Tag Archive: geotagging

Google Maps Screws Up

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I’m not one of those people that mounts protests every time Facebook changes their layout, or when GMail makes some slight change. I even like the new updates to Flickr, even though some users are threatening to abandon it for Ipernity. So, when I say that Google Maps has really screwed up with their latest updates, I really mean it.

Initially the update looked promising, so I signed up for the Beta version. The 3D views and integration with Google Earth look very slick. However, right away I started to seeing some problems. The “My Places” section was hidden – de-emphasized as if Google may be doing away with it. When you click on the map you get links to (surprise, surprise) businesses with potential advertising. For users like me, I now had several steps instead of one or two to get to what I wanted, and it looked like one of my primary tools was being threatened.

However, the real clincher came as I was trying to geotag some photos from my last paddling trip to Lake Marion. For this past trip I had photos from three cameras – GoPro, Panasonic Lumix LX-5, and a Fuji WP33. I had GPS tracks from a Garmin Venture HC and an iGotU 120 tracker. I use the GPSPhotoLinker software on my Mac to match the photos with the GPS tracks.

I can check individual photos by clicking on “Show on map” in GPSPhotoLinker. By default, this brings up a Google Map with the latitude/longitude coordinates for the photo. If it’s not where I expect it to be, I can tweak either the timing or some other variable to get it where I want it.

Unfortunately, this morning I couldn’t get any of my photos to show up correctly on Google Maps. I assumed that the either the GPS clock or the internal camera clock must be off. However, it didn’t matter which camera or which GPS track, the photos showed up on the same road as shown below:

New Google Maps

After an hour and a half of trying to get this to work (and even downloading a trial version of a new geocoding program), it dawned on me to try something else. I started by popping the photos into Lightroom and using the mapping program there to check geocoding. Using the same images and GPS tracks, it showed the photos where they are supposed to be. However, the Lightroom geotagging function is useless because it doesn’t write the location data to the image’s EXIF data when the picture is exported.

Since the images and GPS tracks seemed to be synced OK, I decided to try something else. I went back to GPSPhotoLinker and set the default so that it would display on MapQuest instead of Google Maps. Worked like a charm. Now my images were showing up where they were supposed to be. Since that worked I decided to switch back to the Google Maps “Classic View” for the default view, and that cleared up the problem. The images appeared once again were geocoded correctly, in the middle of the lake instead of a lakeside neighborhood.

Classic Google Maps

As far as I can tell, what the new version of Google Maps is doing is when a set of coordinates is input into the service, it returns the location for the nearest street address – always. That doesn’t help if your coordinates are in the middle of a lake, or if you’re hiking in the middle of nowhere. it seems that Google Maps is now only useful for people driving or people on streets. I can’t find anywhere to turn off that “feature.”

So, Google, if you’re truly wanting feedback about your beta product, you need to make your maps once again useful to those of us that tend to stray off of the roads.

Thus endeth the rant. Selah.

Geotagging “Threat”

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Facebook Friends

Just when you thought it might be safe to let the kids out of the house, the news media comes up with even more scary stuff that you didn’t know about. This time geotagged photographs are the culprit. Two separate news outlets – MSNBC and ABC, have aired segments on the dangers of posting geotagged photographs online.

Here’s MSNBC’s segment…

…and here’s the ABC segment…

In both of these, there are some real dangers highlighted, but some of these are taken out of context, and made to seem more dangerous than they are. I’m a BIG proponent of geotagging photographs as a way of documenting when and where photographs are taken. Both of these seem to make geotagging a bad word, and something to be avoided all together. That’s just not the case.

First, the problems highlighted in the video segments only apply to specific situations. Automatic geotagging isn’t available on most standard cameras. It’s something that has to be done after the photos are taken. The problems described here only apply to photos taken with GPS-enabled smart phones.

Secondly, many websites are changing the way images are displayed so that the EXIF data is not visible. I tried the technique described for viewing the photos, and it no longer works for Facebook. In Flickr you can set the location privacy of your photos. Panoramio is all about geotagging, so don’t even post them there if you don’t want folks to know where they were taken.

