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Eclipse Poster Kickstarter

I just wrapped up the last kickstarter (details here) when the fine people at NASA put out this super accurate map of the eclipse in August. I put together a small kickstarter to print as many as possible (they’re done at cost!), learn more about it out here.

The map is incredibly accurate, right down to using a topographic model of the moon… will be interesting to see if it succeeds!


Kickstarter almost funded

It’s very humbling to look at this graph of funding over the last few days for the OpenStreetMap Stats Kickstarter:

I had expected the whole thing to fail, now it looks like it’ll succeed. I was asked once in a job interview about how much failure I’ve recently had. The idea was that if you’re not failing you’re not really trying – if everything is a success then you can’t be pushing the envelope.

I figured asking for $1k for a statistics site that’s relevant to a minority of a minority in the world was going to be too much to ask for. In the grand scheme of things it’s not a whole lot of cash, but still. And yet, here we are.

Speaking of failure, “failure” itself is the wrong way to model how these things work. Scott Adams has called it “having a system” instead of “goals”. Other people have called it “failing forward”. Either way – the basic idea is that whatever happens you want to win. Adams wrote a whole book about this:

In this case, if the Kickstarter fails then I can shut the project down. This for me is a clear win. I get more time and one less distraction. I don’t have to pay for the hosting any more. I also learn that tiny kickstarters aren’t going to work and not to bother trying them again in a similar context.

On the other hand, if it succeeds that’s great too. I can dedicate the time to fix the site, the hosting is paid for and it proves that there are people out there who care about it.

Setting up situations like this can be enormously beneficial – where you win either way. But, it’s still hard since my lizard brain wants to avoid anything that looks like failure and being judged by those who see it in that way.

There are plenty of smart, educated people out there who think Amazon’s lack of profit is a “failure” for example. I think it’s beautiful. For a start, the definition of “profit” is “we have no idea what to do with the money so we’ll give it to you”. Amazon isn’t running out of ideas worth funding. Second, if they spend all the notional profit then they don’t have to pay tax on it and get some percentage advantage via that. Reinvesting in this way for a few decades leads to some spectacular growth.

This all leads to an idea that’s almost too tantalizing to verbalize: Maybe it’s possible to live by doing Kickstarter after Kickstarter? The idea is insanely fun and the implications profound. If it’s possible to raise $1k in a week then that would lead to a $52k/year revenue, supposing you had 52 great ideas. Perhaps more likely are $10k kickstarters every 2-4 weeks, or $100k kickstarters every month or two. With some number of them failing, plus costs, it should still be possible to live using this method.

OpenStreetMap Stats Kickstarter

I’m attempting to raise $1k in a week via Kickstarter to fix the OpenStreetMap Stats site.

The site lets you explore OSM data by country, time and data type:

Sadly it’s suffered bit rot and some countries are broken and not updating. The $1k goes toward fixing, open sourcing and hosting it for a year or two. Else, it gets canned.

So far it’s raised $163 with 6 days to go.


OpenGeoIP is a little project to crowd source IP address locations and I just made a few updates and bug fixes to it. Most IP to geo systems rely on self-reporting in various IP address metadata which can be pretty inaccurate. What we’re doing here is using actual location data from the browser (usually) which means (usually) wifi-inferred or GPS location.

There are two primary routes the project is building data:

  1. There’s a JS API which allows you to fall back to the database. Normally when you ask the browser for location the user can click ‘no’ and you get nothing at all. In this case, you can automagically fall back to crowdsourced data. If the user clicks ‘yes’ then we can use that to update the fail-over data for everyone else. In theory this feedback loop makes the data better for everyone.
  2. Second, there’s a lot of people out there just searching for location data on an IP. There’s a front end which will share out info if you first share yours. Again, this feedback loop should make the data better for everyone.


Continental Drift Part 2

Phone superglued to foundation

(see part 1)

The phone’s been running for nearly a week collecting data despite rebooting servers and wifi failing so I superglued it to the foundation of the house, which is concrete and in the ground. The data collected so far has all been deleted since it was just a test, but from here on out it’s real. In a week or two I’ll write some scripts to analyze the data and figure out what the error bars are.

OpenGeoCodes iOS and Android Apps – Collect Open Address Data

Open Address data from OpenGeoCodes in Durango, CO. Green pins are manually verified, red are awaiting verification.

Open Address data from OpenGeoCodes in Durango, CO. Green pins are manually verified, red are awaiting verification.

screen696x696OpenGeoCodes now has iOS and Android apps to optimize the hand collection of addresses.


Addresses are the primary limiting factor of OpenStreetMap – there just isn’t much out there that’s easily licensed and OSM itself for a variety of reasons lacks address data. OSM looks pretty – it’s a great display map. It’s also routable with a lot of work. But, you can’t find addresses on it.

OpenGeoCodes has data in the US and some starter data in Canada and the UK to try to fix this.

So what do the apps do?

The apps let you walk around and collect data. Say you’re standing outside 100 Main Street – just tap it, the app records the location and you’re done. Normally the app tries to guess where you are based on location.

But wait, there’s more! As you walk along, the app will optimize what addresses to show you. For example if you’re walking on the even side of a street going north, the app will figure this out and present you ascending even numbers. So if you enter 100 and 102, and the app knows 104 is nearby it will focus on this.

