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What Is Geotagging?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 11 July 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Geotagging involves adding specialized geographical information to images, videos, and other electronic information. This information is held inside the data’s structure rather than in the data itself. This means that a geotagged photograph and a non-tagged photo look the same. Geotagging allows people to go to the exact site mentioned in the tagged data, such as the location where a picture was taken. While it is possible for a user to add geographic information, the most accurate forms come from recording devices equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) and a geotagging system.

Geotagging data stores its information in a specialized form called meta-data. This specialized data contains information related to the file itself, rather than the data it holds. On basic files, the meta-data will tell the computer whether it is read only or hidden. In more complex files, such as media files, it will hold a wealth of information. On a music or video file, there may be recording information, artist names, album titles, production companies or a number of other miscellaneous items.

The meta-data that geotagging creates varies based on the system. At bare minimum, it will include the latitude and longitude at which the information was created. Other systems add more, such as the time, elevation or orienteering information. Nearly any information the GPS recorder has may be added to the file without affecting its usability.

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Most systems do this via the satellite based global positioning system. A device that has a GPS chip can connect to the system and find its exact coordinates. These satellites provide a huge amount of information, but often GPS chips are only designed to collect certain types of data. Some devices, such as digital cameras, allow users to manually enter geographic information. While some users do this on the spot through a handheld GPS device, these manual systems are often underused due to the unwieldy nature of the technology.

There aren’t any official standards for geotagging. As a result, there are several competing methods for adding and retrieving the information. Each different media type, including video and pictures, has its own preferred method of recording the data. This makes it more difficult to make a unified retrieval system.

Even though the processes are still quite new, geotagging is common in many locations on the Internet. Websites dedicated to geotagged pictures and movies allow user to create customized travelogues. Each of these images has coordinates that other users may use to travel to that exact spot. This allows people to plan trips to see interesting sites, simply with a GPS and navigation system.

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