The Bing Read Write World

During his session yesterday at the Where 2.0 conference, Blaise Aguera y Arcas showed the first public demo of where Microsoft are going in the mapping space, monikered (slightly oddly, I find) the Read/ Write world. Described as “an indexing, unification, and connection of the world’s geo-linked media”, it links together elements of Bing Maps, Photosynth, Streetside, Azure, Deep zoom and others into a common framework, with potentially very interesting consequences. You can read more, and see some demonstration applications of the technology at and be sure to check out the following video

It’s obviously very early days, but some of my initial thoughts are as follows:

Finally, some cohesion!

Internally, the MS Photosynth team has been part of the Bing Maps team for several years, but with not much obvious link between the two technologies (other than a fairly trivial way of linking the location of photosynths to a map). More recently, the Bing Maps team became part of the Bing Mobile team. Again, other than the fact that Bing Maps was a component of the WP7 OS, there wasn’t much obvious reason why…

…finally, we’re now starting to see publicly some of the reasoning behind these decisions, and the strategic direction that MS is taking to try to integrate these technologies. For an example, check out the section of the video above, from about 00:45 to 01:30. You’ll see a (3D) Bing Maps street view, with overlaid thumbnails from streetside (car) imagery. This then changes to a horizontal pan along the street images (streetslide), before cutting to a video link entering into the shop. These video transitions link two photo panoramas shot inside the building, which incidentally, could have been recorded by almost anyone using the new iPhone photosynth app….


So, that’s Bing Mobile, photosynth, and maps working together for the first time in an application…


It’s interesting that, even though this technology has only just been publicly previewed for the first time and is far away from being production-ready, Microsoft have already published an initial explanation of the licensing rights involved in the project. This is obviously something they want to make sure they get right.

Another interesting thing to note is that Microsoft have publicly stated a strong support for the Creative Commons licences throughout the project, with content creators of photos, videos, or panoramas used in Read-Write world retaining “complete control over whether others, including Microsoft, can display it, mash it up, or otherwise present it.”.

I wonder if this is any way a response to some of the recent criticism levelled at the Google MapMaker product (also demo’ed at Where 2.0), which encourages “citizen cartographers” to add their own data to Google Maps but, in doing so, relinquish their rights to that data to Google. (Compare this to Open Street Maps, which has been enabling citizen cartography for many years and uses the Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 licence, which allows anyone to use OSM data so long as it is credited appropriately).

There’s already announcements that Bing will be working with 360 Cities to use (and re-use) CC panoramas, as well as CC images through Flickr.


There are a few demo apps showing examples of web services based on the technology at, and there’s also a brief description of the technical spec of the new RML (Reality Markup Language) used to bind the whole lot together. However, at this stage, the demos are only based on a very limited set of data. I’ll certainly be going back to play with these when there’ a bit more data available (MS – how about adding Flickr photos from Norwich rather than base all your demos on Seattle? We have beautiful buildings here! Two cathedrals, a castle, the UK’s largest permanent outdoor market, a pub established in 1249AD…)

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2 Responses to The Bing Read Write World

  1. Alastair, thanks for the thoughtful post. Re. our push for Creative Commons, this is both a philosophical and a very practical position we’ve been taking publicly (and quite vocally!) ever since our initial release of Photosynth in 2008. At that point the project still lived in Live Labs, and we invited Larry Lessig up to give us a talk (which was as always fabulous) and help us think through the rights implications of mashing up imagery from many users into collective experiences. We want to do everything we can to respect the rights of content authors while still enabling all of the value creation that comes from indexing and mashing up this content in new ways– and we believe this is good not only for Microsoft, but for everyone. Walled gardens don’t let the sun in 🙂 To be clear, there will always be copyrighted content, and there’s still value in indexing and connecting that content to everything else; one is just constrained in how one can show that content out of its original context. (This is the same as indexing copyrighted web pages, e.g. news articles, and allowing them to show up in a search results page, of course without reproducing them in full.) But for most of us who generate visual media casually and don’t make living from it, there’s no advantage in keeping it copyrighted; our stuff will be more valuable to the world if we release it under Creative Commons.

    • alastaira says:

      Thanks for the clarifying comments, Blaise, and congratulations on the impressive looking read-write demo – I look forward to playing with the technology soon!
      My article was not necessarily implying a change of direction for MS in regards to their approach to CC – I just found it interesting that, at such an early alpha release, one of the first areas of documentation released about Read-Write concerned the licensing arrangements (which, traditionally, are the teeny-tiny bits of legal-speak text included right at the end, after a company has convinced you to use their product 😉 – but it’s great that you’ve obviously put such thought into these issues up-front.

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