Geography 2.0: Virtual Globes

AAG2007 Virtual Globes Logo

Monday, March 20, 2006

Conversations with maps

While watching the video of the AAG2006 virtual globes sessions, I heard Microsoft's Tim McGrath mention the ability to share and manipulate maps within MSN Messenger. Actually, McGrath used a phrase like "users can have a map tug of war." I went online to try it out, but unfortunately, none of my contacts were online. For readers with friends, this 30Sep05 MS Live Local blog entry describes how to share and manipulate maps using MSN Messenger.

Not to be thwarted, I did a websearch for the terms "map", "shared", and "chat". In the results, I found an AJAX/Google Local implementation from The site allows shared map manipulation during chat, but I was the only site visitor.

Last, I noticed that a somewhat similar site,, recently went live. Mapable allows users to create georeferenced chatrooms. The mapable chatroom does not allow shared map manipulation; the site geolocates users, posts a marker at their location, and their chat messages appear next to their markers. For an example, you can visit the site, or a test I created here.

chatroom from

I will withhold substantial analysis of these conversations with maps, other than the following few sentences. The primary purpose of maps is to encode and communicate spatial data; the ability for multiple users to interactively manipulate and share geographic information in real time is a powerful form of communication. Given similar functionality in virtual globes, I can imagine: taking a classroom of students on an interactive virtual excursion to Yellowstone; discussing site location and decisionmaking among widely-spread builders, suppliers, planners, and stakeholders; scientists meeting online to examine the evolution of hurricanes; and dispatchers and field personnel allocating and placing resources, in precise, possibly non-geocoded locations, during an emergency.