I checked a couple of other popular photo hosting sites, specifically Webshots and Photobucket. These use some sort of Flash player to display the images, so right-clicking is disabled. I haven’t checked other sites, but this seems to be a similar trend. Sure, a determined person might be able to download the file with the EXIF data and extract the location, but it’s not as easily done as the videos seem to indicate. However, if these are posted straight to a website or blog, then the data might be available.

For some time I’ve been concerned about the dangers of sharing too much information about location. (Previous blog posts here and here.) As much of a geotagging, GPS geek as I am, I’m not a fan of FourSquare, BriteKite, Facebook Locations, or any of those other place-related services. I don’t mind sharing where I’ve been, but it just seems like one is asking for trouble by constantly providing up-to-the-minute location information.

As with the website I pointed out in my previous post, Please Rob Me, an analogous site called I Can Stalk U has been created to raise awareness of these dangers. This website pulls location data from images posted to TwitPics and displays it on a map.

It all boils down to using common sense. Be aware of what geotagging is and when it’s appropriate to use it. When shooting with my regular cameras, I usually don’t geotag photos around my house. I do, however, geotag just about everything else. I usually don’t make photos of children available to the public, and when I do I’m careful about keeping location data hidden. I also tend to upload geotagged information after I’m long gone from a location, rather than at the spur of the moment.

Geotagging is a great way to document a trip or any other location-related data. I use it in conjunction with my GPS tracks to record locations of genealogy and historical sites. Just like any other privacy-related issue, it can cause problems if you don’t pay attention to what you’re posting online.

Flickr to Panoramio – One More Attempt

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I really want to contribute to Panoramio.  Really, I do.  I would love to have my photos show up in a native layer on Google Earth without having to use a third-party KML/KMZ file.  So I’ve been looking for work-arounds for their security problems and inability to upload more than 10 images at a time.

I had been using the Saleen Flickr Bulk Downloader to download my images from Flickr to be uploaded to Panoramio.  I noticed that it had an option to download smaller images, and not just the originals.  I decided to give that a try.

I went through and tagged several of my Flickr images with the “panoramio” tag, then set the downloader to only download those tagged images in what Flickr considers “medium” sized, which is about 500 X 333, depending on actual aspect ratio.  This is large enough for the image to appear in Google Earth without compromising the security of the original image.

From there, my plan was to bulk upload to Picasa Web, where it should have been an easy process to send them on over to Panoramio.  I was going to use the desktop version of Picasa to clean up any problems with titles, tags, geotagging or incorrect locations.

Nice idea, but unfortunately it didn’t work.

When I tried to view the geotagged information for my test images, all of it was missing.  Apparently the only way to bring that information in from Flickr is to download the original image with the EXIF data intact.  Picasa has no way of doing a bulk resize (or any kind of resize, for that matter.)  I guess I could automate the process through Photoshop, but that adds yet another step, and this is already getting needlessly complicated.

Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Rethinking Panoramio

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Last post I was singing the praises of Panoramio for location-based photo sharing.  I’ve uploaded a bunch of photos, and had 250 approved for Google Earth.  I was quite flattered.  The selected photos included some of my best shots, and covered the entire US, from Florida to Maine, to Washington State.

…and as of this evening I’ve deleted every single one of them.

I found that when I uploaded my original sized images to Panoramio there was no way to resize the images or prevent someone from downloading the originals.  This is a problem.  I’ve had folks steal my photographs before (stories here and here.)  Flickr lets you restrict what is available for download, and to whom.  There are no such controls in Panoramio, so my photos were right out there for the taking, including all of the EXIF data which I would normally use to prove that the photo is mine.

The alternative is to post a reduced size image without EXIF, or with some watermark.  However, that’s yet another step in my workflow.  I might be willing to work with this for the occasional photo, but it’s not something I want to do on a regular basis.

