Location Mobile Personal Publishing

Geotagging with Zonetag and Bluetooth GPS…

Disclaimer (added 3:15pm): Obviously I work at Yahoo and obviously I know the people who work on Flickr and Zonetag personally. Other clients for uploading information from your phone and capturing context do exist and if you’re interested in finding out more about them then I can recommend reading Chris Heathcote’s post on the subject.

A few weeks ago Flickr released its new mapping features, enabling its users to easily ‘geotag’ their photos. The interface they have created is extraordinarily simple and elegant. A drawer at the bottom of the Organizer contains your photos, the space above contains a navigable and explorable map. Drag one of the former onto the latter and you’re done.

But what if there was a way to automatically geotag your photos as you were taking them and with an accuracy of a few metres? What if the same tool also let you upload your photos while you were walking around town and could also provide you with good privacy options and tag suggestions? When you spotted a nice bit of graffiti or a book about superheroes, you’d be able to take a picture on the spot and have people in the area see it on the map within moments. Just like this:

I took this photo in my last trip to the US with my camphone and with just two rapid keystrokes it was being uploaded to the Internet complete with all the information needed to position it almost perfectly within the world. To get it online I used the prototype Zonetag client made by Yahoo Research Berkeley in conjunction with a portable Bluetooth GPS unit that I bought for ¬£70 down the road. This combination of whatsits has made geotagging photographs in the wild absolutely effortless for me, and only took me ten minutes to set up. And no additional costs! It’s all enormously good fun.

Which made me think thatgiven how much I use this stuff and how few other people I’ve met who know about itthis might be a suitable subject for a comprehensive online how-to guide. Which brings me to this article.

Over the next few paragraphs I’m going to work through the whole process of installing and using Zonetag and getting it working with a portable Bluetooth GPS device from beginning to end. You’ll need a Nokia Series 60 mobile phone (more information on the specific makes below), a Bluetooth GPS unit (I’ll recommend one further down the page) and the time to install the (free) Zonetag client. If you’ve got all of these things, it shouldn’t take more than five or ten minutes to get you set up and geotagging your first photos in the wild. But I’m not going to skip through any part of the process so don’t worry. What’s below is every step in totally ludicrous and laborious detail. That way no one will have the excuse of getting lost along the way.

This how-to comprises four sections. The first part is about Which phones you can use with Zonetag, the second about How to install Zonetag and some of the common break-points, the third about How to use Zonetag and get the most of its functionality and the final one is How to get Zonetag working with an external bluetooth GPS device. If you’ve already got a version of Zonetag installed, then you can cheerfully skip straight to the fourth section right now.

Stage One: Which phones can you use with Zonetag?
The first thing you’ll need to be using a Nokia Series 60 phone. I’d recommend using specifically one of the following: the 6620, 6670, 6680, 6681, 6682, 7610, N70 or N90 models. The really new Nokia phones running the third edition of the Series 60 software are still being evaluated for use, I’m afraid. There have been some significant changes to the security model which makes rapid prototyping a bit harder. I use the N70, which has relatively slow UI and is a bit big but is otherwise completely functional and handles this whole process really well.

Picture of an N70 running Zonetag

Stage Two: How to install Zonetag and some of the common break-points:
Installing Zonetag on the phone is the next step and is relatively painless. It does not require you to have transitioned your Flickr account over to a Yahoo ID. You will however need a Yahoo ID to use the service. The one you use for Yahoo! Mail will do quite nicely.

I’m going to go through the whole thing in detail in a second butjust so you don’t get overly intimidatedI thought I’d summarise the whole process first so you can see how simple it will be. To get Zonetag installed all you will have to do is:

  • Click on “Install” on the Zonetag site and type in your name and e-mail, and then click “Agree” to the terms and conditions
  • When prompted, click the button to log into Flickr and to say that you’re comfortable with Flickr and Zonetag talking to one another
  • Download the Zonetag client onto the phone and let it install itself
  • Copy your personal authorisation number from the website into the phone to make sure they know they’re allowed to talk to each other

As I’ve said, it’s all pretty painless, but there are some special cases and some places you can get stuck, so I’ll go through each of those now in a bit more detail. The first part of the process is to visit the Zonetag site and click upon ‘Install’ at the top of the page. You’ll be presented with a page that warns you that Zonetag will keep a record of details of the particular cellphone tower that your phone was using when it took a picture. The zonetag client uses this information to suggest useful tags for you when you take a picture, and – if you want – can display this information in your Flickr tags for your photos. You can turn this feature off later if you want.

