You can't hide; 'geotagging' will find you

Why your next camera phone will know its place

The geotagging vision

The geotagging ideal is for a digital camera or camera phone to always know its location, and automatically and instantly add the exact location to a picture's metadata, just like time and date are now added to all the photos you currently take. Location information can later be "read" by software that can do powerful things.

To do that, handset makers, software developers, carriers and others must all work together to support the greater cause of geotagging.

Invention isn't necessary, per se. All the technologies exist to make this ideal happen. Autogeotagging combines the use of a phone's camera, GPS and data transfer capabilities, as well as the ability of the camera to encode coordinate data.

One obvious use for geotagged photos is to organize online galleries by map. But automatically geotagged photos would enable you to:

-- Perform enhanced indexed searches. If you need to find a single photo on your PC, geolocation readable by a search tool would be a huge help. At the time I wrote this, for example, I had 47,450 JPEG photos on my PC. Most of them have file names like "PICT0012.JPG," "DSC01814.JPG" or "IMG00015.jpg" depending on what camera or phone produced them. I often try, but fail, to find a specific photo. But if I could add geographic information, for example, tell my search engine to find all the pictures I took in 2001 while in Chicago, I would almost always find the pictures I was looking for.

-- Use your camera phone to remember locations, such as where you parked your car, or where you found a great restaurant. By geocoding the picture, you could later browse through photos, identify the location by sight, then have software on your phone pick up the location information and give you turn-by-turn directions to get back.

-- Use your camera phone to communicate locations. Take a picture of the front of a restaurant, then send that photo via text messaging to a friend. Simply type "meet me here!" and the other person's phone could read the geotag of the photo to receive turn-by-turn directions.

-- Send postcards that automatically place themselves on a map. Everyone likes to share travel stories and photos. Geocoded vacation snaps would let software automatically place them on an online map. Isn't this how you'd like to share your vacation snaps?

-- Upload pictures to your GPS, and have them autoassociated with waypoints. That way, you can choose common locations, such as "home," by simply selecting one of the photos on your device, which is faster and safer than typing in an address.

Camera phones that automatically geotag photos -- as well as other cool and related products like digital cameras that geotag, GPS devices that take geotagged pictures and others -- are coming to a pocket near you. First they'll show up in the high-end, "prosumer" market, and be used by gadget freaks, camera nerds and geocaching types. But soon enough, geotagging functionality will become standard fare in most cameras.

I don't recall where I was when I took my first film photograph, my first digital photograph or my first camera phone picture. Do you remember your first photos?

I do know this: You'll definitely remember where you were when you snapped your first automatically geotagged camera phone picture. The picture itself won't let you forget.

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