Tracking “The Box” around the world

If you’re a regular reader of the BBC News site you may have seen their recent stories about “The Box” – an experiment that the BBC are running to track the locations visited by a single shipping container over the course of a year. There are various pages on their site giving more information including the story that introduced The Box, a map of locations travelled to by The Box and a whole section of further information.

I find this a very interesting story to follow. Though The Box travels quite slowly, and therefore is not something to follow on a minute-by-minute basis, it will end up travelling long distances and should create a thorough map of the busiest shipping lanes and ports throughout the world. As such it’s certainly something I will be keeping an eye on. I thought it might be useful to have an Atom feed with GeoRSS to make it possible to follow the path of The Box without having to remember to check the site. I was also quite interested in creating a user account for The Box, pulling the location of it into mapme.at and allowing users to follow the location on this site. Fortunately I can now announce that both these things are now possible.

I’ve put together a basic script that pulls down the location of The Box every half hour and places this into the mapme.at database. The username is “thebox” so you can see its current location at http://mapme.at/where/thebox. I’ve set the permissions on the account so that anyone and everyone can view its location, but if you add it as a contact then it will show up on your homepage if you ever happen to be nearby.

You can also follow the path of The Box by using a new feature of the site. The following URL will return an Atom feed for the user “thebox” for all logged locations since midday “yesterday”:

http://mapme.at/api/where.atom?username=thebox&since=yesterday&mode=since

This next URL will give all logged locations since The Box was launched on the 8th September:

http://mapme.at/api/where.atom?username=thebox&since=2008-09-08+00:00:00&mode=since

If you use this in a standard RSS reader such as Google Reader or Thunderbird you’ll find an entry for each location that the box has been to, a small map of the area and a link to the history page for that day. If you load the RSS file into something that can read GeoRSS you’ll see a map highlighting all of the places it’s been to, for instance here’s the link loaded into Google Maps. Loading it in a standard RSS reader is a good way to be kept up to date about when The Box moves without having to look yourself.

As you might have guessed, you can also use this URL to track your contacts, though at the moment you will only be able to do this if their location is open to the public. More features along these lines should be coming soon!

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