Monday, July 07, 2008


The beauty of the internet is that when you write about things you're interested in, you get to meet other people interested in the same things. A few days ago I wrote a few thoughts about geocontent. deprimer commented on my article and pointed me toward Socialight.

Socialight is probably the closest thing yet to what I've been writing and talking about for years. It's a site that allows you to easily link content to a specific geographic location. Within 3 minutes of arriving on the site, I had an account, and had created my first 'sticky'. A sticky is a way to say, "Hey, this content is useful to this location."

There are several things Socialight is doing right. You can mark information public or private. It's very simple and intuitive to use. There are 'channels', which allow you to create or find stickys related to a certain topic. And of course there is the social side built into the site, you can follow other people's stickys or channels, rate stickys, and tag them.

I've just played with the web side of Socialight, but they have a JAVA and WAP version that apparently works on almost any phone.

As far as what Socialight might be able to improve upon...Currently you can only add text and images. I'd love to be able to add audio, video, or a link to relevant content already on the web. I know that there will be some issues involved with bandwidth trying to pull down video over a cell phone, but ultimately this is the goal. I also wonder if there might be a way to sync up stickys before you leave on a trip. You could pull down the audio and video on your broadband connection, and then sync them up with your cell phone.

I'd also love to see Socialight automatically sync up all of the wikipedia articles that have GPS data already built in. This would probably be a time/effort intensive project up front, but once completed, would prove invaluable. Many articles already have GPS coordinates or street addresses, so it would merely be a matter of downloading wikipedia, stripping out all the articles that don't have this information, and slapping them all up on the map. Of course, there are some articles that don't have GPS data that would still be useful to link up. The article on George Washington, for example, could be linked to the place he was born, where he is buried, where he lived, etc.

And while I mentioned the site was very easy to use, and intuitive, I did find there were a few user interface issues that seemed a bit clunky, but they are almost not worth mentioning.

Finally, I think there is one other thing I'd like to see, but I'm not quite sure how best to describe it. I think Socialight is a great step toward seeing geocontent really take off, but it needs something more. As I've thought about what that more is, I asked myself why I'm not anxious to go and add a bunch of stickys. Finally, I have a site that does just what I've wanted a site to do, so why am I not online creating a bunch of geocontent?

I think the answer lies in ownership. When I create a web site, I own the content. I know that I can take my files from one hosting service to another. I know that if Bluehost goes down, I've got the files and can put it up somewhere else. While I may put my pictures on Flickr, I've also got them on my hard drive, and can put them up on Panaramio, or Picassa online. For me personally, when I create these geocontent items, I want to keep them. I want to be able to put them on a disk and give to my kids, or friends. I want to be able to use them in one program or another, just like a .html file can be opened with dreamweaver, a browser, or even notepad.

Maybe that is what I want, is a file with an extension that can be read by Socialight, by an application on my desktop, or on my phone. While I will very likely use programs like Socialight to share my geocontent, for me I also want to have a backup just in case. Because I feel like a lot of the content I will be creating will be something I'll want to pass down to my kids. And to just put them up on a website doesn't seem secure enough. If I interview my father about the town where he grew up, I don't want that information lost.

And if the platform is 'open', meaning people can take and tweak what can be done, then you start to get a whole slew of really cool applications start to evolve.

I don't want to end on a negative note. I think Socialight is very slick, and you really should go check it out. Add firemeboy to your friends list, and let me know if you set up an account. I'm looking forward to the many cool things that are going to happen as we link up content and location.


deprimer said...

Matt - thanks for your comments. Your thoughts about Socialight and our evolution are invaluable. I loved your idea about ownership of Stickies - it's definitely a core issue with social media at the moment.

If you read our TOS carefully [I know, nobody ever reads them ;)], you'll see that under the Content section, we state "You retain all of your ownership rights over any information or material you provide to the service (Content)."

This means that you're free to access your content anywhere in any way you like. Right now, we don't have our own Socialight file format, so we try to support industry standards like GeoRSS and KML. This means you can get all your notes out at any time using any feed reader which can parse RSS & KML feeds. If you'd like to see this in action - just check out your profile feed, available from your profile page.

If you've got time, ping me about the minor UI issues that bug you and we can fix them.

Matthew Buckley said...

I just dropped you a not on Facebook. The more I play with Socialight, the more I like it. It's a great site.