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07 November 2005

 

Geotagging Web Pages and RSS Feeds...

Geotagging Web Pages and RSS Feeds

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Providinggeographic metadata in Web sites and syndicated feeds can provide userswith the ability to search easily for services and articles based onlocation and proximity.

My previous article discussed howgeolocation by IP address enables applications and Web sites to determine users' locations automatically inorder to provide specific location-based services to users and members of an on-line community. In thisarticle, we present various methods by which Web sites can provide their geographic locations to static pagesand syndicated feeds, in the form of meta information or geotags. Putanother way, geolocation by IP address is the technique a Web site uses to determine where users are located;geotagging is the technique users employ to find out where a Web site is located.

Geotags typically locate the Web site's principle location on the Earth. This information can includelatitude and longitude information for exact locations or simply city, region and country information forgeneral locations. Web services, applications and users then can query this information to obtain directions(how to get from here to there), locality (what's near there) or context (where was this article written).Geotags differ from a simple address in that they usually are encoded in metadata and are not visible as partof the Web page. Furthermore, by following a standard, other services easily and reliably can find thesegeotags. Various semantic Web projects still are solidifying geospatial tagging standards, but severaltechniques already have become common and supported. This article presents these current techniques.

Why Geotag?

Providing a geographic location is beneficial particularly for retail and service businesses, touristattractions and entertainment venues. Geographic link directories, such as A2B and Multimap, can index theseservices by location and allow users to search geographically as well as by service type. Currently, many ofthese services limit users in their selection of available services. But, it would be possible to allow formore complex queries, such as searching for "Italian restaurants within 2 miles of downtown Arlington,Virginia". Or, when using automatic geolocation, one could ask for "directions from my current location tothe nearest theater".

Current location-based services rely on the Web site administrator registering with an on-line index andspecifying its location. Some of these services charge a fee, and many are not used commonly, nor are theycross-referenced. Google is now beta-testing GoogleLocal, a free engine that allows users to search for location-based services using complex queries suchas the examples above. Unfortunately, Google Local probably uses a form of scraping instead of metainformation, considering that the 2002 Google Programming Contest winner's entry, by Daniel Egnor, is a geographic search which: "includes a geocoder (... to turn street addressesinto latitude/longitude coordinates), a simple indexer that looks for addresses and keywords in documents,and a query engine to search for documents matching certain keywords that also contain addresses within acertain distance of a target location". Still, Google Local is an excellent example of how providinggeographic information on a Web site greatly can enhance its visibility and usefulness to potential customersand users.

Geographic metadata also is useful for bloggers and photographers. Traveling writers, travel writers andreviewers can give context to their articles by supplying specific geographic information about where theyare writing from or where the business they are reviewing is located. Photographers can provide viewers withinformation necessary for better understanding the photograph by informing them of where it was taken.Environmental services are now beginning to offer syndication feeds for weather and earthquakes. By geotagging these feeds, aggregators could sort, search and display information byregion and location. As a result, users would gain a better picture of the current events happening in theirareas.

By embedding a geographic location in the metadata of the Web site, applications and Web-based servicesquickly and reliably can determine the site's location relative to search criteria. Using metadata preventsthe confusion of an automated search bot having to determine the location from the site's text. The rest ofthis article discusses the techniques used for embedding geographic information in your Web site orsyndicated feed.

Geotagging a Web Site

For a Web site, several means of geotagging are available. My previous article explained how to embed thesite's geographic information in its DNS entry. Other options also allow this information to be placed withina site or each individual page. These are the older ICBM tags and the newer, more generic geo-structuretags.

The ICBM (original acronym is Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) tags derive from a more historicalapplication, as described in the AntiOnline jargon dictionary:

(Also 'missile address') The form used to register a site with the Usenet mapping project, back before theday of pervasive Internet, included a blank for longitude and latitude, preferably to seconds-of-arcaccuracy. This was actually used for generating geographically-correct maps of Usenet links on a plotter;however, it became traditional to refer to this as one's 'ICBM address' or 'missile address', and some peopleinclude it in their sig block with that name. (A real missile address would include target elevation.)