This makes it easy to walk along and just tap, tap, tap to collect data. We collect this data together and then make it freely downloadable. There’s also a mailing list if you want to get involved.

Where to from here? The feature list includes a more human design, notifications for when near places with no data, OSM upload and fixing and more. Drop me an email if you run in to any issues.


How Alex Mahrou from CH2M got MapClub shut down

MapClub's funding curve

MapClub’s funding curve

Kickstarter notified us yesterday that they were shutting MapClub down, and of course wouldn’t share why. This is despite the funding being successful and 15 people signing up. Fair enough, it’s their baby and their rules.

Well now we know why – Alex Mahrou’s long, angry and sarcastic investigative piece on why people shouldn’t do things that he disagrees with.

There are two primary failures in the piece. The biggest by far, is that he starts out by describing Ryan Holiday’s excellent books on stoicism, not taking things personally and not trying to control the things you can’t change. From there, he leaps in to a 54 page detailed blog post about trying to change other people and being angry about them doing something he dislikes… thus missing the entire point of the books. (which really are excellent by the way).

Another book that might help Alex is The Fish that Ate the Whale, which is all about not following rules that other people set you.

Anyhow, problem number two was missing the dry humor in the kickstarter about Peter, James and I being “luminaries”. More accurate descriptions may be “drunkards” or “skeptics” perhaps. It’s entertaining to see something thrown in there as a self-deprecating joke being taken so far, because I don’t think any of us take ourselves that seriously.

CH2M’s website mentions that they are “turning challenge into opportunity” which no doubt Alex focuses on day-to-day. The challenge of getting your random idea kickstarter shut down of course is the opportunity to fund it in other ways, without kickstarter’s 5-10% cut.

One of the more memorable stories in The Fish that Ate the Whale is about exactly this. When Zemurray couldn’t build a bridge to his banana plantations because his competitors had got the government to ban bridges, he built two piers and put a barge between them instead.

So, thanks Alex for your positive contributions to the world. Good luck banning more bridges, I’m off to build more piers.

Why MapClub?

I have a little kickstarter called MapClub.

I’ve been doing some work with wordpress which led me to Post Status. They have a private club which for $99 allows you to join a slack they set up. It has 650 people in it.

It’s been wonderful and useful. The hypothesis is, if we charge entry to a slack for mapping and mappers of all kinds, can we get the same positive community out of it? Kickstarter is ideal for this, because if we fail nobody is charged anything and it all just goes away.

Peter Batty and James Fee joined in, and the kickstarter is live. So, come join MapClub!

OpenGeoCodes – Download address data for the USA!

Note – originally published over here on the CHI blog.

Today we’re shipping the OpenGeoCodes project as well as the mobile site and the data.

OGC is a project to build open data for addresses, turning a string like “12 Main Street” in to the latitude and longitude of where it is. The desktop site has two main pieces right now. First a simple way to explore the data:


OpenGeoCodes desktop site

Green pins have been verified, red are source data. You can turn pins green by surveying with the mobile app. Second, it has a number of simple online games which show you a pin and then ask whether it is reasonable to move it to the right place. These are a work in progress.

If you want to help fix the data, just open up the mobile site on your phone and walk around. Tap on the address where you are, and if it’s missing just add it. Simple:

Mobile site

Mobile site

The data is downloadable and contains 92 million points or so, exclusively in the US for now. Although, the project does work globally.

Why do this? Well, we need address data. With data like this, OpenStreetMap becomes usable for various end-user scenarios like in-car navigation. Today, to make this possible people typically license that data or infringe it for use with OSM.

Fundamental problems exist with OpenStreetMap itself collecting address data, and in fact very little exists there. There are other projects but they don’t have a consistent (or any) license and tend to rely on governments or VC/corporate money for support which could disappear any time.

Sustainable Open Source

To me, the question is how to build datasets where everyone wins and do it sustainably. We want this data to be open, but it’s kind of boring to ask volunteers to collect it, compared to making beautiful maps. On the other hand, there are plenty of companies that would be happy to pay for data like this if it was reasonably priced. Can we marry these two things?

In the software world, the answer is dual licensing. That’s the idea we’re exploring here with OpenGeoCodes. Private funding exists to pay people to collect this data in certain places and you’ll see us do that. With money, we’re able to pay people to fix the code and the data. We’re able to pay people to import new datasets and merge them, rather than waiting for volunteers who may not be interested. We’re able to work with you if you have updates to the data, to incorporate it, without the friction that a typical open project would entail.

And yet we can still make the data open. For now it’s CC-By-NC but this will likely become more liberal and additionally older data will be released under more open licenses. So you’ll be able to download old data under the public domain, where newer data may have a few restrictions or cost some money. Then we take that money and use it to improve the data for everyone.

OpenStreetMap will likely remain ODbL forever. If you think about it, this means the public domain mapping data isn’t improving at all. It would be nice if old OSM data dropped in the public domain after a year or two but this is fraught with difficulty. Here with OpenGeoCodes we can experiment with that and see if we can find some balance where we use money to improve this address data in partnership with open communities so that everyone wins.

Get in Touch

Have a need for geocoding data? Have data you can contribute back? Tired of expensive or badly licensed data? It’s very early days for this project. There are a number of tools and pieces of data coming down the road, and if you want to get involved please say hello or join the mailing list.

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