This wasn’t what really ticked me off about Panoramio, though.  I couldn’t find anyone to answer questions about the service.  Their forums are an abusive joke.  For example, I was looking for information about batch uploading to Panoramio (they only let you upload 10 at a time).  Someone else had also inquired in the forums, and the responses were something like, “Why would you ever want to do that?”  That seemed to be the consistent reply for anything that might be slightly out of the norm for Panoramio, but is a common feature on Flickr and other photo sharing sites.

It got worse when I was looking for ways to restrict downloads.  This post by someone with the same question provoked absolutely unwarranted verbal attacks from the community…

I was very disappointed to figure out that anyone can download a full-sized original of any photo I upload to Panoramio. Your service should do what Flickr does and restrict the download to the “preview” version of the photo if said photo is marked “All Rights Reserved.”

Response:

Maybe it’s time for you to be realistic. If the full size version is on-screen, it’s downloaded already.

The only way to protect your images on the internet – the only way – is to not upload them. It doesn’t matter what site you use, your images can be stolen.

It got worse, with others berating the quality of the inquirer’s photographs, others ridiculing him for having uploaded originals in the first place, etc., etc.  Not once did anyone offer a reasonable answer.

For the record, there’s a very good reason to upload originals – to provide off-site back-up of valuable images.  I do it on Flickr with my favorite photos so that if anything happens to my computer I at least have some of them saved.

Then it came time to ask about bulk delete.  Here’s another exchange that was posted in the Suggestions forum

Proposal:

I’m suggesting this because I’m thinking of updating my Gallery. It’s too much of a hassle deleting them one at a time. I’m sure you’ll make a lot of people happy including yours truly if you’ll provide that option, thank you very much.

Response:

Why would you need to mass delete photos

Perhaps this would be used more widely by members that do not take time to sort through their photos before hand.

A bunch of people uploading garbage to Panoramio just to see if its what they really wanted to upload?

No thanks

The last thing anyone wants is a wonderful site like this to be slowed to a halt by unthoughtful and abusive users.

Sounds like a huge waist of bandwidth to me.

Wow!  Speaking of “unthoughtful and abusive users”, this one offered no constructive suggestions.

So, this evening, one by one, I deleted every photo I had in Panoramio.  I couldn’t just kill the account because it’s linked to my Google account, and I’ve got too much tied up there to delete that one.  There was simply no other way to do it short of nuking my entire Google life.  It was a pain.

Normally, I love Google products, and I still love browsing the photo layers in Google Earth.  However, I’m not going to be a contributor if they put up so many barriers to a smooth user experience.  Flickr has it’s own problems, but at least it has added features that actually help contribute to and use the site.

Speaking of Flickr, I had lamented the demise of Metal Toad’s KML layer that allows you to browse all geotagged Flickr photographs in Google Earth.  Fortunately, someone has created another service that does something similar.  It’s not quite as fast and smooth as Metal Toad’s service, but it will do nicely for now.

From Flickr to Panoramio

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Google Earth Panoramio

I finally caved in. I’ve been uploading some selected photographs to Panoramio so that they will appear in the Google Earth Photos layer.  As of this writing I have 121 photographs that have been selected to appear in Google Earth, and I’ve submitted more that are awaiting approval.

If you’ve got a Google account, then you can use that to sign into Panoramio and create an account.  Photos are uploaded just like they are to any other photo sharing site.  Just make sure that your photos are geotagged.  Even if they haven’t been geotagged previously, there is a drag-n-drop map so you can locate your photos once they have been uploaded.

Panoramio has some specific guidelines for approval for Google Earth.  There are the usual conditions – no pornography, discriminative, or abusive photos.  However, there are some other guidelines.  They are looking for photos that illustrate a place, so images of people, events, or detailed images of flowers or other items may not be approved.  Likewise, interior shots probably won’t be selected for Google Earth.

For Google Earth and Google Maps we select only photos about exterior places: landscapes, monuments, streets, buildings, parks, and so on. All photos must comply with the Panoramio Photo Acceptance Policy.

