Concise and brilliant as ever.
Concise and brilliant as ever.
Lots of people have been experimenting with making their own aerial imagery over the last few years. Technology (cameras) and platforms (anything that flies) have been coming down in cost dramatically. This is useful if you live in a disaster area or want to do something fun on the weekend.
Personally I’ve never had a need to make aerial images as I’ve lived in areas covered by people like Bing and Google. Therefore all the technology, kites, drones and rectification has mostly passed me by as something of a cute sideline. Sure, theoretically you could do it yourself but you really need a few hundred million dollars of aircraft, cameras, people and computers to do it for any real use case.
I live in an expanding area which means imagery is dated fairly quickly. Here’s what Bing shows for my area:
We’ll jump ahead so you can see what I now have. Then we’ll back up on the process:
Also, notice the difference in color. Green indicates the summer. Bing’s image is better in many ways. For example, it is much more vertically-down and doesn’t smear the side of buildings over the image.
How did we get here? First, it helps if you have a pilots license or easy access to someone who does. Then you wet lease a plane (meaning; fuel included) and take a bunch of pictures. The plane will run around $150/hour and you can pick up a decent DSLR for a few hundred dollars. Here’s the image we start with:
Next we go over to mapwarper.net and upload the image. You do that, and add a bunch of control points that map the image you have to the flat top-down openstreetmap. What this does is take your image and flattens it out in to a map you can use.
We’re still very far from being able to do this en-mass, however. The costs and barriers to entry are many:
Mapwarper, OSM, potlatch and the rest are all awesome. They’ve taken us from “impossible to make your own map” to merely “very hard to make your own map”. I’m just impatient and want “any idiot can make their own map”.
What would be wonderful is; I point my iPhone outside the plane and take pictures. The phone knows its position and altitude and its roll, pitch and yaw. This gives us a good start on the image location. Mix in some topology and make the images overlapping… and we go a long way to making this a simple anyone-can-do-it process. The phone has a radio in it and a decent processor, it can do some work by itself or just upload it to a service which does a lot of this automatically.
On the other hand, the way imagery is collected today is based on a set of assumptions like vector mapping was 10 years ago:
So, think what we can achieve in aerial imagery if we relax the constraints of today’s sources and use cheap COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) hardware (iPhones).
Map Club is a club for mappers like you. It’s a place to make OpenStreetMap a much more friendly and less daunting experience to mappers new and old.
The idea came after rounds of feedback following OSM PLUS. Could we build some kind of organization to facilitate interaction in OSM, help people work together, without the shortcomings of relying solely on volunteers? If we created a paid-for community of mappers, what would it look like? What could we build with the membership fees?
Today, map club offers a welcoming and moderated mailing list for its members. Longer-term, a much broader vision includes staging servers, OSM activity summaries, OSM evangelism efforts, meetups and much more. But, we can only get there with members.
Map club is about trying new things
In some ways, geocaching is an inspiration for map club. By providing services at a cost, geocaching.com is able to go above and beyond what a pure volunteer geocaching organization would be able to do. What could we build together within the OpenStreetMap ecosystem, if we tried the same thing?
I’d love to hear what you think.
When I started the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project in 2004, I had some ideas of how it might grow – and many ideas for how I wanted it to grow – but I never could have really predicted where it actually would be nine years later.
It has been super fulfilling and fun to watch a project, that started out as one English guy (me!) riding around on his bike with a GPS and wires dangling to a laptop, advance into something that more than a million users (and doubling every year) actively contribute to and that major brands are now adopting globally.
If I’d only known this in 2004, I may have invested in a nicer bike.
Is it too cliché to say that I am a lucky man to be able to combine what I am passionate about with what I do to pay my mortgage?
Today, my luck continues as I share with you that I have joined Telenav to lead OSM growth and development in its Scout navigation services. I have watched Telenav for a few years now as the company has invested in the OSM community and has developed technology to help improve data across the country. It was fascinating to observe over time how the team developed the technology that allows OSM to work well in a navigation environment – a task that is much more complicated than just providing a display map. Moreover, the community benefit of adding billions of GPS data points into the map editing process is exactly how I had hoped that the crowd-sourcing process would evolve.