On this screen put in your first and last name and your e-mail address, tick the terms of use and click on ‘I Agree’ at the bottom of the page.

The next page presents you with an even easier job, particularly if you’ve got already got a Flickr account. Click on the ‘Authorize’ button at the bottom of the page and you’ll be sent off to a page on Flickr where you will be asked if you’re comfortable with the two sites talking to each other. Say yes and move on!

The next stage is where a lot of people come unstuck and it’s normally to do with the defaults on your phone rather than anything with Zonetag itself. So at this stage, I’d recommend checking that your phone is ready to install the application and won’t just reject it out of hand. To check these settings go to your phone and look for a folder called ‘Tools’ in your main menu. Inside that folder look for the ‘Application Manager’ or ‘Manager’ icon. I’ve put a picture below so you can see what menu options you’re looking for:

Once you’ve found the Application Manager, click on it, select ‘options’ and ‘settings’ and you’ll be presented with a menu upon which the first option is ‘Software Installation’. This has three options – install all software, install only signed software and install no software. Make sure that ‘install all software’ is selected. If it is, you’re now ready to continue with the installation process.

If you’re based in the US, the Zonetag site (on the page you should still be on) has a feature that allows them to send you a text message with a link to the application inside it. Tell the site your number, and click on the link in the SMS that you receive. Your phone will go online and get the application and ask if you want to install it. Say yes and you’re done.

If you’re not based in the US, then the easiest option is probably to download the application from this URL: via your phones web browser. Again it’ll ask if you want to install the application. Say yes to finish the process.

Once you’ve finished installing the software on the phone, there’s just one final stage. So click to get your authorisation code on the web site, and then on your phone navigate to the Zonetag application (on my N70 it’s placed in a folder called ‘My Own’ in the main menu) and then click on the application to launch it. The first time you activate it, it’ll ask you which data connection you want to use to send your photos and data to the service. Once you’ve chosen one, the software will prompt you for your authorisation code. Type the code that the website shows you into the phone and Zonetag has been installed.

NB. At some later point, you should go back to Application Manager and make sure that your phone is set only to install signed applications again. This helps to protect your from viruses and malware. You don’t have to do this quite yet if you’d rather get on.

Stage Three: How to use Zonetag and get the most of its functionality:
Okay. So you’ve installed Zonetag – what’s that got you so far? You should have just entered in your authorisation code, so you’ll still be using the Zonetag app. You’ll notice that there’s a button called ‘back’. If you click on that, the application will continue running on your phone in the background and be ready to do your bidding at any time. Click ‘back’ now. If you want to go back to Zonetag at any time you can navigate back to it through the folder called ‘My Own’ orand this is a cunning Nokia trick you might not knowyou can press and hold the button on your keypad which looks like a black circle and a white square caught in an existential vortex. That’ll bring up the application switcher. If you want to have a play with that now, then do so, although it won’t get you very much.

Now take a picture with your phone. Almost immediately after you’ve taken the photo a small dialogue box will appear asking you if you want to send the photo to Flickr. If you say no, it’ll just disappear. If you say yes, your phone will take you to a screen where – if you want – you can add tags, or change your default options or add a title. If you don’t want to do any of that, you can click on ‘upload’ and you’re done. Your phone will start uploading the photo to the Zonetag servers and then after a few minutes it’ll send the picture invisibly up to Flickr. In and of itself, I find that point, click, upload process pretty useful.

But it’s worth exploring those things in a bit more detail. If when you take a picture you click on the ‘add tags’ button, Zonetag will present you with a whole list of things it thinks might be relevant to where you are in the world, things that it has worked out from the number of the cellphone tower you’re in. Navigate up and down this list and click on the ones you think are relevant and click done when you’re finished and you’ll have tagged your photo in the wild.

