I don’t know about the rest of you who have your own blogs, but I seem to add many more items to my list of things to write about than I get around to finishing, so my list just grows. Here is one item that I am finally catching up on and which I feel even stronger about than when I was first writing it up several months ago.
I've found a particularly compelling example of the power of mashups. Here is one of those capabilities that you think you understand quickly and then, as you think about it more, you come up with whole new possibilities on how to make use of it. Truly an enabling technology for me!
Intrigued? I’m referring to the recent release of a combined set of tools (in itself a mashup) called “Photosynth,” which was developed at the University of Washington and by Microsoft Research. Photosynth can take a large collection of photos gathered through a browser search for example, analyze them for similarities, and display them in a reconstructed three-dimensional space with each of the individual photos properly registered to their respective location in the 3D model.
For example, type in the word “Notre Dame, grab all the photos that come up, and run them through Photosynth, which will then display them in a reconstructed three-dimensional space.
As is often the case, seeing is believing, so I strongly encourage you to first take a few minutes (7:42 to be precise) to watch this video of a TED Talk given last year (2007) by Blaise Aguera y Arcas, one of the main developers of the technology,
Photosynth provides an enormous enhancement of automated registration and metadata tagging, finding the commonality of images, the creation of these 3D models, and the network effect that comes from combining photos from any source. As you begin to understand it better, start to imagine how powerful this new means of creating 3D models from existing information (photos) is, and how it enables design to start with what is already in existence and then work from there, by subtracting and adding to it.
Among other things, this type of technology enables you to zoom in from “outer space” down to earth using tools such as Google Earth and MS Virtual Earth, and then when you get to ground or street level, you can start looking around any area with not just satellite imagery but the added information from thousands or millions of photos from “you and I” that are posted up on any of the many online photo storage services.
Think about this for a minute, and you'll start to understand that this means we can now go INSIDE of buildings by “seeing” things through all the photos which are stitched together to create these 3D models and have each photo registered in the right place.
Watch the video clip below to see a fascinating depiction of a scenario where Photosynth is used to help solve a crime.
How could this form of a mashup-creating tool be applied to teaching and learning? You and your students could build some amazing history, geography, art, or other learning resources on the fly on an as-needed basis. You could reconstruct a field trip after the fact or set out on a field trip with the express purpose of capturing a location of interest, and then you could construct these highly detailed models from all the photos. Just imagine the new collections (or “synths” as they might be called) that would start showing up by the thousands and then millions as this kind of technology catches on.
Best of all, you can do this right now. Download Photosynth and take it out for a spin!
The most powerful takeaway for me is that the merging of individual bits of knowledge—in this case photos—creates both better and unexpected new results, such as 3D models and a new form of collective intelligence. The information one can glean or discover within is a huge step forward in human knowledge. Take some time to both wander around in some of these examples and ponder these potential of new developments.