ViewRanger buddybeacon and Media Geo-tagging

Social Hiking currently only uses the ViewRanger’s buddybeacon feature to create your route and link media. Since the public “launch” (it was more like a switch on than a launch!) a number of people have asked whether the site could also use geo-tagged media.

Keeping it Simple

When Social Hiking was created, the original idea was to try and keep things as simple as possible. For Offa’s Dyke I needed to keep my mobile running for 13 days straight, so the plan was to avoid as much battery usage as possible (and to have several Powermonkeys to charge and use!). I already used ViewRanger, and with the release of their BuddyBeacon API, this meant I could access my location data without using another app.

For Twitter, I wanted to tweet by text – this has the double advantage of using less power but also not requiring a data signal (even a ropey single bar of signal would do!) . However doing this means you have no ability to geotag tweets, which is how the concept of using timestamps to “fake geo-tag” came about.

Obviously for other media, such as twitpic, you do need a data signal (I don’t think you can submit them by MMS yet!). However, again to minimise battery life, I used dabr – a web based twitter client.

Creating Routes

To create a route, you need a list of geographical points in date order. Date order is important here – if the points are in the incorrect order your route becomes a mess.

This is the first problem with using geo-tagged media to build (partially or completely) a route – unless your app is also saving the timestamp the media was created (rather than the timestamp when it is received by the server), then you do not have sufficient information to use that as a point on your route.

A few examples:

Audioboo (certainly on Android) saves the time the boo was recorded as well as the time the media was received by the server. This means that even if you do not upload your boo until you reach civilisation and a decent data signal, the boo will still get added to your route in the right place (and could in theory be used as a point on the route).

With Twitter however, there is only a “created at” timestamp. Whilst this may, if you have a particularly clever app, be the actual creation time, it is more likely to be the Twitter server time when the tweet is received, and as such cannot be relied upon to create a point (especially if you are also using buddybeacon).

Where Am I?

It is a fairly safe assumption to make that ViewRanger beacons are accurate – the app will not send a buddybeacon if the GPS has not locked onto your location (unless you manually override it).

The same however cannot be said for other apps – most of which are designed to try and locate you as and when required (whereas ViewRanger is designed to locate you permanently). I know from experience that this often means media is incorrectly geotagged.

This is the second major problem with geotagged media – if it is not accurately geotagged, your routes will be at best fairly inaccurate (if the phone is using signal triangulation) and at worst completely inaccurate.

As an example, I have been keeping an eye on @PhilOutdoors who has been geotagging his tweets today. Phil is based in Scotland, but his tweets have appeared to have come from: China, Sunderland and Florida USA (a few were roughly right – but still plus/minus 40 miles)!

The Way Forward

As it stands at the moment, I am unlikely to fully integrate geotagged media into Social Hiking as a means of building routes for the foreseeable future. I think it will cause more problems than it will solve, and ViewRanger’s buddybeacon does the job perfectly.

That said, I also appreciate that geotagged media can add value to routes – especially if you are only sending a handful of beacons a day (media is only linked to the beacon received in the last 30 minutes). I can therefore see a potential to add a layer to the maps which show geotagged media as points (but not using them to build a route).

As such, from today Social Hiking will now also collect location data from geotagged tweets (and shortly from audioboos). Once there is enough data, I will see how the data matches with beacon data and will eventually add an extra layer to the maps.  As other sites are added to Social Hiking, this feature will also be rolled out.

Should, in the future, geotagged media becomes more reliable, then additional functionality can be rolled out.

Let me know if you have any questions, queries or suggestions by commenting below:

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6 Comments on "ViewRanger buddybeacon and Media Geo-tagging"

  1. tookiebunten says:

    I may be reading this wrong “As such, from today Social Hiking will now also collect location data from geotagged tweets (and shortly from audioboos). ” Does that mean I don’t need viewranger as long as I tag my tweets and I have geo location on then social hiking will pick it up? Or am I just not reading it correctly?

  2. daylightgambler says:

    Ah no sadly not – Social Hiking is collecting this data, but until I see how good the data is, nothing will happen with it for now……

    What would be really handy is if, on your next hike, you use geotagged tweets – I can then look through the data and maybe put together a sample map to see how it looked!



  3. ukmase says:

    I think keeping it simple is the best way to get the site off the ground, a complex list of bugs etc may put off potential users.
    I am now wondering if i should set the beacon to 15 min intervals or upload them manually.
    I plan to use the iphone and a power monkey, getting a recharge should not be a problem on the GGW.
    I will set the iphone to full charge tonight then see how long the battery lasts with the beacon set at 15mins.

  4. daylightgambler says:

    Hi ukmase – for Offa’s Dyke I used 15 minute intervals and it was a pretty accurate representation (10 minutes seemed too much).

    With 15 minute intervals, tweeting by text, taking photos, uploading twitpics and receiving twitter replies by text, the Nokia X-press Music could last for 15 miles or so without needing any charge.

    My experience with my HTC Hero (more like iPhone in terms of battery life) is that it needs charging towards the end of the day to keep going for the duration.

    I would probably be tempted to reduce frequency rather than relying on manual beacons – media needs a beacon in the last 30 mins, so 30 minute intervals would produce an ok route with all the media linked!

    Ultimately the initial setup of the site was designed for how I intended to use it, so there is a little trial and error in making it work for everyone!


  5. tookiebunten says:

    No problem will no doubt be out somewhere over the weekend so I’ll switch on the geotagging (if i remember 😉 ) and hashtag me tweets. Once it’s done I’ll let you know the data is there to trawl 🙂

  6. daylightgambler says:

    Perfect – thanks!

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