If you really want to be hardcore, when you’re exploring the suggested tags, click left and right to bring up whole new catagories of tags including things you’ve used before, nearby venue names and events in your area. It’s all designed to make it as easy as possible for you to add useful information about your photos while you’re out and about.

There are also Action tags which can do a bunch of things including rotate your photos before they get to Flickr. It’s all quite smart. And if you’re interested you can also change your privacy options on the picture so that your mother doesn’t see all the dodgy things you’ve been up to. Having been to the Folsom Street Fair a couple of weeks ago, I can very much recommend using this option.

Stage Four: Using a GPS unit with Zonetag:
Okay, so you’re all set up and familiar with Zonetag, now how do you get it working with an external GPS device. This isfranklyludicrously simple although there is one annoying thing: first you have to go out and buy a Bluetooth GPS unit.

I’ve so far tried two of these – both bought from Tottenham Court Road in London, but also available online in the UK and US. The Holux device that I wrote about a few months ago was pretty exciting, small and accurate, could use a standard Nokia charger or plug into your computer via mini USB which was extremely useful in terms of keeping down the number of cables and stuff I had to carry around. But I’m not entirely sure after a block of time using it that I’d recommend it. The GPS functionality is pretty solid, but the Bluetooth stuff is not. I’d often find that when I started it up the Bluetooth just didn’t come online. If you look on the web you’ll find some people recommending that you keep it in the freezer. Apparently this helps it work better. I’m not sure that’s really the kind of way I want to live my life, and also it would be cold in my pocket so I’ve explored elsewhere and found one that works a bit more effectively.

Of the two I’ve used, I’d definitely recommend this one – the GlobalSat BT-338. It’s a little larger than the Holux and a little heavier as well, but it’s still pretty tiny (see the pictures below to get some sense of scale). It uses a non-mobile-phone charger and can’t use USB, but it has a staggering 18 hour battery life and it basically just bloody works. I’ve got better GPS accuracy than the Holux, it works in worse conditions and I’ve never had any trouble whatsoever with the Bluetooth. You can buy it from or from or from good nerdy shops.

Right, let’s assume you’ve got your GPS unit. Let’s have a look at it quickly and see what’s going on. Most of these devices (at least the screenless ones) have nothing on them but an on/off button and three lights. The top light tells you about the battery life of the device, and will glow red if the battery is low. The bottom one is normally blue and indicates if there’s any bluetooth activity going on – ie. if your GPS is communicating with another device. The middle light is the most interesting. Turn on your GPS unit and go and stand outside for a few moments. The light will start off solid and green and after a few seconds will start to blink and flash. This means that it’s worked out its position by using satellites in orbit and now knows where it is in the world down to a few metres and it’s desperate to share that information one way or another. Literally, to get this device working all you have to do is turn it on and stand outside for a bit.

If you’re interested in how it’s all happening, then Wikipedia has a reasonably good page on GPS but as far as I can tell it basically works by picking up radio signals from a number of satellites and working out the delay between when they were sent and when they were received. This allows the device to determine its distance from each of the satellites. The radio signal also includes information about the satellite’s current position, which allows the little GPS unit to triangulate its position anywhere in the world to within 15 metres.

Because the radio signals can’t pass easily through buildings, you’ll get a better signal when you’re out in the open in a place without too many very tall buildings around you, but some of the newer GPS units even seem to be able to maintain a positional lock inside buildings (if you’re relatively close to a wall or on the upper floors of a building. I’ve been very impressed indeed with the Globalsat on this front.

So you’ve got a functioning GPS device and a functioning version of Zonetag. You’re on the home stretch. It’s almost all done. Your final act is to combine the two. So start up Zonetag and click on ‘Options’. Now scroll down until you see ‘External GPS’ and hit start. Your phone will start to look for Bluetooth devices in the neighbourhood. When if finds your GPS device, select it. If your phone prompts you for a pairing code for your GPS device (this should only ever happen once) then try 0000 if you’re using the GlobalStat and then do a search online for your model number if that doesn’t work.