ICBM tags are limited to latitude and longitude and do not include other regional information, such ascity or country. From Matt Croydon's PostNeo, the RFC(request for comment) of the syntax is as follows:

  <meta name='ICBM' content="latitude, longitude" />

This tag would be included in your Web page's <head> section.

Another means of embedding geographic metadata is through geo-structure tags. These geo-structure tags caninclude latitude and longitude information as well as regional information and an extra placename. Theplacename could contain the specific address of the person or business. Or, it could be useful for providinga location that may not have a specific point but covering a broader region, such as a city or district. Thefollowing example is for the Museo Nacional Del Prado, in Madrid, Spain.

<meta name="geo.position" content="40.4157;-3.6947" /><meta name="geo.region" content="ES-M"><meta name="geo.placename" content="Paseo  del Prado">

I obtained the geo.position information using Multimap, given the address provided on the museum's Webpage. The geo.region uses the ISO-3166-1 Country Names and Region Names specifications. For the US and Canada, this is theabbreviation for the state or province; it varies in other countries. All together, the code for my Web sitelooks like this:

<meta name="DC.title" content="High Earth Orbit" /><meta name="ICBM" content="42.4266, -83.49307" /><meta name="geo.position" content="42.4266;-83.49307" /><meta name="geo.region" content="US-MI"><meta name="geo.placename" content="Northville">

As mentioned in the introduction, Multimap provides a location service that offers hotels located withinthe area of the maps you have selected. This service is provided by the Accommodation Search Engine Network. The Web pages on the ASE site employ the use of commented-outtables to hide the geographic information. The Multimap Web service then pulls this information from each ofthe hotels' Web pages or backend databases. This method is not recommended, however, because it is notstandard and is difficult to use for applications and other Web services. An example of this block is shownbelow:

<!--<a name="geo"></a><br><table>  <tr class="bg2">    <td class="head2">Geographical Information:</td>  </tr>  <tr class="bg1">    <td class="text">      <span>Accuracy:</span>Property<br>      <span>Lat:</span>39.894337<br>           <span>Long:</span>-83.807657<br>          <span>TimeZone:</span>Eastern<br>    </td>  </tr></table>-->

Geotagging an RSS Feed

Besides geotagging a Web site, it is possible to geotag the source of an RSS feed as well as theindividual articles. By geotagging each article, your feed can provide entries from various locations. Then,these entries can be displayed on a map where users can read about locations that interest them.Alternatively, by geotagging the source of the feed, a directory or opml file could provide feeds based onuser-selected locations.

The Resource Description Framework Interest Group (RDFIG) has published a solidifying standard for the geospatial vocabulary. Itincludes specifying latitude, longitude and, optionally, altitude. This is similar to the geo tags discussedabove, with small syntactic differences. Furthermore, the RDF requires you to specify an XML namespace(xmlns) for the WGS84 geodetic reference datum.

<rdf:RDF         >  <geo:Point>    <geo:lat>55.701</geo:lat>    <geo:long>12.552</geo:long>    <geo:alt>52.4</geo:alt>  </geo:Point></rdf:RDF>

The ICBM standard discussed above also can be used in tagging an RSS feed. Again, an XML namespace is usedto specify the keywords of the file, and the tags are included either in the header or within the item tags.Here is example from the USGSEarthquake feed of events over 2.5 on the Richter scale in the last 7 days:

<rss version="2.0" ><item>        <title>M 3.7, Southern Alaska</title>        <description>January 02, 2005 03:55:52 GMT</description>        <link>http://earthquake.usgs.gov/recenteqsww/Quakes/ak00043775.htm</link>        <icbm:latitude>60.4780</icbm:latitude>        <icbm:longitude>-152.4355</icbm:longitude>        <dc:subject>3</dc:subject>        <dc:subject>pasthour</dc:subject></item>

Finally, some Weblog services may prevent users from adding new tags to RSS feeds. In this case, it isacceptable for some sites and packages to embed the geographic information in <dc:subject> tags, asshown below:

<?xml version="1.0"?><rss version="2.0"  ><channel> <item>        <title>Example Title</title>        <link>http://site.com/geo</link>        <description>Example Description</description>        <dc:subject>geo:lat=33.00 geo:long=-44.54</dc:subject></item> </channel> </rss>

