Transparent Google

Google launched what they call “Google Dashboard“. In essence it is a place where you can see explicitly which information about you (your user account) Google has stored. Additionally the dashboard provides abilities to change settings related to the different information – such as turn off sharing etc. Essentially this provides a more transparent way of finding what Google knows about you. Take a look at the video embedded for more explanations on the Google Dashboard.

So, the system isn’t very revolutionary – it probably isn’t going to be the “new youtube”. However what is interesting is why Google made this. Why is Google interested in providing you with this information? For one several users may just use it to turn off or delete information in a far easier way – which is not of Googles interest. So why take this risk? Well, I think it’s because Google users are becoming more suspicious about what Google stores. In their lack of knowledge on this the users turn over to competitors which may provide them with less quality services. The quality of the product is thus less important than the insight into how the product is provided, for instance which information is stored about you. I think this is the reason why information transparency is essential in modern, complex enterprises – where the lack of insight into how the enterprise works is a crucial parameter for the customers to choose the enterprise. One enterprise I believe could benefit from this easy information transparency is hospitals. Complex, almost magical, enterprises where the “customers” often lack trust and insight in what is actually happening.

What do you think?

Map interface for bus routes

Ever found yourself struggling to figure out the bus routes when you are planning to get from A to B?

Obscure bus stop names are almost a de-facto standard, at least in Norway – and quite often they do not have a name (or any other identifier) at all. Even if you know the bus stop name from where you are going to take the bus and the destination, you don’t always know where these stops are.

In Trondheim a natural language system has been developed called BussTUC (Buss The Understanding Computer) or more commonly “Bus Oracle”. Here you can write, in natural language, a question about bus routes. I.e. “When is the next bus from busStopA to busStopB?” and similar. The answer is quite good, and is correct according to the current routes.

However, the problem occurs when you don’t know the bus stop name – but you know where you want to travel, or approximately where you want to travel.

To better fit this Atle and I developed a prototype of a map interface to BussTUC. In essence it is a map where you can click where you are and where you want to go. The system then finds the nearest bus stops to this and suggest the closest, all represented visually in the map. While using the map interface to input where you want to go, suggestions of relevant query to BussTUC are suggested – and a link to submit the query is provided.

The system currently knows about almost all bus stops provided by Team Trafikk and works quite well.

Extensions to the system are:

  • Enable for mobile devices – primarily location-enabled devices
  • Add the spatial route-data suggested by BussTUC in the map (i.e. draw the actual route)
  • Speed up BussTUC or develop own route suggestion system based solely on spatial information

Suggested improvements (numbered for identification purposes only):

  1. Display all nearest markers regardless of selected (emphasize the one selected) [Thanks to anders]
  2. Enable user to define “near” using circle (or similar + visual representation
  3. On the fly display of near markers when hovering mouse (i.e. indicate what to expect from query)
  4. Enable user to config how many markers to display near a point
  5. Clustering/star-shaping overlapping markers (ClusterMarker)
  6. Visual-magnifier over selected areas (i.e. similar to: Map Magnifier)
  7. Retain simplicity of system, regardless of functionality (i.e. enable configuration)
  8. Release Open Source (CC, Public Domain, limited license?) [Atle, Magnus]

The system is developed in PHP, JavaScript with a PostGIS enabled database. Source code is available by contacting me or Atle. Give it a try and give some feedback!

Screenshot of BussTUC map interface
Screenshot of BussTUC map interface

The system is (unfortunately) not affiliated with Team Trafikk and is a prototype not designed to scale very good.