Let's keep photography and mapping mashable

by Doc Searls

Many people have suggested that I submit some of my many aerial photos to Google Earth. I'd love to do that, but after looking at the instructions for adding photos, especially the "acceptance policy", I have to wonder if it's worth the effort, or even the Right Thing To Do.

First, I have to upload photos into Paroramio, which was bought by Google earlier this year.. Since I've already uploaded 17,310 photos into my Flickr account, I'm not in the mood to do that again, least of all into a silo'd service — which Panoramio appears to be, while Flickr is not... at least not as much as Panoramio.

For an idea of the difference, compare Flikr's many APIs with the single one offered by Panoramio.

Thanks to Flickr's openness, every one of my many photo sets on Flickr is also usable in a complementary service provided by Tabblo. That's why every one of my tabblos (montages) are composed of shots I've already uploaded to my Flickr account.

I love that Tabblo and Flickr both recognize that the online photo marketplace is bigger than both of them, that the photos in their archives are the property of their contributors, and that those photos should be under those contributors' control. Open APIs such as Flickr's allow users (or customers) to move photos form one service to another, on an as-needed basis. In the argot of the Identity Gang, the customer gets to federate his or her own photographs between different photo services. (Federation is a kind of sharing with the user's or customer's permission.)

But Google Earth appears to be forcing me to upload to Panoramio, if I'd like my photos to appear in Google Earth.

Now, in an ideal world — that is, one where the Net is truly symmetrical, peer-to-peer and end-to-end — I would rather do the federating myself, from my own photo archive, with my own APIs. That way I could federate selected photos to Flickr, Tabblo, Panoramio and whomever else I please. In fact, that would probably make things easier for everybody. But that's a VRM (vendor relationship management) grace we don't enjoy yet. In the absence of that, we need more open APIs between services such as these, so customers' photos can be shared at the vendor-to-vendor level.

Then there's the "acceptable use" business. Panoramio says "not selected" photos include thirteen bulleted items, including "Underwater or aerial photos similar to the satellite images from Google Maps". Well, most of the images I'd like to submit are taken from airplanes, at heights ranging from runway level to 40,000 feet. None are from the heights enjoyed by satellites, and very few are shot straight down, in the manner of satellite photos, since they're shot looking out the windows of passenger planes. Still, the rule says similar to. What is that?

I could go to the trouble of setting up a Panoramio account and try my luck after a few uploads, but I don't want to waste what little time I have. That's one thing I love about Flickr. The labor and time involved in posting and commenting on photos is very low. Tabblo has also made it very easy to assemble montages of photos, and to print them out in various ways. I'd like to see Panoramio and Google Earth operate in the same market-friendly mash-em-up way.

Maybe they do and I don't know it. Ya'll can help me with that.

Meanwhile, the photo/mapping market is a (literally) moving one for me. Specifically, I'd like to geotag every photo I take that's within sight of GPS satellites. I have two Garmin handheld GPSes and two little portable bluetooth GPS receivers that can transmit raw data to devices that know what to do with it. Far as I can tell, those do not include my Canon 30D digital SLR. They do include some Sony Cybershot cameras, however. I know that because somebody loaned me a Sony GPS-CS1, which is built to use only where Windows and Sony proprietary silos intersect, so it's useless to me. But still, its existence points the way toward geotagging of everything that might require it.

The politics of APIs are are not easy or uncomplicated. (Follow that last link to visit one example.) But I would think that services built on Linux and other open components — as are Flickr and Tabblo (haven't checked on Panoramio yet) — would veer strategically toward making photography and mapping as mashable as possible. I'd like to encourage that.

So I'll stop there and let the rest of you fill me in on what's open, what's not and where you think the whole photo/mapping market needs to go as the technologies of both increasingly intersect and overlap.