The Beauty of Interactive Maps and Visualization

I am traveling in Europe this week to refresh the batteries and take a breath.   For most of this week I have been in Berlin staying with my fiance’s brother in Kreuzberg, an off center neighborhood, 20-30 minutes away from many of the cities most visited sites.   When I landed, we took a cab to their loft, because the other option would be to take a bus to a subway to another bus, and that seemed a bit daunting.  The first thing we did was get an international SIM card for my iPhone so we could have a phone and data service without being gouged by our American carriers.

And that’s when Berlin opened up to us.

We say this over an over again, but mobile is inherently local. It’s a link to information as you move around your day.   For just 10 Euros, I know had access to every train, every bus, every schedule and optimal routes to get everywhere just by putting a destination into Google Maps.   What once was daunting, became simple.  Uncertainty of not knowing a new place faded away.   With GPS, we could always confirm we were going in the right direction.   With Google+Local listings, we knew what hours stores, museums and restaurants were open.  Google+Local saved us twice from going to a place that had since been closed (from our online research of things to do).  All of that information in my pocket.

I look at a lot of the great innovations of late and they are about visualization.  About helping people see things in new ways.   Visual voicemail on the iPhone radically changed the way we get our messages.  No more *337.   Touchscreens and tablets allowed us to zoom in, move and interact with what was being visualized on the screen, creating a whole new lexicon of gestures and how we interact with information.   Even Pinterest or Instagram are both new ways to visualize photos en masse and share them.

I think maps and local are the next great frontier.   Being able to translate the physical world around me and connect them to information I need.   Whether it be attractions, reviews, products, pricing or simply recording my life maps can help us visualize and navigate our world in new ways.   For the first time, I used Google Maps to “save locations” before my trip.  This put stars all over my map so wherever I was, I knew if there was someplace nearby I had wanted to go to.   It made daily planning simple and efficient and as a result I was able to see more of the city.

Now multiply one person’s input into thousands or millions.  Look at Waze or FourSquare as examples or imagine taking a treasure trove of new data inputs and overlaying them with map data.

Mobile is local and I am looking forward to how interactive maps will further change our lives.  I find myself increasingly relying on them, even in my home town of New York.  It’s because the data is richer, there is more to discover and I can continuously learn more about the world around me.  Here is a great article from the BBC to get you thinking about the possibilities.