Amazon's new A9 Visual Yellow Pages is exactly the kick in the head I needed to get back into my thesis project. It's so tantalizingly close to what I'm working on, and it's here now, and it works... really well. At first I was a little depressed that A9 beat me to it, but then I realized that they also got the jump on Google's CityBlock Project at Stanford, so it's not quite so harsh a blow.

After the initial shock of seeing such a robust prototype, the limitation of an automated mapping strategy is starting to become clear. It's a fundamental problem with relying on GPS that Malcolm McCullough points out in Digital Ground. Just because I'm ten feet away from another person doesn't mean that person is in the same office as me, or even in the same company. They could be on the other side of a wall, or on another floor. In Amazon's case, tons of locations have nondescript store fronts, or are above street level. A9 includes the ability to upload new images of a location, but it remains to be seen whether people will or not.

Matt Jones is pretty quick in pointing out the potential for taking this sort of technology off the desktop and into the mobile environment. That's pretty much what I'm doing here at CMU. For my thesis project I'm focusing more heavily on user-submitted images from camera phones and designing the system around exploration rather than discovery, but the basic idea is the same. That on a human scale, people understand pictures of their environment more readily than maps.

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