Last night, I opened my favorite mobile phone App, Pandora, and listened to my favorite music. Suddenly, an advertisement window popped out and showed me an election campaign message from one San Diego Mayor Candidate. I was surprised that these advertisements are so spatially “targeted” and it works. Yes, I lived in San Diego, but I am connecting to the Pandora server probably hundreds miles away via the Internet where the distance doesn’t matter, right? I was wrong. Every mobile phone or tablet device connected to the Internet has an assigned IP address. Each Pandora’s customers are sending their devices’ IP addresses to their servers. These IP addresses can be used to trace where these devices are located within a city or even within a zip code. One company, called “Maxmind”, can provide a lookup table database to convert any IP addresses to latitude and longitude on our earth. I tried it last time to track my home desktop PC and the Maxmind’s result is only three miles away from my true home location. That’s why your recent web advertisements are very “local”. The IP addresses have realized our virtual users and virtual world into a real location, a real city, or a real voter.
Scary? Yes, but that’s the way it is now. All internet connected devices must have assigned IP addresses, either IPv4 or IPv6. Some devices have GPS enabled functions, which can provide more detail locational information. Knowing where are your customers means “money”. That’s why the location-based services (LBS) is becoming a huge industry now and Google, Microsoft, and Apple are all trying to find the holy grail now.
The value of spatial information was highlighted in the recent special report of the Economist, “Technology and Geography” http://www.economist.com/printedition/specialreports?year[value][year]=2012&category=76982
I enjoy reading this special Issue and their discussion about the essential role of “geography” and “spatial reasoning” in our digital life. When more and more people use smart phones and mobile devices, more customers will be targeted by using GPS devices, social media communications, and IP addresses.
I would like to share with you the following quote from the article “a sense of place”. “Even the devices in use today are already producing huge amounts of data. Most of these data are, and will continue to be, generated in cities, because that is where the phones, cars, buildings and infrastructure to which they relate are concentrated. If those data are combined and analysed, they will make cities better places to live.” (Allan Sanders, 2012).
The information or “messages” created by these mobile devices are big data, and very valuable for human beings to understand ourselves. This is the major goal of this NSF-CDI project, “Mapping Ideas from Cyberspace to Realspace”. The top figure is the conceptual framework for analyzing these big data (social messages from mobile devices). When a user tweets or writes a wall message on Facebook, the content of the message is closely related to WHERE the user is (home? Office? Restaurant? Out of town?) and WHEN the message is sent? (morning ? one weeks ago? October 21, 2012?) When we combine millions of these social messages, we need to understand the inter-relationships among “Place”, “Time”, and “Messages”. Since I am a geographer, I think the “Place” is the key to help us understand these complicated relationships and patterns. I will explain more about the three key factors in the next few blogs (hopefully).
Ming from San Diego.