Wikis, the Semantic Web head to the streets

Wiki maps for cities coming soon

While drivers are accustomed to using traffic reports to assess road conditions, pedestrians who navigate cities are typically left without aid to determine the best route. But researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology using wikis and the Semantic Web look to change the way people map and navigate their cities.

The Wiki City project, run by MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory, aims to apply wiki technology to the map-making process. The project's ultimate product will permit anyone to upload content to a map and utilize Semantic Web principles to cross search multiple layers of information.

Wiki City Rome, an early incarnation of the project's user-generated maps, used GPS (Global Positioning System) and cell-phone data to produce a real-time map during an all-night festival held in the city on Sept. 8. A Web site featuring a satellite image of Rome displayed event locations and the position of buses and pedestrian traffic in real time. Buses equipped with GPS devices fed their locations to the project every minute while cell-phone data was constantly received to show how crowds were moving around the city. An image of the map was also projected in one of Rome's main squares.

"If people know about the state of their environment in real time (as opposed to a static map), they can make better informed decisions about how to move about in the city which in term increases efficiency," Kristian Kloeckl, one of Wiki City Rome's team leaders, wrote in an e-mail interview.

Wiki City Rome served as an initial step in the Wiki City project. Future projects involve introducing the wiki city concept to other cities that have partnered with the SENSEable City Laboratory. The list currently includes only European cities because their public transportation networks and outdoor spaces correspond with the project's aim of studying how people react and move about in public spaces, Kloeckl said. But the project is applicable to non-European cities, he said. He mentioned that a Boston area furniture company is interested in placing displays in their products that would show a wiki city map.

Wiki City reseachers ultimately want to introduce full wiki concepts to the project and allow any person or business to upload information to a map, Kloeckl said. The wiki method of permitting anyone to add any information lends itself to fraudsters. One possible resolution involves introducing a ranking system similar to the one eBay Inc. uses with sellers.

"Users supply the rankings. The system is completely independent. People gradually acquire reliability. This approach would be the most coherent for this type of structure," Kloeckl said in a telephone interview.

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Fred O'Connor

IDG News Service
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