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geo-

prefix

containing information about location: used with verbs, nouns or adjectives

'Add your geotagged photographs of disturbances and clean-up operations to our Flickr group to put them on the map. (If you don't know how to geotag your photographs, the Flickr group page has instructions) …'

The Guardian 9th August 2011

'Display hotels and restaurants from the Michelin guide, as well as tourist sites selected in the Michelin Green Guides, using geolocation technology.'

Easier 4th August 2011

In August 2011, rioting in the London area sparked a succession of similar disturbances at various city locations across the UK. In a collaborative information-gathering exercise, people on the scene were encouraged to submit photos and video to the web, and in order to build up a clearer picture of exactly where these distressing events and subsequent clean-up operations took place, many of these images were geotagged – in other words, they incorporated some kind of identifier specifying their precise location.

The transitive verb geotag (and related countable noun geotag) form just one example of the now popular use of the prefix geo- in technological domains, which has come to represent the idea of 'incorporating information about location'.

geolocation can help online businesses and service providers appropriately target potential customers by tailoring products and advertising information to suit particular geographical areas

Geotagging usually pinpoints geographical coordinates – longitude, latitude, etc – to arrive at a precise identification of the original location of photos or other media such as videos, websites, SMS messages, etc. Geocoding on the other hand, determines the same information via other geographical identifiers, such as a street address or postal code. The terms geocoder and geotagger are correspondingly used to refer to software employed in these activities.

Further examples of this sense of the geo- prefix include geodatabase, a database designed to store and manipulate information about the geographical location of objects, the geocloud, a development of cloud computing (the activity of sharing computer resources via the Internet) which includes location-based information, and geolocation, the technological process of determining the real-world geographical location of a user of the Internet or a mobile phone, etc.

So the geo- prefix is becoming increasingly productive in this technological sense, and the reason for this is perhaps tied up with the usefulness of the concept it represents. The technology industry has been quick to cotton on to the enormous potential of geographical information in a range of applications. Geotagging for instance, can be combined with search engine technology to help users find images at or around a particular location, or other items of information specific to a given area, such as location-based news, shopping, services, tourist info, etc. At the other end of the spectrum, geolocation can help online businesses and service providers appropriately target potential customers by tailoring products and advertising information to suit particular geographical areas, a process also known as geotargeting or geomarketing.

Background – geo-

This new use of the prefix geo- is of course simply a 21st century spin on its original meaning of 'relating to the earth', as seen in geography, geology, etc and derived from the Greek form meaning 'earth'. The new use differs from the original geo- however in that, as well as nouns and adjectives, it also attaches to derived verbs (e.g. geolocate, geotag).

The identification of geographical information has now become a key concept in online and mobile technology. Related terms in this field include location intelligence, referring to tools and methods used to geographically 'map' information for business purposes, and geographic information system (often abbreviated to GIS), describing a digital system designed to capture, store and manipulate geographical data.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 26th September 2011.

Open Dictionary

dead white (European) male

a man … whose achievements may have been overestimated because he belonged to the gender and ethnic group … that was dominant at the time

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