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Putting you in your place

Last night I took part in a large conversation on the meaning and importance of place and space, and tools that we use to define our relationship to space. There’s been a lot of activity and interest in place — from obvious things like people’s love of Google Maps, to the passion around geotagging photos on Flickr (over 5,000,000 tagged and counting!), to geekier-but-growing tools like Plazes.

(Separately, when I think of the word “place,” I think of the Santa Monica Place, the indoor shopping mall in Santa Monica, where I grew up. But I digress.)

I’ve been thinking about my use of these tools, and why I’ve found them meaningful to me. The primary reason I’ve geotagged a bunch of photos, and that I’m pretty dogged about maintaining my “plaze,” is that I love the idea that they are creating passive trails of where I’ve been. There’s a journaling aspect to it, a way to trace my history without me having to be super-vigilant about it myself.

Now, what’s important about this is recognizing that “place” isn’t all that meaningful in isolation. I’m really interested in the intersection of “place” and “time.” I would pay money for someone to use the Flickr API to create an interactive map that either provided a slider so I could see what photos were taken in what date range, or, even better, something that overlaid an infographic over a map of the world, with arrows or some such, that showed how I moved across the globe taking pictures. Something kind of like the Indiana Jones map.

The other thing that interests me about place is the obvious, “What’s around me?” This is particularly useful when I’m traveling to new cities (often for work), and I haven’t a clue where to get a decent meal, or find free wifi, etc. Obviously, I can get some of this by going to a regional search engine (Citysearch, Yelp, Google Local, etc.), but there’s something just sweet about popping open the laptop and having access to my surroundings.

Anyway, place. What I’m thinking about.