If all this goes to plan, Zonetag will attempt to connect to your GPS unit and will then start spontaneously displaying the data that the GPS device has about your location. From now on whenever you take a picture using the camphone and tell Zonetag to upload it, the photo will appear immediately on Flickr complete with all the geo information you could possibly want – maps and everything! Enjoy!

Let’s repeat that, just in case you missed it. Turn on your GPS device, turn on your phone and start Zonetag. Tell Zonetag to look for a GPS unit and when it’s found yours tell it to connect. Take a picture, say yes to the upload process and you’ve just uploaded and geotagged your first photo in the wild! Well done!

Anyway, that’s the end of my huge tutorial on every aspect of automatically geotagging photos with your phone. I hope you’ve found it useful and get as much fun from wandering around the place taking pictures of places and sticking them online as I have done. I really can’t recommend playing with this stuff enough. And once you’ve got yourself a GPS device there are all manner of other things you can start to do with it, including installing map software on the phone and contributing to Open Streetmap. But in the meantime start exploring the other photos that people have uploaded from their phones over on Flickr Maps: Photos tagged Zonetag on Flickr Maps. Here are some of my favourites.

Conference Notes Location Social Software

"UpMyStreet Conversations: Mapping Cyber to Space"

So. A bit delayed. Sorry to all concerned. I’ll post later about the experience of delivering a paper at Emerging Tech later, when I’ve had a chance to assimilate the whole experience, but if you’re looking for the PowerPoint presentation then here it is: UpMyStreet Conversations: Mapping Cyber to Space (5.7Mb). The paper was cowritten by myself, Stefan Magdalinski and Matt Webb.

“Mad props” to Webb by the way, who somehow managed to keep me sane through the whole thing and forced me to finish writing the thing by suggesting he might cause me physical pain – I’m a bit euphoric so I’m going to say that he’s one of my favourite people in the world at the moment. If people notice any hideous typos or mistakes through it, then let me know and I’ll amend it straightaway.

Journalism Location Social Software Technology

Don't write off Conversations as a geek toy…

So there’s an article in the Guardian today about UpMyStreet. The article is called Street Plight and aims to understand why the company is in administration. Now generally, it’s a pretty flattering article – and a fairly accurate one – but there are odds and ends that are a bit annoying. Nonetheless I’ve decided that I’m going to look on the sunny side and concentrate on phrases like “Upmystreet is full of brainy types” and “[UpMyStreet Conversations is] a bit like a pub”. Yes. I think I’d much rather concentrate on those than the the rather less flattering “Technical people become dazzled by their own wizardry” and “Frankly, you could have more scintillating conversation with a curtain”.

Sigh. It’s no good. It’s not working. So here goes. Here’s why Clint Witchell’ss comments on Conversations are unfair:

One – it’s unfair to take the conversations in any one particular area and claim they’re representative of the whole site. Like every other community, Conversations is only as interesting as the people who participate in it, but unlike any other community – every area gets a different degree of participation. Certain parts of the country are beginning to explore the uses of the site and get involved in serious debates. Other areas are using it to chat about local news and to find local tradespeople. Other areas aren’t using it at all. It’s early days. All I can say is that if you don’t like the conversations that are ongoing in your area at the moment but you can see the potential and value in a site that could help your neighbourhood engage with local issues – then don’t just sit there complaining and feeling superior – start a conversation and see what kind of responses you get!

Two – Conversations is a new product for UpMyStreet and it pushes the ways the site can be used into completely new areas. One of our aims was to try and develop the relationship between UpMyStreet and the people who use come to it – to make people more regular visitors and power users at that. I think we’ve had a certain amount of success with this kind of work, success that I think will grow as people get more used to the idea and start to use the site in different ways. It’s a process of development that aims to move people from simple information finding into treating the site as a bridge into their local neighbourhood. But we’re not all the way there yet. These things don’t necessarily happen overnight…

Three – just because you can’t see obvious commercial uses for the forums software doesn’t mean that there aren’t any or that we haven’t thought about it seriously! If we get the opportunity, you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about and all the commercial/charitable/political uses for the technology, but at the moment – unfortunately – we’re all a bit distracted trying to keep body and soul together! Bear with us! Have some faith!