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Test-Driving the Eye-Fi Explore

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Eye-Fi

I’ve been interested in these little gizmos for some time now. The Eye-Fi Explore is an SD card that will automagically upload your photos to your online photo service of choice whenever it comes within range of an open wireless network. Not only that, it uses some strange alchemy to geotag your photos each time you click the shutter. It sounded like the perfect photographic tool, but also the promises seemed too good to be true. I was hesitant to make the investment until I saw that Woot.com had one for a dirt-cheap price. I decided to give it a shot. I found it both to be about as amazing as I expected, and about as frustrating as I imagined.

Eye-FiThe Eye-Fi comes with the SD card (2 GB in my case, but available up to 8 GB) and a USB card reader, as shown above. The management software comes on the card itself, and automatically launches when the device is first plugged into the computer. The first thing I discovered is that you must have wireless access to configure the device. Just being connected to a computer with Internet access isn’t enough.

There are lots of parameters that can be set with the device. You can choose your photo hosting service (Flickr, in my case) and even set up separate routing for videos, so your photos may go to Flickr, but your videos to YouTube. You can set the device to connect and upload automatically to any wifi hotspot, or only when it comes within range of specified hotspots. I always like to edit my photos before they go public, so I set the privacy settings so that I would be the only one to see them on Flickr. You can also enable/disable geotagging.

Eye-Fi-Screen-Two

The most amazing thing is that this device actually works. I tried it in both my Fuji WP33 and my Nikon S70. It took photos, and when I turned the camera on in the presence of a wireless network, it uploaded the photos to my Flickr account without any interaction from me.

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Seero – Geospatially Aware Video

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In my discussions about geotagging, one of the questions that always arises is the issue what location should be tagged. If you’re tagging photographs, should you tag the location where you took the shot, or should you tag the location of the subject. For example, if you were standing on an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway and take a picture of something in a valley below, your subject might be several miles away, which is a significant difference for geotagging. Most photographers agree that you should tag the location from which you took the shot, and not the location of the subject. You’re tagging a specific view.

Since a photograph is a frozen moment in time, each image can be matched with a discreet location. That gets a bit thorny when talking about tagging audio or video. Thinking back to my recent flight with my cousin where I did some video work, the video lasted for much of the trip. Do I geotag the starting point, the ending point, or somewhere in between? The same question would apply to audio that is recorded while traveling.

Well, the folks at Seero have come up with a pretty cool solution. Their service matches the video with a GPS track, so that you can tag the entire length of the video. According to their website, Seero lets users…

  • Broadcast live video and archive it for on-demand playback.
  • Track GPS position in real-time and archive a course for playback with video.
  • Explore the world and discover video through an innovative geo-navigational interface.
  • Geo-tag your video clips to showcase the destinations where they take place.
  • Experience location specific factoids and feeds with a video broadcast.

It sounds pretty interesting. The demonstration video I saw showed a clip of the two site creators driving around Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The video appears on the left, and a Google map interface appears on the right. The map is updated with correct location as the video progresses, tracking the trip along with the video. In addition to the track, placemarks can be added to the video.

I’ve tried added their new “embed” feature below. Because the video/map combination is wider than the formatting used for this web page, it will bleed over onto the menu items on the right. Sorry, but it can’t be helped.

I’ve signed up for an account with them, but I don’t have anything to contribute just yet. I may try a driving tour around Greenville, using one of the Greenville Library guides, or one that I come up with on my own. We’ll see. In the meantime, I may visit some of the other tours that have already been contributed to the site. This looks like it has some very good potential.

[tags]Seero, geotagging, Google Maps, video[/tags]

SCETV Day 3 – Reflections on Censorship

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South Carolina State House

Today was a jam-packed day. I had three sessions back to back, then it was time to drive home. There was one last session on basic Google Earth, then two on Geotagging. Yesterday during the late afternoon I had drive around Columbia snapping pictures so that I would have some shots for tagging.

