Augmented Reality and (truly) Social Data

This is the first part of a two-part post concerning the use and development of augmented reality and the future of the information ecology around this new form of social web application.

Given the recent dust-up over data portability, openness and the iPhone App Store, I realized that it was fitting that ReadWriteWeb brought up the same concerns in a recent post about Augmented Reality.

Augmented Reality (AR) is the idea that you can receive additional information about what you are seeing (or what your mobile phones camera is pointed at), in real time via through your mobile device. RWW compares it the military’s Heads-Up Display (HUD)–an extra layer of information about what you’re seeing, applied directly over your field of view.

This is certainly already happening: Google Android phones already provide location information to video applications, and it is anticipated that the iPhone will receive an upgrade this fall to do the same. But concerns remain over who’s version of “reality” you will be seeing when you boot up your phone. The most visible version now is Layar, an open-platform that encourages developers to create their own “layers” that are then made available to the community through the Layar browser on your phone.

That idea, one of community-driven and, ideally, portable layers of AR is the most open and heartening plan. But, as with most open projects, the business model is perhaps not as appealing to investors as a juicy proprietary format and private data that can be resold (think Amazon Kindle’s reluctance to adopt open e-Books). The RWW post sums it up this way:

It’s a lot of Wow and skepticism right now, but in the future it could be a thriving ecosystem of rich information about the world around us. Or it could be a closed, proprietary (literal) lens through which we view the world – unable to change the way we view that world or see it as others do because our accumulated knowledge is trapped inside one platform and inaccessible from others. Or there could be a plague of spam that overwhelms our view-finder into our physical surroundings.

Internet Map (2007)

Supporting the layers of augmentation that may or may not appear across your smartphone in the near-future lies what is perhaps an even more pressing concern for this openness and data portability: social data. The open and social world that web 2.0 applications have allowed us so far are only the tip of the iceberg, and though AR platforms like Layar extend the “social” aspects of data that is available on the web, the data being exploited are still created on top of objects that are, in a sense, proprietary since they require conformity to platform-specific (in this case, Layar’s) specifications.

They are working towards allowing their content to be open and portable and that is encouraging, but as far as I know, the different layers are all separate, and there are certain “featured” layers coming from web services like Google, Flickr (Yahoo!), and Wikipedia. Enter FluidDB.

FluidDB is a project designed to “create a database with the heart of a wiki.” Essentially, they want to provide an information architecture that is based on truly social data–data generated and exploited in a truly open way. The whole blog post they’ve written is more enlightening than just one paragraph, but this one starts to explain:

Data will only be truly social when you can work with it in the kinds of ways we work with information in the real, non-computational, world. In the real world we don’t ask for permission to have an opinion on something, to add to the ball of information surrounding a concept. Our needs don’t have to be anticipated by programmers. We can share information as we please. For example, nobody owns the concept of Barcelona. If I want to essentially “tag” Barcelona as being hot, or noisy, or beautiful, I just do it. I can keep my opinion private, I can share it with certain others, I can hold conflicting opinions, I can organize things in multiple ways at the same time and give things many names.

An interesting premise to be sure, but what does it really mean for us as information professionals, or even passive consumers of this emerging technology? That is what I would like to get into tomorrow. I will ground these ideas in something more meaningful for you and the information world to take into Labor Day weekend and the start of a new school year.


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