Archive | maps

OpenGeoIP

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.

badge_newdownload_on_the_app_store_badge_us-uk_135x40

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

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.

Why I like what3words

When I first came across w3w I had the same reaction many people do – I just didn’t get it.

The idea is pretty simple. Give every 9ft square on the planet three words. So right now I’m at spite.nearly.maps which is a hotel next to SFO. Or hills.boost.oldest is somewhere in England.

There are people out there for whom location is a daily problem. Firefighters trying to find a hydrant. Police trying to find one another. Delivery drivers trying to find the right door. The billions of people who don’t have an address system. For people like that, having some kind of location system makes obvious sense. It’s not hard to help them understand the value of w3w since they spend half their life looking for “the green door half way down on the left.” At 3am. In an emergency.

For most other people we only have this problem occasionally. First you live somewhere where there are addresses. Second you have a phone. But you still have situations where your friend can’t find you in a crowd. Or you go to the doctor and their address is on A Street but the entrance is on 1st Avenue. It doesn’t happen that often so you don’t think of it as a big deal.

But it actually is. If you multiply out all that wasted energy it’s going to end up as billions of dollars of wasted time and gasoline. Just think of every time the secretary has to explain to the new patient that the entrance is on a different street, every day for years. In just one doctors office.

Then in the mapping world, and the computer world, we think this is easy. It’s just latitude and longitude. Or at worst, it’s just a geohash. This is true whenever you have two computers talking about location. If we both have phones, then they can just swap location data off the GPS. Yay.

But here’s the thing. First – where humans are involved you want something simpler. And second geohashes are terrible for actual location when a human needs it.

Geohashes and lat/longs have a bunch of downsides for humans. They’re difficult to remember, bordering impossible. They’re ambiguous – if you get a number wrong then there’s no way to check. And of course everyone has their own hash system.

If you want to design a system that anyone can use and remember, three words is actually a pretty good solution.

  • You can remember three words
    • Shorter words are used near population centers to help this
    • Homonyms are removed (sail, sale)
    • Negative words are removed
  • There’s built in error correction
    • Similar sets of words (e.g. spite.nearly.maps and spit.nearly.maps) are in very different places, so it’s clear there is a problem
  • You can say it over a phone or radio
    • No “b like banana” to spell some strange code out
  • It doesn’t take a lot of cognitive function
    • It’s just three words, not some complicated looking thing that I might mistake a 1 for a 7 or something

If you look at the hashes that have existed in the past they tend to be some code for location like ‘[email protected]’. The technologist solution to this problem is “make an algorithm, make it open, we’re done!”

But the value is much less in just making any old algorithm and declaring the problem solved. The actual value here is first, to build a great algorithm for people, not just for PhDs in Mathematics. Second, to market it.

Because that’s where everyone kind of just gave up. There’s this fantasy that if I make something open and put it on the internet that somehow, via magic, people will use and build upon it. But people don’t. Mostly they don’t know it exists, don’t know it’s a problem and will never use your random geo hash thing.

The thing that’s useful and interesting here with w3w is that a lot of thought and time is going in to marketing and PR so people know about the problem and the solution. And if you go look, that is getting a lot of traction all over the place. Because it turns out that everyone from camping magazines to Glastonbury festival staff to people delivering mail in slums needs a location service. And they’re using w3w.

Even Ireland could do with something better than spending 27 million Euro on a code system.

To drill it home; it’s not the technology. The technology is great, and a lot of work goes in to that. Actual real linguists work on building new language versions. Other hashing algorithms I’m sure were great in their way too. But who cares if nobody uses them?

And that’s why w3w is interesting. They have truly great – some of the best I’ve seen – people who’re pushing this solution all over the place to people for whom it’s an actual problem. If you live in a western country with addresses, a functional cell phone network and you work on open mapping… that probably just isn’t you.

The other thing is, it’s a company born of a problem which means there’s a focus. It isn’t about just burning more money and figuring out what business model fad to follow this week. It’s a real problem, experienced and solved by the same people. Chris, one of the co-founders, actually had this problem coordinating deliveries of music equipment and performers to perform live events. He couldn’t get multiple trucks to show up in the same place. Even when talking to them on the phone. This is in England – a relatively developed country with a paved road network, where citizens speak a common language and road signs blanket the country. Where people are highly paid and educated.

And for some reason we consider it normal in such a modern time and place, that two people can’t locate each other occasionally. That’s actually nuts when you think about it. It’s 2016 – really this should not be a problem. And it costs us a lot of time, energy and money.

By contrast imagine you were born in a world where w3w just existed and everyone used it. You’d think your grandparents were pretty dumb to not be able to find each other at a concert. Or not be able to tell an emergency responder where you were in a field or on a big road. Or that delivery drivers actually wandered around trying to find the right door. And yet were able to somehow land rockets on the moon.

Because that’s the world we live in. And maybe by building a common language of location, for humans, we can make it a problem our grandchildren can just laugh at.

New Year, New Roles

It’s been a wild two-and-a-half years at Telenav helping bring OpenStreetMap to the consumer. We shipped consumer turn-by-turn navigation in the US with Scout which was for me a big first – a turning point of showing OSMs true potential.

As the OSM project at Telenav has grown the need for the visionary founder has shifted and I’m stepping back from full-time work at Telenav. I’ll be still helping part-time and helping with new projects going forward. 2016 is going to be a fun year with a great team at Telenav (including all the bright folks we brought in from Skobbler) and I know they’ll continue to push out more OSM goodness.

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