We are in a new era. Community-based content is quite the norm rather than the outlier. Organizations like Wikipedia have demonstrated that crowd-sourced content can be just as good as commercially licensed content and, many times, even better. The beauty of community-based mapping is, of course, that there are no limitations on the detail that can be added and updated for every city across the globe – down to how many trees are on each individual street. True, drivers may not need this level of detail but they certainly depend on accurate street and business information. If you combine that with other community content like traffic updates and construction alerts, it is easy to imagine how open, real-time, crowd-sourced information could dramatically impact your experience each time you get into your car.
And that’s what I am now set forth to do at Telenav – imagine with the team all of the possibilities of OSM and navigation and then focus on bringing them to life.
I feel a little like I did back in 2004 when I set out with my bike, backpack and GPS to map my first road – not sure exactly what lies ahead but excited for the possibilities.
Your transportation costs are best thought of per-mile. Most Americans apparently have a much more vague and forgetful way of looking at it; car payments and gasoline are just a background fact of life.
The Federal Government will refund you 50 or 51 cents on the mile which is a decent approximation. That builds in purchase price, maintenance and fuel. So that 10 mile roundtrip to the grocery store is a $5 cost. But we can go deeper than that.
Because I was drunk, stupid, or both I bought an electric bike a while ago. The theory was I’d use it because of the crazy hills on the commute from home to work. The reality was the rain was so depressing I rarely used it. Along the way, I kept a spreadsheet.
I got the bike at approximately half-price as it was second hand. From there I recorded all my trips. Right now my cost per mile for the bike is $5. Yes, $5 per mile. I need to ride it another 2,300 miles before it comes close to Federal reimbursement levels. Moving as I have to Colorado, it’s now almost entirely useless. The boost going up hills (and there is only one near me now) doesn’t outweigh the unfortunate speed limit built-in. It tops out at 20mph or so, when I can get up to 35 on my other bikes down hills. This is some safety constraint imposed on electric bikes.
It’s been fun, but it’s not worth $5/mile. I’m mainly using my normal bike now, every day, and will be selling the electric thing.
In contrast, my car (we’ve gone from three cars to one) is currently costing $1.74/mile. This includes again, the purchase price, gas and maintenance but it has a higher error bar since I didn’t keep track of all the costs exactly. Over time this will drop as the purchase price is amortized over the lifetime of the vehicle.
It’s much easier biking to get groceries knowing that I’m saving $10 or $20 of driving costs, rather than thinking of the car as “free”. As the saying goes; a car burns gas and makes you fat, a bike burns fat and saves you money.
Compare and Contrast
United Airlines will fly me from San Francisco to London, and back, tomorrow, for $2,647. At 5,367 miles each way that’s 25 cents a mile with the added benefit of food and speed. If governments didn’t interfere so much, it would cost half as much again (about 50% of the cost is taxation).
So my electric bike costs twenty times what a 777 costs, and my car costs seven times a 777.
If only I could take a 777 to the grocery store.
When you look at the last, say, 40 years of mapping in the United States it’s hard to see that the central problem of mapping has changed. The consumer wants to get to work on time. That’s about it.
We can nudge that scenario in to “…wants to get home” or “…wants to see the ball game”… or whatever you want. But, centrally, all I care about is getting from A to B. Where A or B tend to be something like my home, my office or someplace else like my kids school. Only rarely are A and B some other random thing unrelated to my daily life.
What’s changed in the last 40 years is the technology. We can imagine that in 1973 the hot technology was paper, as it had been for about the previous two-thousand years. Paper is incredibly cheap, lightweight, hardy and high-resolution.
Somewhere in the suburban time frame radio traffic reports emerged. This was a great way to make me tune in to certain radio stations. Now, I not only have a framework for figuring out a route (paper), I also have some approximation of the time it will take. Thus, I can choose which route to take.
