What is a map?  In traditional cartographic terms, a map is “a graphic representation or scale model of spatial concepts” that is “is a means for conveying geographic information.”  The traditional map is static, representing geographic features at a specific moment in time. Antiquarians preserve old maps as pieces of artwork, snapshots into bygone eras, fossilized records of the world that was.


Technology products and services are challenging this traditional conception of cartography, however.  Mobile devices in concert with social location are redefining what a map is or can be:

Mobile devices like the iPhone or Nokia N97 increasingly come armed with built-in GPS. Forrester analyst Charlie Golvin predictsthat within five years, phone-based navigation will supplant dedicated portable navigation devices like Garmin or Magellan among consumers.  This will be due to massive adoption by Gen Y and Gen X consumers who are increasingly reliant on their mobile phones and who will demand social networking and other connected services integrated into their navigation experience. 

Social location shows promise as the next natural phase of mobility – and for social networking overall.  Forrester analysts Ian Fogg and Thomas Husson write about the promising, if currently nascent, world of social location. As the CEO of Nokia said earlier this year, “"Imagine what can happen when we mash up social networking and your location, when your device knows where you are, where your friends are and what they are doing. Your social location, or SoLo, will become your here-and-now-identity."

At last week’s Nokia World conference, these trends became more vivid, as Nokia rolled out a video of application scenarios for social location. It begins with “Lifecasting,” whereby consumers can publish their current location (along with positioning) to their network of friends on Facebook:



Ovi Lifecasting by Nokia: Video

Using Google Maps on iPhone with a Tom Tom App or Lifecasting with Nokia’s Ovi are at the vanguard of the social location trend.  But social location holds the promise of:

Changing how consumers make social media updates.  It’s no longer simply “what am I doing?” but, rather also “where am I doing it?” Photos and videos tagged to these locations in term help others find you – or provide a richer place-aware map for them when they follow your footsteps at the same location at a future moment in time.

Altering the way we think of maps altogether.From traditional cartography (from the time of Ptolemy), maps changed little until Encarta (1993) and MapQuest (1996). Google and Bing Maps superseded MapQuest, but remained tethered to the PC until the age of mobility and GPS. The next step?  Mobile map mash-ups, which open up opportunities for targeted mCommerce as well as new forms of social navigation and coordination.  Imagine assessing the density of the crowd at an event on your mobile device – and finding the empty spot, or stepping right into the thick of things, depending on your personality.

Eroding the distinction between reality and representation.  The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once predictedthat representations (like maps) would eventually precede the physical reality and that – and the distinction between reality and representation would break down. For some drivers, GPS maps have achieved “precession” status – specifically, when the maps are wrong.


When tech-savvy, Gen Y consumers think of a map, will they think of a static sheet of paper – or of an application delivered on the device that’s always in their pockets?