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Greetings from Null Island

According to social media, there are millions of selfies being taken at a small buoy located several hundred miles off the west coast of Africa. Not just selfies, but all kinds of location-aware apps seem drawn to this remote location.

This video from our friends at MinuteEarth explains how the developers of location-based services sometimes make a small error that repositions social posts to this unlikely location.

The problem occurs when apps are unable to obtain a precise location fix. As we discussed recently, satellite positioning is actually rather slow and easily disrupted in modern urban environments. HERE supplements satellite readings with a host of other technologies to be able to accurately report your location even in very challenging circumstances.

Anyway, if your phone can’t obtain a position for some reason, then it will return the value ‘null’ to your location-using app. Null means ‘no information available’. But… a programmer might not account for this possibility and the app could understand ‘null’ as meaning ‘zero’ – Latitude 0°; Longitude 0° - which happens to be the co-ordinates of that Atlantic buoy.

So while social media might suggest that there’s a lot of activity going on at Null Island, there’s really not much happening at all.

But it’s not the remotest location on Earth. As the airport voronoi map we wrote about two years ago showed, that honour belongs to a piece of the Antarctic at 76°S, 68°E, further away from any airport than any other place on the planet.

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