Let’s pause and emphasize that. The primary piece of information I need to know is binary. Do I take route 1 or route 2 home today. That’s it. That is the major, most important use case for mapping. Everything else, checking in, finding a McDonald’s and so on is far less important compared to the one thing I need every day.
Radio reports are a pretty crappy ways to convey the nuance of traffic information. But then, I don’t care. My route to work has two or possibly three variations. So crappy (low density) information is fine. The problem kicks up with frequency. Is information every 10 or 20 minutes useful to me? No, so they give traffic reports every five minutes which makes them super repetitive. A vast infrastructure emerged to include helicopter traffic reporters.
What happened next? The world exploded, approximately. We’ve seen a bazillion different mapping apps and services, most have died, most are trying to do the same old thing; tell me how to get to work on time.
Enter TrafficGauge. Founded in 2001, a full six years before the iPhone shipped. The screen shows traffic, the button looks like it was a backlight. What’s noticeable about the product post-hoc is how damn simple it was. A screen and a button. That’s it.
Using the pager network, the device magically showed you where traffic was bad for something like $80 per device and $5/month. They shipped in something like five markets in the US. This is all a little sketchy because, shockingly, there is no wikipedia page. I’ll link to where it should exist one day though here.
So we’ve gone from paper to radio reports. Now we have in-car devices which explode thanks to TomTom and others and in a sense died with the launch (and quick death) of Dash.
Dash, like TrafficGauge, was a beautiful device but far easier to spell. It included a radio, like TrafficGauge, but this radio could transmit things as well as receive. What did it transmit? Primarily, your position. But, it also meant you could do searches and other stuff. By using your position, Dash could in theory figure out the traffic speed around you. It used you as a probe in the outside world and then could tell drivers behind you how bad the traffic is in front of them.
Why do we need this vast infrastructure? There are two reasons. One is, traffic data is kind of monopolistic and expensive so having more sources is a good thing (where good means cheaper). The other is that the cutting edge of traffic information was induction loops.
Induction loop is a fancy term for “piece of wire buried in the road” which, with a little logic, you can use to sense cars. At least, until carbon fiber cars become the norm. Various governments install these things in every lane down a freeway every mile or so and can thus detect flow rate of vehicles. After a lot of work, you get to know which freeway you should take home.
Putting probes out in to the world would be better, so long as we have sufficient numbers of probes. Thus Dash died under the weight of product development, hardware engineering, software and also having to sell enough units to be self-sustaining.
As Dash died, the iPhone and friends took over. That meant waze, google maps and much more.
Look how the information density has crept up on us from audio reports over the radio, to TrafficGauge, to the vomit-on-a-screen above.
The industry went so far beyond the required information, and got so slap happy with the available tools, it reminds me of when laser printers came out. Leaflets using every available typeface and color were normal for a year or five, then we regained our brains and sense of information design.
Think for a second what I actually need to know when navigating. It’s basically down to two modes – unambiguous and ambiguous path decisions. When I’m on a freeway at 70mph I only, really, need to know unambiguously if I’m coming off at the next exit or not. That can be conveyed with an arrow, and maybe some confirmation data like the exit number or name. I only really need confirmation data because the map data might be wrong, or we slip in to a complicated exit scenario like the following city example: When I’m in San Francisco and I have traffic everywhere, bad GPS reception and I’m eating a burrito, things become more complicated. The GPS is telling me to turn left… Does it mean this left or that left? At this point a map is suddenly very useful, in a limited infographic kind of way, to disambiguate the device, reality and my mental model of where I should be going. Snap, when all three of those agree good things happen.
Who is the above map useful for? Nobody. As a pedestrian I don’t care much about the traffic. As a driver, the information isn’t condensed enough to things like left or right turns. What it is (and it’s not just Google, everybody makes online maps like this), is an exercise in punishment-by-brogrammer. Look! I can add colors!
So, here we are 40 years later and I still have the same problem. Which route do I take home today? Only now I’m overloaded with information and the solution costs infinitely more than it used to. The radio traffic report was approximately free, TrafficGauge was $120 ish fully loaded and now an iPhone costs $2-3,000 fully loaded over the life of the contract.
Yes, your iPhone does so much more. These devices have hoovered up entire industries. Where I used to own a camera, GPS, phone, mp3 player and video recorder I now have an iPhone. Let’s divide the cost in five, and we still end up with $400+ for the mapping functionality. Therefore the costs have jumped two orders of magnitude, the problem I’m solving remains the same, and the density of information has jumped – overshot – to a point far beyond my actual needs.
You can buy a brand new GPS for $150 with lifetime new maps and live traffic. We can wave our hands and call that half the cost for the same services delivered by an iPhone. We can get similar things far cheaper on eBay. If you’re at all rational, a GPS is the better choice for your car.
When I see terms like “lifetime maps and traffic” I feel that there is some level of desperation out there. Here they are giving you the farm; the device and all that data and updates for less than a third of what the device alone used to cost. Your cell phone on the other hand is giving you less distilled information, for more money. It would appear inevitable that the pendulum will swing the other way and we will get simpler interfaces, cheaper, with more distilled information. Perhaps the new Google Maps is a leading indicator of that.
When maps were made out of dead trees, they needed to show every street. They only show every street today, because that’s what we did back in 1846. There is no actual reason to show every street on a mobile device if you’re attempting to accomplish some task.
For entertainment purposes, please, add every street. When I’m browsing around, or finding my bearings, this is useful.
But as soon as I want to achieve something, a map is just information design. I don’t want a map. I want to find McDonald’s, or I want to get home on time. A map is just a crappy tool to help me achieve these tasks.
We can make much better tools than exist today.
It’s worth asking in a world full of copying, where do the new things come from?
They’re extremely rare for a start. We know that most new things will fail. Is this due to their inherent newness, or that they’re not really new, or that they’re not useful?
It feels like most so-called new things fail because they’re not really new. It’s yet-another wallet on kickstarter or instagram clone in San Francisco. Second, it’s because they’re not useful. It’s a social network just for squirrels, or a three-wheeled bicycle (or, tricycle, of course).
Only last do things fail because they’re new. That would be pets.com or webvan. New and just before their time. They’re all coming back in new disguises today.
Therefore when you do something new, it’s likely you should try to really be new and not just a copy of something else or useless.
Which is not to say copying or useless is the same as profitless. Clearly doing another fountain pen on kickstarter is profitable and the pet rock was genius in its uselessness. So, of course, many counter-examples exist.
In England, my default experience observing anyone trying something new was that they were ridiculed and dragged down. In the US, my experience is, on average, the opposite. It certainly feels like the majority of the new things come from the United States, and are then just copied in other places. Everything from the Boeing 737 (Airbus A320) to open.gov (open.gov.uk).
This isn’t universally true, of course. The jet engine would be a counter example. But, that and the Dyson vacuum cleaner are held up as if they represent the pinnacle of British achievement, over and above English or the Westminster system of Government (copied all over the world). Whereas in America similar innovations happen all the time and are just part of the natural background noise of the place.
A random example, the conference I ran, is thought of positively by the attendees (mostly American) whereas all the negative people, the vocal negative people, are on the other side of the planet in England. It’s hard to conceive of running a follow-up in the UK and receiving hate mail from people in the United States about it.
Interestingly, it doesn’t feel like British ex-pats living in the US suffer from this disease. Therefore, if correct, the best people to try new things are the very same people leaving Britain, making it (Britain) an even worse environment to try new things.
Without new things, we remain in the state we are today, with the same problems. Therefore it’s critical we have new things. So it should be shocking that there are so few new things and we readily drag down those who try to build them.
What can you do to try and right this, wherever you are? Try to find a positive way to react to new things and ideas. New things are scary and we don’t like change. We’re quick to find the negatives when presented with anything new. Try to find the positives instead, whether discussing a new idea at a pub or reading a controversial (e.g. new) book.
I’m fascinated by the notion of copying in society. It’s everywhere. Making sure you’re copying the right thing appears to be very hard:
Dubai copied the skyscrapers of New York and ended up with a fake city. Hong Kong copied the basic freedoms and ended up with skyscrapers and a real city.
Everyone is copying the black rectangular nature of the iPhone, rather than something deeper like the Apple org-chart or other attributes like secrecy or having a HQ in Cupertino, or a British head of design.
Rich people have nice cars. Therefore people buy nice cars and expect to be rich.
Silicon Valley has venture capital firms. Therefore, European nations and cities create venture capital firms expecting silicon valley to show up.
Rich people tend to be educated, therefore you send your child to get educated in the expectation that they will get rich. In fact, richness tends to lead to education not the other way around.
Prosperous countries have money. Therefore if we send metric tons of money to poor countries they will become prosperous.
China’s wholesale copying of the United States; from fast food to an aerospace industry. Everything apart from the important thing; the constitution.
Fit people tend to exercise and eat well. So you try to exercise and eat well but fail, because you’re not copying something deeper like self-discipline.
We live in a cargo cult world.
Ubuntu (or, some division of Canonical) is trying to raise $32 million to produce a phone. This is a wonderfully audacious goal, and yet makes a number of classic mistakes in fund raising. As we’ve seen, to sell me something you need a plausible story about how your product or service is going to get me laid or make me money.
I want the Edge to succeed, it looks like a cool product. It’s just such a shame that, time and again, crowdfunding pitches are so wrapped up in their product they don’t even tell you what it is. Canonical probably has a great team of people building this thing, they’re 99% of the way there. But the last 1%, arguably the most important, is the sales pitch. With more spit and polish this thing could sell itself.
The campaign begins with these bullet points. When reading these, remember, this is the very first thing a random Joe will read. You have about 10-20 seconds to get me interested:
Exclusive to Indiegogo backers. The Edge will NOT be available to buy at launch.
Okay, exclusivity is something lots of people will care about, this is interesting. Exclusivity will get me laid. Would be nice to know what this Edge thing is though. Note, again, we have no idea what an Edge is yet.
Specs to be finalised as late as possible to ensure the best available components.
This is neutral to bad. I either don’t care about the specs (nobody buys an iPhone knowing the speed of the processor) or this looks like it’s too early and the product isn’t near finalized. Still, I don’t know what an Edge is.
Dual-boots into Ubuntu mobile OS and Android; converts into a full desktop PC.
As an average consumer, I have no idea what Ubuntu is. We can put that aside and pretend we are only targeting Ubuntu users. You know, Ubuntu users, those spendy, trendy and highly monetizable Freedom ideologists. I’ve heard of Android, my friends use it so that sounds good. This desktop PC thing is kind of confusing but potentially interesting. I already have a laptop or iPad though. Ok, starting to get a hint about this Edge thing.
Works with LTE and GSM networks, including Verizon and Sprint.
Consumer doesn’t care. Still playing the “guess what Edge is” game.
Perks include all charges for US and UK, including VAT and delivery.
I’m getting what I pay for, no additional fees. I’d hope most reputable businesses do that anyway. What is Edge?
Standard manufacturer warranty will apply once manufacturer is selected.
As above. Why even mention this?
Zero cost to backers if the campaign is unsuccessful.
I have no idea what this even means. And I still don’t know what Edge is.
So, that’s it. My 10+ seconds to get me hooked is gone and you lost me, Mr. Average Consumer.
Now, their opening paragraph:
What is Ubuntu Edge?
In the car industry, Formula 1 provides a commercial testbed for cutting-edge technologies. The Ubuntu Edge project aims to do the same for the mobile phone industry — to provide a low-volume, high-technology platform, crowdfunded by enthusiasts and mobile computing professionals. A pioneering project that accelerates the adoption of new technologies and drives them down into the mainstream.
Instead of taking that apart right now, let’s rewrite it in to something that would sell to a consumer, noting that we’d push this paragraph to the top and remove the bullet points above.
What is Ubuntu Edge?
Edge is the best phone money can buy, crowdfunded by people like you. Edge is the sleekest, most powerful and best designed Android phone and it’s only available for a limited time here to our early backers. More than Android, Edge also runs the cutting-edge Ubuntu operating system and when plugged in to a monitor turns in to a fully-fledged PC.
Edge is the best phone money can buy, crowdfunded by people like you.
We start by answering the title question, what the fuck is this thing? It’s a phone! Note their paragraph has some strange analogy about Formula 1 (who knows what that is, maybe it’s like the Indy 500?) and doesn’t even come out and say it’s a phone. We make a big claim, followed by some basic psychology of influence. Tell me it’s bought by people like me, and I’m much more likely to buy it.
Edge is the sleekest, most powerful and best designed Android phone and it’s only available for a limited time here to our early backers.
Next we make some grand claims about how this thing is the best on every metric possible. Then we spice it up by noting this deal is going away (buy soon!) while hinting again at how exclusive and amazing you are, as an early backer. We anchor the device on Android. Consumers know what Android is, they don’t have a clue about Ubuntu or magical phones-that-turn-in-to-PCs. Hardcore Ubuntu fans can be placated later in the page with tech specs and Ubuntu screenshots.
More than Android, Edge also runs the cutting-edge Ubuntu operating system and when plugged in to a monitor turns in to a fully-fledged PC.
Now we use that Android anchor to hint at all the other cool shit this phone can do. The hypothetical Ubuntu OS and PC stuff, which might be usable, to someone, one day in the future. Maybe, we don’t have data to support that yet. We turn around these strange features from the core of the product, to “it’s better than your friends’ Android, plus it does this other stuff“.
The economics of this are kind of painful. For $830 (maybe a little less) I might get a phone next year. Compare that to walking in to any store and buying a phone today which does everything I think I need for maybe a quarter of the price. Thus, three-quarters of the price of the Edge has to represent the value I get from exclusivity, Ubuntu OS, transforms-in-to-PC, pretty design… and all the other features. That’s a tough sell, and the indiegogo landing page doesn’t do it the justice it deserves.
tl; dr; hire some sales guys and copy writers.
Having lived in at least two different countries, I have a number of perspectives on the differences between them. I think there are enough to write a book about it.
In England, where I was born, you cannot use a cell (mobile!) phone at a gas (petrol!) station. This is in case the planet explodes. In the United States I use my phone all the time at gas stations and – get this – they don’t explode.
In London the parks are littered with monuments to long-forgotten wars. You can’t walk five minutes in Hyde Park without learning about the heroic actions of Lt. Colonel. Montgommery Somethingorother and the war of 1846. There’s even a gigantic monument to dead animals in wars. I’m not joking, it’s 58 ft. across with life-size horses. In the US parks feel like SimCity or legoland. It’s as if someone clicked a button and – poof – a square acre of grass appears. Like a front garden, the grass is just to be looked at and not actually used.
In Britain you’re forced to take your car to special government-approved mechanics every year, this doesn’t depend on anything being actually wrong with the car. Here in the US, you fix things when they go wrong.
When I land in a commercial plane in the United States I can immediately turn on my phone and use it. In England you cannot, in case the aircraft explodes. This has only very recently begun to change.
In America it feels like I have to stop. At. Every. Intersection. This wastes fuel, wears the brakes on the car and more. In England there are roundabouts which I can slow down at, but keep moving.
In Britain there is a notion of “the special relationship” whereby it somehow enjoys referential diplomatic status with the United States. In the United States, this is approximately fantasy.
There’s an interesting bias in British and other ex-pats living in the US. Very few of us want to go back. By definition, the ones that leave aren’t likely to want to return. It’s probably true in the inverse, US citizens living in England.