Monday, October 20, 2008

CMS, meet the Great Outdoors

I'm a big fan of mashups. A mashup is where you take one tool, combine or mash it up with another tool, and you're left with an altogether brand new toy to play with. I like mashups because they bring together experts in different content areas. A good example is Flickr's geotagging tool. You have people who take pictures, and you have people who love fiddling around with GPS devices. You mash these two people together, and the next thing we know we're all geotagging our photos.

It's been over a year since a post I wrote hit slashdot on the subject of linking content to location. I've been thinking about the topic for probably over 3 years. It occurred to me that a good way to visualize the system I'm proposing, is by understanding how a content management system (CMS) works.

The basic idea behind a CMS is that is solves the problem of too much data. Let's assume you have a lot of stuff, like electronic text, images, links, video, and more. You have all this stuff that you want to share with others. You could just put it all on one really big massive html page, but what if you have 10,000 items? People would have a hard time sifting through all the content to find the one thing they want to view.

Enter a CMS to save the day. With a CMS you can upload all your stuff to the system, and then choose how you want to display it. You can display information hierarchically, where content is stored in categories and sub categories. Or you could do it linearly, where people first see one topic, then move on to a more complex topic. Or you could sort it by date created, file type, keyword, etc. The beauty of a CMS is that you can have thousands of pieces of content, and then sort it by one or even all of these methods. One person can view the content by date uploaded, while another person could browse the same content from the same repository, but do it by topic.

A good example of a CMS is the site I work on, USU's OpenCourseWare site. We have thousands of pieces of content, but it's sorted by topic and by lesson, and is easily navigated.

So, how does this pertain to the geo-content idea? We just mentioned that a CMS allows you to sort information based on several methods. Now imagine that the earth itself becomes a CMS, with users access the information via their GPS enabled smart phone. This Global CMS would display information based on your location. Instead of sorting by date or file type, it sorts by where you are on the planet. If you're driving on a freeway it might display information found on wikipedia's site regarding the freeway system. It might also display information about the city/state/country you are currently in. It might display information about the flora, fauna, and wildlife in the area. It could tell you about the history of the region, or famous people who were born, or passed through this part of the world. This information would be useful and relevant because of your location, not based on something you searched for. You would find 'hidden knowledge' that you were not aware existed.

You can go out and buy a CMS. Or there are a lot of really good ones that are open-source (USU uses educommons, which is open-source). What we don't have is a system that would allow us to create and access this global CMS. We have WordPress for blogs, we have Plone for a web based CMS, but I think it's time we get ourselves a CMS capable of building a Global CMS.


Jon Mott said...

Maybe iPhones / Smart Phones / Android Phones are the platform for the Global CMS? I just got an iPhone and I miss one thing about my Windows-based Smart Phone--its browser supported Google Gears. One of the cool Gears features on a Smart Phone is that it would detect where you were and serve content & search results based on your location. I'm sure Android will do this. What about the iPhone? Safari doesn't support Gears. I hope it does soon . . .

Anyway, I like your idea of place-relevant information and data. I think we're closer to it than we realize . . .

Matthew Buckley said...

Ah yes, I forgot that little piece of information. Yes, the information would be accessed on a GPS-enabled smart phone. You would be able to either download content before you left for an area you are visiting (in case there is no network access), or if you've got access to the internet, you would just download information right where you are.

A lot of people now have video players in their car. Imagine if instead of watching The Little Mermain for the 100th time in the car, they can instead download and watch National Geographic / History / The Learning Channel videos about the area they are driving through.