By Carl Howe
On Morning Edition today, National Public Radio had a thought-provoking piece on how GPS receivers are changing the relationships that consumers have with geography. Avid hikers and map-readers use GPS to explore new routes and vistas. The directionally-impaired, on the other hand, now have new confidence they can actually get to their destinations without getting hopelessly lost.
But most interesting, I thought, was a question posed at the end of the piece about the mapping databases behind these GPS navigation systems. Who will own our geography? Will latitude and longitude mappings to businesses, points of interest, historical landmarks, and natural wonders be a public resource (like today's Internet), or will those mappings be for sale to the highest bidder? Said another way, when you ask for directions to the best outlook over the Grand Canyon, will you hear about the wonders of the view or will it be brought you by Fedex or the local Burger King?
Perhaps it's time to revisit to proposal made at the turn of the decade for a .geo top level Internet domain. Internet domain names created an international database of Internet addresses without any one central controlling agency. We could do worse for a public way to map our real world. And if we don't? With Google (GOOG) Maps and Google Earth already compiling much of this data, Google might end up owning our world instead.
Disclosure: Author is long GOOG.