Saturday, July 15, 2006

Running, Geographic Information, and the Power of the Collective.

It's the weekend, so let's have something less serious. I took up running in 2003 and even though that is rather late in life I have really caught the bug. This is me with my son after Pittsburgh's Great Race in 2004.

As many runners will tell you (usually ad nauseam if you let them) it can be very relaxing and a cheap and easy way to get and stay fit. I started running because cycling wasn't enough of a workout. I was about to visit Wuhan, China for a second time and needed a convenient way to exercise in a foreign land. I am looking forward to running in Winter Park, though I am guessing that I will forego my Pittsburgh lunchtime runs and instead run in the early morning. If there are any runners out there who are looking for a partner, let me know (8.5 minute pace, 27 miles per week.)

One of the best sources for new running routes is America's Running Routes from the US Track & Field Association. Finding a reasonable route to run in a new place used to be very hit and miss, maybe you could ask the Concierge at your hotel, or be lucky enough that Runner's World would feature your destination in On The Road. The USTAF site changes that. America's Running Routes is also a good example of the convergence of two digital information trends: geographic information and collective development of resources. Sorry, I couldn't resist bringing this back to libraries and the information economy!

At the consumer end of geographic information systems (GIS) we are seeing things like Mapquest, Google Maps and Earth, and cell phones with GPS ("With a Cell Phone as my Guide" New York Times 6/28/06 C1 go here for access from Rollins) that enable users to link spatial information to other types of information and services in realtime. In the academy GIS is having a major impact not only in the disciplines one might expect, like geography and geology, but throughout the social sciences, archeology, the health sciences, and beyond.

A well known example of the collective development of resources is Wikipedia an encyclopedia that has been written, edited, and constantly re-edited, by those who visit the site. Another example is the open source software movement that seeks to harness the collective wisdom of the group and open access to, in this case, software without added licensing costs.

The USTAF application brings both of these trends together. Users are able to create (by marking routes on maps or satellite images of an area provided by Google Maps), describe, and share their own running routes, which is valuable to them because they can see how long the route is (if they don't already know) and gain prestige by adding good routes. Other users can rate and review existing routes. Each route, rating, and review adds value to the database as a whole, which becomes far more than the sum of its parts by harnessing the power of the collective. As of this date there are over 49,000 routes, up from 30,000 at the start of June. There are 25 in Winter Park alone. Rather than relying on the experts at Runner's World to develop, evaluate, and publish routes, interested individuals create and evaluate routes themselves and are able to do so at a much faster rate.

Actually, this is nothing new in the world of information. What is a scholarly journal if not a collection of individual articles selected, written, edited, and critiqued by a community of scholars that are far more valuable as a collection that as individual articles?

No comments: