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Tyler Bell On Yahoo's Open Location API 76

blackbearnh writes "Yahoo! has been working for a while to promote a unified system for referring to places, through their Where On Earth IDs. Using a WOEID, you can query Yahoo's publicly available APIs to find out things like what cities are in a county, or what counties border each other. In an interview for O'Reilly Radar, Tyler Bell, the product lead for the Yahoo Geo Technology Group, talks about their Open Location program (not to be confused with openlocation.org, a different group altogether). He also talks about how privacy concerns interact with the increasing use of personal geotracking, and the troublesome problem of what to call places. 'I'm not even going to tell you about the problems we had when we accidentally called Constantinople Byzantium, just slipping back about 800 years there accidentally. That's a very sensitive issue. Any company dealing with geography is going to have to address it somehow. So I'll be very candid in how Yahoo addresses this. I mean first, our stated goal is to capture the world's geography as it is used by the world's people. We don't see ourselves as the definitive authority on how a place should be called.'"
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Tyler Bell On Yahoo's Open Location API

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  • I just engage in triangulation by yodeling repeatedly with my buddies to establish locations.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @09:08PM (#27580807)

    So take me back to Constantinople
    No, you can't go back to Constantinople
    Been a long time gone, Constantinople
    Why did Constantinople get the works?
    That's nobody's business but the Turks

    • Evr'y gal in Constantinople
      Is a Miss-stanbul, not Constantinople
      So if you've date in Constantinople
      She'll be waiting in Istanbul
    • This isn't just funny, it's true! If they are having a PR problem, it can't be because they are calling "Constantinople" Byzantium. That little switch happened about 1700 years ago. He goes on to say it's still a very sensitive issue, well I bet it is. He just pissed off the Turks all over again. Keep up the good work dealing with those sensitive PR issues...the song make a catchy little mnemonic if you need help keeping it straight.
    • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
      we accidentally called Constantinople Byzantium, just slipping back about 800 years there accidentally

      Byzantium was the name from ancient (abot 660 BC) times until about 330 AD, when it was named for Constantine I, as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

      And Constantinople became Istanbul in 1453 when it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.

      I don't know how "800 years" fits into any of that. He seems to have forgotten about modern Istanbul completely, if he ever knew. I hope his geography is better th

      • I hope his geography is better than his history or maths.

        Not really very likely, is it?

      • by AdamHaun ( 43173 )

        Turks called the city Istanbul before the conquest, and many people still called it Constantinople afterward. See Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] for more. Still, 1453 is a reasonable boundary. I bet the guy meant to say "600 years" but got confused.

  • Simple test (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @09:18PM (#27580923)

    Always a fun test of any geolocation system:


    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      Taiwan is an island in China. I don't think you'll find any disagreement about that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by !coward ( 168942 )

        *raises hand* Sorry, Taiwan is an island _in_ China? Umm, so Hawaii is an island _in_ the USA?

        The ambiguous way to go, without actually offending anyone, is to say that Taiwan is a chinese island (which China is another matter), or an island in the Sea of China, or even that it is an island off the south-eastern coast of China.

        • Your post advocates a

          ( ) technical ( ) legislative ( ) market-based ( ) vigilante (X) political correctness

          approach to not offending China. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work...

        • "without actually offending anyone"

          except for the non-Chinese aboriginal population (ob. you insensitive clod).

      • by mb0 ( 1168691 )
        Yesterday i had the same problem. I read http://www.gwytb.gov.cn:8088/detail.asp?table=WhitePaper&title=White%20Papers%20On%20Taiwan%20Issue&m_id=4 [gwytb.gov.cn] which states the official Chinese view of the situation. For a better introduction see http://www.wufi.org.tw/eng/timovmnt.htm [wufi.org.tw] .
        • by jrumney ( 197329 )
          Perhaps you should look for something that states the official ROC government's position rather than a fringe pro-independence group within Taiwan. Or look at the official positions of the governments of the world ("what they say" rather than "what they do") - all recognize either PRC or ROC, never both, even if in practical terms every country treats Taiwan as if it were an independent nation.
          • by mb0 ( 1168691 )
            Your are right, and the word 'better' is misleading. But i still think both of the links are interesting, especially because of the obvious bias. And after reading both nobody would disagree with you and maybe even learn a bit why this issue exists.
    • by anothy ( 83176 )
      guy i worked with was doing an internal directory system for a major multinational telecom equipment manufacturer. one of the functions was giving information about various corporate locations in long-form text.
      we had a manufacturing facility in taiwan. he anticipated the issue, so did what he thought was the best option: he used the official ISO standard on the subject. should be safe, right? nice international standard, and the name even gets picked by the entity represented. so who could argue with that?
  • Interesting to see a personal geotracking API. I am just wondering how will this be any different than having Google maps installed on your cell phone. There are at least a million users with Google maps installed on their GPS enable cell phones. If yahoo intends for GPS tracking and plotting, a garmin esque service or really what there intended market is.

    I can see the usefulness as a meta information gathering tool for a certain area. So perhaps it is more like a free TomTom service but mixed with historic

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It may be only that they're only trying to make another mapping service. While that seems pointless given Google's lead (in time and talent), Yahoo may see it as crucial to their own relevance to advertisers to expand into geographically sophisticated results to queries. They may believe that the appoaching mobile-device dominance means not being able to relate things spatially will seem like an internet with a 'sense' cut off. Also not all of their effort will duplicate Google's. A few innovations, patents

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by plover ( 150551 ) *

      It's not just "yet another mapping service." He's saying that the service will provide spatially relevant information, that the API will add value to the information (from both Yahoo and user-contributed sources), and how overcoming the difficulties isn't as simple as scratching out a few requirements.

      One example might be if I searched for "ATM" and I was on the freeway when I made the request, it would search for ATMs around the nearest exit ramp instead of the nearby store on the other side of the fen

    • I am just wondering how will this be any different than having Google maps installed on your cell phone.

      Maybe it won't suck?

  • ok I actualy really like yahoo maps...

    google maps look pretty but they are not that fast compared to yahoo flash (.flv) maps for certain things

    and frankly their fire eagle stuff blows the socks off the rest

    BUT this feels much like the http://www.geonames.org/ [geonames.org] and frabkly I prefer to use geonames I would have thought it would be much better that yahoo actually did something like this allowed people to download the data and provided a web service...

    I prefer geonames because its open and well frankly works


  • Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by slashtivus ( 1162793 ) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @09:45PM (#27581209)
    Finding what cities are in a county? Finding bordering counties?

    This has already been done. I have 6 year old software that could do most of this. And in that software it was already old-hat. It's called GIS.

    TIGER data (free from the Federal government / census) has it, as well as many other (non-free) sources.

    Re-creating all of this from scratch seems a lot like re-inventing the wheel.

  • Ummm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dodder ( 1410959 ) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @09:49PM (#27581247)

    Isn't this also known as latitude and longitude? Or is that too 20th Century?

    • Or is that too 20th Century?

      I don't know what the 20th century has to do with it, I couldn't tell you my current latitude and longitude back in 1999. However, I could tell you that I'm currently in San Ramon, California, which is just east of Castro Valley and south of Danville. This would probably be a hell of a lot more meaningful to you. Even if you didn't know any of the places I just told you about, you could easily look them up.

      Personally, I think it would be really useful for me to enter the s

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Long-lat will only get you position not the name or the contained geographical names -- what they do is actually pretty cool -- they will tell you that Rome is in province of Lazio which is in Italy which is in Europe, and they will tell you that down to zip level and tell you what the names is of all the surrounding areas on each level.

    • So you know your WOEID? I could have sworn the article was talking about using a unique identifier to identify places that had nothing to do with their names because the name could potentially change.

      And pretty sure long/lat is a little more precise than zip code, pretty universally easy to look up for any location and more amenable to wildcard searches and approximation.

      "Yahoo! has been working for a while to promote a unified system for referring to places, through their Where On Earth IDs. Using a WOEID

  • Is he saying he referred to Constantinople as Byzantium, or is he referring to Istanbul as Constantinople within the Byzantine empire? Either way I'm sure will irk the Turks.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Fred_A ( 10934 )

      Either way I'm sure will irk the Turks.

      Advanced Diplomacy end of year exam : "Find a topic that will not irk the Turks".
      You have four hours.

  • About Yahoo's Open Location API, is not to talk about the embarrassing mistakes that you made because you failed both Geography AND History.
  • Is it me alone? But why do I always think that Yahoo's ventures including this particular one, are always false start...or better put..."dead on arrival?"

  • How this mix with GeoNames [geonames.org] or MaxMind [maxmind.org]?

    All are diffenent, but some way to standarize data?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    > WOEID With a name like that, the product is doomed to eternal... oh wait.
  • We don't see ourselves as the definitive authority on how a place should be called.

    I should hope so. As far as Australia goes, geotagging photos on Flickr is a frustrating process. When it doesn't get the suburb right, and you click "See other nearby options", you'll be presented with a random list of other suburbs and municipalities, none of which are anywhere near the actual location. It's atrocious.

  • Cyprus (Score:2, Informative)

    The road maps in Cyprus don't acknowledge the fact that half the island is effectively another country. There's just a vague wording saying "Area inaccessible due to Turkish Occupation". How do you plan a route round that without upsetting anyone ?

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