Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Our World From The ISS Puts Every Tweet from @Cmdr_Hadfield on The Map

I'm sure you know by now that Canadian Astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield is a tweeting maniac.

I've written about his social media exploits before and concluded that he has given NASA far more attention than they've ever had in the social mediasphere with his timely interesting tweets, constant banter with followers and stunning photos from space.

In fact, following his stream can actually be time consuming: there's so much content coming out each and every day that it's hard to keep up. And you never know when he might just tweet a picture of your hometown; like the time he tweeted a pic of Stephenville which is where my Dad's from. I somehow managed to catch that one and send it to my Dad, knowing he would get a kick out of it.

Thankfully, there are geeks out there who have us in mind. People with skills I envy, who look at Hadfield's Twitter stream and think: I should do something with that. And I should share it openly on the Interwebs. And thus was borne: Our World from the ISS.

Screen cap of Our World from ISS
Our World is a map-tweet mashup developed by Dave MacLean, a Geographic Information Systems prof at the Centre of Geographic Services at Nova Scotia Community College (yep, another Canadian!) that overlays all of Hadfields photos onto a map of the world. Surprisingly, this isn't as easy as throwing the tweet's GPS coordinates onto a Google map. To begin with, um, Hadfield's not on Earth. In fact, the process is quite labour intensive:
Image locations (latitude and longitude) are approximate, based on (1) description in tweet text, (2) general "look" of geography, and (3) "reasonable fit" in Google Earth &/or ArcMap. 
The routine is: (1) read tweet from @Cmdr_Hadfield, @AstroMarshburn, or related to ISS; (2) determine lat-long; (3) fill-in a Google Drive spreadsheet with date, tweet description, tweet source, picture URL (same as clicking short the URL in the tweet), long URL (has no text, simply URL to photo), and lat-long; (4) when this map opens, it reads the spreadsheet and displays a click-able satellite icon at each lat-long.
[Aside: I totally had no idea you could do that with a Google spreadsheet! You can even access step by step instructions of using a Google doc for map mashups based on MacLean's experience managing this map.]

That's a lot of work when you consider the volume of tweets Hadfield issues on a weekly basis. Now despite the kewl factor of being able to click the little ISS photos and seeing the original tweet and photo, and the sheer volume of items listed, I think my favourite part of this app was actually hidden at the bottom of the details tab, where MacLean cites his personal mantra:
"a picture is worth 1000 words; a map is worth 1000 pictures; a GIS is worth 1000 maps"
Indeed it is.

(Source: Ottawa Citizen)