There’s a tremendous article on the BBC showcasing an upcoming television program, that encapsulates so much of what fascinates me right now as mashups don’t just focus on bringing together different online data sources, but take real-world information, whether that be people or things, and bring that information into software applications.  What’s even more interesting, is how this in itself creates an "architecture of participation", a suite of data that can be visualised over time, and from which insights can be gleaned that themselves may lead to innovations.

"Britain from Above" will be first broadcast in the UK on Sunday 10th August, at 2100 on BBC One, and features some stunning visualisations of data captured and overlaid on Britain itself.  In this short video clip on BBC iPlayer (I’m not sure if this will be geo-locked to the UK or not) you can see some tremendous examples:

  • Watch the shipping channels through the straits of Dover; satellite imagery overlaid with all of the day’s shipping as a computer visualisation
  • Watch every flight in and out of the UK, flying through stricly controlled air corridors, and observe where and when the most "stacking" of flights occurs waiting to come into land

I think the examples that I find most intriguing however, are the GPS tracking of London taxi-drivers; the drivers leverage the main thoroughfares, but as congestion begins to peak, you can observe the myriad of rat-runs and short-cuts that emerge through the backstreets of London.  Many SatNav companies are now starting to track this data to offer different recommended routes from A to B according to time of day and historic data.  What’s fascinated me for some time however, is how cars themselves become packets of data on real highways, communicating their recent journey segments, weighted by the collective opinion of other cars who have also passed the same routes, so that the network of cars themselves communicate route congestion much like ants communicate as they pass each other in lines, or other redundant networks are able to intelligently record, replay and re-route to avoid congestion.

I first encountered this idea of smart networks a loooong time ago when writing my University dissertation on "The Enabling Technologies of the Trunkl Network" (a dissertation that discussed some technology called ADSL that might become popular  in the last-mile of the copper telephone network amongst other things) amongst a myriad of British Telecom research papers around "Intelligent Networks" and intelligent switching and routing of traffic for video and audio.

The final example in the above clip is of the way "London wakes up" by visualising the patterns of telephone calls that take place in the UK.

Increasingly as I meet with customers around strategies and visions for the future, there’s ever more desire to create architectures that can bring real-world information into online applications, whether that be for improved visualisation to support real-time decision making, or physical information that can be combined seamlessly with rich and interactive applications. 

When we talk about Rich Internet Applications, we consider not only visually-rich or interaction-rich, but the richness of data.  When we think about creating architectures of participation where the wisdom is not just gathered from the crowd, but from the accelerometers, the GPS transceivers, and the myriad of other sensors that attach hardware to meatware to software.  An example I often use that really embodies the idea of hardware, connected to humans, that leverages a software architecture through which a data and visualisation and interaction rich experience can be delivered, is the NikePlus collaboration with Apple and iPods.

In your experiences, are there other applications where "meatware + hardware + software" is a recipe for innovative visualisations, data platforms, or overall digital experiences ?