Location Social Software Technology

On the Guardian and UpMyStreet Conversations…

There’s at least one clear analogue for the process of (1) getting exciting by a work project, (2) getting completely involved in said work project, (3) going at it like a mad badger and (4) collapsing exhausted afterwards. And the afterglow is at least equally pleasant. Today UpMyStreet Conversations finally comes out of beta and has been launched to the world at large by an article in the Guardian: The Square Mile. We’ve worked on a few small-scale UI tweaks over the last few weeks and we think that we’re getting closer to making the apparently simple concept easy to use and communicate. There area couple of tiny ones to come – but they’re really enhancements and should emerge over the next week or so. I doubt anyone will notice them but me.

The process of developing the UI and functionality of the site has presented some particularly interesting challenges which I’ve been mostly responsible for working through – along with Dan Burzynski (back-end programmer), Dorian McFarland (front-end programmer) and Stefan Magdalinski (who thought up the idea in the first place). Throughout the process my particular aspiration was to make it almost so obvious to use that people completely ceased to notice how novel it was. This involved paring down the message board functionality to its simplest core and concentrating on fully understanding the very distinct issues that a geographically-organised board might engender.

For example – most discussion boards operate with time as a major axis. This is so common that it almost doesn’t occur to people that it could be done any other way – new ‘topics/threads/conversations’ sit at the top of the page, and either (1) gradually deteriorate in importance through time (Metafilter,, Plastic – where the content to be discussed is timely and has a limited shelf-life) or (2) move to the top each time they are updated. Time has been the main way that all message-boards have come to be directed – and so removing it as the core organising principle of a board presents profound challenges to users. Core concepts evolved – the ‘here/now’ bar reflects the co-dependency of the two axes of geography and time – as you increase the time-scale you are investigating the more threads become visible across the country. This means that your ten nearest threads are likely to be very close to you. As you decrease the time-scale to short periods, the conversations become fresher, but (since they are selecting from a diluted stock) more geographically distributed. Our concepts of tracked threads as well also hopefully balance this desire to keep it simple and comprehensible while essentially building in a completely different view of the site on offer…

So that’s it – that’s Conversations Version 1.0 – and I think we’re all quite proud of how it’s turned out. And I’ll be more proud still if it continues to be useful and interesting to people…

Location Politics Social Software

In which I respond to a huge post about social software with a huge post about social software…

Must-read interaction/community techblog of the moment is City of Sound, a site that I found initially via the Slipknot be-hoodied Matt Jones. Our two otherwise independent vectors of interest have recently collided quite heavily around MP3s, list-making and social software, with – I think – some quite interesting results. Our latest interaction is around the issue of social capital – which is a current hot topic of debate around government and online community circles, and which I’ve been working on (in a kind of weirdly indirect way) on UpMyStreet Conversations. Dan (the author) has taken me to task quite reasonably about this statement that I made recently:

“(P)eople in cities are talking less and less to one another. In fact most of us barely communicate with our neighbours at all. And the vast majority of the social spaces that we all used to share have been dismantled or evaporated. So how can we expect communities self-organise? And how are they expected to join together politically? How can they protest about problems where they live?”

In Dan’s response he suggests that technology has already started to rebuild these communities of geography and that I was being over-dramatic to talk about all communication in cities being in a process of freefall decline. He is of course, completely right – and I have gone into astonishingly dreary detail over on his site in response. In fact when I clicked ‘submit’ it occurred to me that I’d written so much that it might have made a better post on – so I’m going to append it below in full. Forgive any typos or bad grammar – I’ll have a second look at it tomorrow and fix the most obviously horrific mistakes…

Actually you’re completely right, but I think if we look at these things in terms of their recent history alone we might lose some perspective. I’m going to go for a bit of a trip on a hypothesis-rocket now, so please bear with me if it seems based on completely anecdotal and speculative evidence – I’m about to read Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” about the decline in social capital in the States. Maybe that that point I’ll be in a better position to talk about this stuff…

At this thing on social capital and social software that I went to the other day with Matt Webb from people were talking about this decline in interactions in cities and urban spaces. People were debating the reasons for it, the connections between take up of “virtual online communities” and “interest communities” and the like – and some were in fact debating the existence of such a decline.