Several Weblog packages already incorporate the ability to specify a geographic location within an entryas well as for the entire Weblog. This geographic information then can be included for users when reading theWeblog through their browsers or through their own aggregators. Each entry, when posted, is assigned either adefault location or is given a new location. The following is an example of the geotagged RSS feed generatedby Wordpress v1.2:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?><rss version="2.0"                                         ><channel>        <title>High Earth Orbit</title>        <link>http://highearthorbit.com</link>        <description>LinuxJournal Example</description>        <icbm:latitude>42.4266</icbm:latitude>         <icbm:longitude>-83.4931</icbm:longitude>   <copyright>Copyright 2005</copyright>        <pubDate>Wed, 05 Jan 2005 18:54:47 +0000</pubDate>        <generator>http://wordpress.org/?v=1.2</generator><item>        <title>Sample Title</title>        <link>http://highearthorbit.com/index.php?p=121</link>        <pubDate>Wed, 05 Jan 2005 18:54:47 +0000</pubDate>                        <category>Sample Category</category>                        <guid>http://highearthorbit.com/index.php?p=121</guid>        <description>Sample Description</description>        <geo:Point>                <geo:lat>42.5021</geo:lat>                 <geo:long>-83.1454</geo:long>        </geo:Point>        <icbm:latitude>42.5021</icbm:latitude>         <icbm:longitude>-83.1454</icbm:longitude></item></channel></rss>

For more information on other particular Weblogs, check out the Worldkit Documentation.

What to Do with Geotags

Now that your Web site has been geotagged, what can you do to share this information with users and havenew users find your site? A2B is the new incarnation of the defunct geourl.com. A2B allows Web siteadministrators to register their sites. From there, users can search for sites based on location orgeographic locality to another Web site. It may be interesting to find out what other sites and places can befound in your area.

A2B also provides a free public APIthat allows application and Web site developers to query the A2B database of locations. The A2B query doesnot return the actual location of the Web sites, however, merely their distances and directions (compassheadings) from the queried location.

To find out the latitude and longitude or city and region of a Web site, the user can view the Web site'smeta information. To illustrate this, we have written an extension to the Firefox browser that alerts usersthat geotags are available for the Web site currently being viewed. The extension also retrieves thatinformation without the user having to look at the Web site's markup source. Download and install the extension to tryit out for yourself.

Another index to check out is WorldPress. For RSS feeds, MapBureau and Michael Maron's WorldKit Mapper have on-line mapper applications that parse out the locations from your feed anddisplay them on a map. It then is possible to embed a link to a map of your feed in your Web site.

Other applications of geotags include creating a Web page of closely related Web sites, similar to a Webring, and display their locations on a map of the Earth or a specific region. A restaurant review Web page,for example, could display a map of their reviewing regions, and users could click on locations to readreviews of the restaurants located there. Furthermore, travelers could pull up Weblogs and travel informationfor the area they will be visiting. Hopefully, larger services similar to Google Local or Multimap will bedeveloped that automatically will collect and use this information to provide users with a large database ofservices.

Future of Geotags

Geotags currently are not employed widely, and only a small number of services support their use. However,many could benefit from better geographic knowledge of Web sites and on-line data. Applications could providea central location to assist users in finding out about their locations or intended travel locations. Inorder for this to occur, a better standardization of geospatial metadata must be created, utilized andsupported by the Internet community. The W3C SemanticWeb is such an effort to standardize the extension of Web data. Many groups across the globe are workingtogether to create enhanced definitions (see Resources). Part of these efforts is defining a completestandard for geospatial tagging and for supporting other location-based services. With this work, the futureof geotagging will provide better integration between the digital world and the physical world.

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Great Article, got me started on geotagging

Yourarticle is an excellent reference for anyone wanting to geotag theirown content. However, I also wanted to be able to tag any content. Ifinally figured out how to do this and I've written up a quick HOWTO: geotag anything article.
Many thanks

Great article, helped me roll geo tags into my system

I have a site creation service, 5minutesite.com,that is tailored to small, local businesses. This article gave me theinfo I needed to add the code needed to automatically add geo codes tothe sites my service creates.

If anyone sets up PPC ad campaigns in the US for local businesses,you might like to check out a tool I created to help build localizedkeyword lists.
Local Keyword Generator

Thanks!

 
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