Thurmond DomeWar Protesters 2Varsity BilliardsETV Satellite FarmETV Building

The first session went well, then it was a mad dash to the other ETV building for geotagging. It was a small room, so we had a rather information demonstration/discussion. Both sessions went very well, and my photos showed up in Google Earth exactly like they were supposed to. (more…)

Flickr Adds Video

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The Blogosphere is buzzing with the news that Flickr has now added support for video. However, they are not striving to become another YouTube. Flickr has always been about photographs, and they are adhering to a strict interpretation of what’s acceptable. They look at these videos as more “long photos” than anything. Basically, just a clip of time, when a regular photograph just isn’t sufficient. As such, videos are limited to 90 second clips.

Probably, a 90 second clip will be sufficient for my needs. I don’t do very much video, anyway. The nice thing is that all of the social aspects of Flickr are applicable to videos just like they are to photos. Tagging, geotagging, and commenting work the same way as photos, as well as the ability to put videos in sets and collections. I’m just curious as to how the influx of these “long photos” will affect things such as “interestingness” and the Explore function on Flickr.

Of course, I had to give this a whirl. I uploaded one of my videos from the William Walker Memorial Singing last month at Wofford College. The video in question was 2:13′ long, so I wasn’t sure how it would be handled. Flickr truncated the video, cutting off the last 43 seconds of the clip. Here it is below, added using the new “embed” feature that Flickr provides for the videos…

Side note: The new version of WordPress does a much nicer job of handling video when editing posts than the previous versions did.

I also had to try out the geotagging functions for video. Of course, videos don’t have an easy way to handle metadata like EXIF does for images, so the only ways to geotag are with triple-tagging or using the drag-n-drop map function in Flickr. I did the drag-n-drop and placed it on the map. I tried to use the loc.alize.us applet, and while it would read the map data for the video from Flickr, for some reason it wouldn’t create the triple tags. I haven’t manually added the triple tags, but I may go back and do that.

As for display, I used Metaltoad’s KML generator first in Google Earth. The video appeared in the network feed, but no thumbnail could be displayed. I had to click through to get to the video. Likewise, Flickr’s native KML support showed the location in Google Earth, but no thumbnail. I’m guessing it’s just a matter of time before these types of applications are updated to take advantage of the new video support.

In conclusion, I like Flickr’s concept of the “long photo.” I’m also more comfortable with Flickr’s interface than YouTube’s, simple because I’ve been using Flickr longer. I’ll probably continue to use a combination of Flickr and YouTube for the very few videos I actually create, depending on the application. As it turns out, most of the stuff I have won’t fit into 90 seconds, so it will have to go on YouTube. However, this is a nice addition to Flickr’s capabilities.

[tags]Flickr, video, geotagging, photography[/tags]

UPDATE: As you might imagine, not everyone is happy with videos in Flickr. A pool has been created to voice dismay. Some people don’t like change of any kind. There were discussion groups that formed when Yahoo bought Flickr, and I’m sure that there are groups protesting the possible takeover of Yahoo by Microsoft.

As for me, I think Flickr has put some reasonable restrictions to keep the site oriented toward photography. I use this site mainly to warehouse my images so that I can share and post on this blog. The Web 2.0 functions are a nice benefit, but are not the main reason I come here. As with any change, if the introduction of videos fundamentally alters my main purpose for using the site, then I’ll start to get upset.

Geotagging Lessons Learned

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I had taken a couple of pictures at Furman the other day, and geotagged them. I was distressed to find that my RAW files had been corrupted, and I couldn’t use them at all.

My trek through Laurens County was the first test of my new Qstarz BT-Q1000 GPS tracker. I clipped it onto my belt and kept it with me the entire time I was out shooting photos. When I got back, the first thing I did was download the GPS track and start geocoding the images. It matched my photos with location very nicely. However, when it came time to actually write to the EXIF data to the files, the program couldn’t handle the RAW files. It corrupted them. I think I found my problem.

If I want to geotag my RAW files, I guess I could save the GPS track and use Geosetter to match up the photos. Otherwise, I’ll just have to remember not to use the Qstartz program on the RAW files.

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