based on their own perception of the area around them. Equally, neighhourhoods could almost organically change their shape over time based on the collective perception derived from geo-tagged posting on Craiglist (Neighborhood project) and geo-tagged photos on Flickr or derived from corrected marker locations on Google Maps. Let's see what 2008 will bring us!  permanent link for this entry