I’m going to contend that there has been such a decline in interactions and the extent to which we know our neighbours, but I’m going to argue that this isn’t an effect of technology like the internet – it’s an effect instead of technologies like television, technologies like the car and having a more mobile work-force. I’m also going to argue that it has something to do with population density and the impermanence of habitation for some people. So essentially I’m pushing this decline back over the last hundred years or so, rather than the last ten years. And I wouldn’t want to argue that everyone has experienced it either – I grew up in a village in the countryside where everyone knows everyone. So it’s not universal. But I think certainly in urban spaces it is a very real fact…

From what you’ve written above, it looks like my statements have been interpreted to mean that I think such a social decline is an inevitable effect of the technologies we’ve been using and that UpMyStreet Conversations represents (finally) a solution. But actually that’s miles from what I think. What I would argue is that rather than exacerbating the social decline, the internet (unlike many one-to-one communication technology) has finally started to reform the social fabric – to bring back communication between people on the basis of interest groups (and what could be a greater interest group than people interested in the area in which they live – now available to people without the social danger and anxiety of actual and immediate physical interaction). In fact I think I’d argue that the take up of this technology – of the community stuff of the internet – reflects a gap in our lives – a need for it – that previous decay in social capital has created.

In a nutshell… Social interactions based on neighbourhood have been deteriorating for decades – particularly in highly transitory urban areas. New technologies have connected us with huger, but more distributed interest communities, and have recently begun to facilitate and enhance those limited local geographical interactions that we still have left. And there is now a tremendous human need left unfulfilled that we can now meet. And UMS Conversations is one way for us to help do that… I think..

Location Social Software

Some of my favourite UpMyStreet Conversations

UpMyStreet Conversations is starting to pick up now, which means that I can start directing people to some of the best and most useful threads that I’m finding on it…

  • Congestion Charges
    Does anyone know when these are due to be introduced? What are the boundaries going to be>? And do we, as residents of London have any say on the matter?

  • Tired of the same old bars
    I’m sick of going to the same old bars near to work in the Tottenham Court Road – Holborn area. Can people suggest good pubs to help me out?

  • Mobile Phone Masts
    I live in a really built up area but the council have deemed it appropriate to put mobile phone masts on top of a nearby council block (Rochester Square). Although I have requested more info and research documentation from the Camden Council it is slow in coming and I wondered if anyone knew of any information sites that could give me more info on the threats of the masts…

  • Local Broadband (ADSL)
    Is there anyone else in the Breckland/Great Hockham area (Gt. Hockham exchange) that would like to see BT upgrade the local exchange to deliver ADSL to the local populace, if BT is to be believed there is virtually no interest in broadband for this area! I find this very hard to believe.
Location Social Software

Introducing… UpMyStreet Conversations…

So I can finally tell the world what I’ve been working on for the last few months – and in fact, more to the point, I can finally try and get some of you people to try it out.

UpMyStreet Conversations is a new kind of online community site for the UK. In some ways it’s almost anti-web. Where the web has “traditionally” been about uniting people on the basis of shared interests no matter where they live in the world, this site takes as its first assumption that people who live nea one another already have at least one shared interest – their local environment… But this interest is increasingly not catered for – people in cities are talking less and less to one another. In fact most of us barely communicate with our neighbours at all. And the vasy majority of the social spaces that we all used to share have been dismantled or evaporated. So how can we expect communities self-organise? And how are they expected to join together politically? How can they protest about problems where they live?

So this is the cool bit – it works on a really simple principle that scales and adapts really well to changes in posting. And while it’s geographically based, it’s not based on legislative or government boundaries. And a lack of population density doesn’t mean you’ll be sitting in an empty board with no one to talk to, either, because the posts you see reflects your local population density…

Well anyway… I’m not going to go into too much detail at the moment, because it should be pretty self-explanatory and i want to see how people engage with it… Let me know what you think