Google Maps with My Location

It's hard not to be bowled over by Google on an increasingly regular basis. Some people call them the new Microsoft, but they do something that Microsoft have never been very good at – they innovate. They reinvent. They do what the rest of us would like to do.

There is nothing spectacularly original in this new offering, but that doesn't mean that it is not innovative: GPS-less location finding on a wide assortment of mobile devices, integrated with local search, satellite imagery and (for a few US locations) real-time traffic info. This was one of the (many unfulfilled) promises of the semantic web. Of course, if you have GPS then it works fine with that too but, if you don't, Google lets you know where you are through triangulation of mobile towers, without telling anyone else (even Google) about it. The technologies are simple and have been widely used for years, but the organisational genius to make it happen and the mashability of Google technologies makes this a deeply exciting reality.

Combine this with OpenSocial and Google Gadget technology and suddenly a whole world of applications that benefit from knowing where you are become possible. I dislike the term 'Web 2.0' because it tends to be taken to mean a particular set of technologies, most of which have been around since the last decade. What it actually does do is to describe a trend, a pattern that reaches a new pinnacle of perfection in this new technology. Sun used to make a big thing out of the network being the computer, but they were only thinking of a network of computers. Now, the network is computers, other people, and the physical environment. This is a brave new world and we are privileged to see its beginnings. Suddenly it is easy to create applications that know who you are, where you are, who you know and where they are. In fact, we can even find people we don't know but should. Wow. And if we don't use it to rethink what we mean by educational institutions and learning communities, then we will be left in the dust by those who do.

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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