OpenStreetMap: Addressable?

How on Earth are we going to add addressing in to OpenStreetMap?

Today OSM is a great display map. It’s routable too if you squint. But it’s essentially not geocodable, you can’t turn an address in to a location.

If we fix that then there’s really not a whole lot of point to ever using a proprietary map ever again.

Here in the United States there are essentially two readily available sources. TIGER data has address ranges between intersections and counties (all 3,000 odd of them) have parcel data.

TIGER is public domain but it’s kind of crappy. There is a problem importing it because automatically taking TIGER ranges and putting them in our map is non-trivial. In lots of places new roads have been added, old ones deleted and so on. So, getting an address range in TIGER and then figuring out where to put it in OSM isn’t always easy.

Parcel data is much better but it’s all over the place. There are companies which will aggregate it together for you and sell it to you, but that’s millions of dollars of cost. And, they have no incentive to make it all available.

And it’s even worse in Europe. And even more worserer in Japan where addresses are assigned according to the age of the house and the block they are on, which may as well be random().

So what the hell are we going to do?

I say import the TIGER ranges and slap them on top of the map. They won’t impact the rendering. It will be kind of painful to go and fix all those ranges but it’s much better than what we have today (which is nothing).

All the other solutions are basically horrible. We could crowd-source it but that might take 100 years. We could try and raise the money to purchase the data. We could go visit all 3,000 counties. None of these is palatable.

So, let’s just import what we have available and make the most of it. It worked for the road network, it can work for addressing.

OpenStreetMap: Indispensable People?

Should anyone in OpenStreetMap be indispensable?

I think firmly not. There are whole graveyards full of indispensable people.

A project as broad and important as OpenStreetMap needs the systems in place to withstand the loss of anyone. Should someone important get run over by a bus or simply decide to move on, as many have, the project should at most be slowed a little.

Today that isn’t the case. We have points of control which are fully owned by single individuals. The people around them readily acknowledge that they don’t have a clue what we would do if they quit.

I say that’s terrible. I say they should quit and we should find out what we have to do. By keeping the de-facto in place all we are doing is kicking the problem down the road, for they have to leave at some point in the future. Let’s find out how we distribute the workload now while we only have 900,000 registered accounts instead of 9 million.

Those people should, if anything, build that process themselves. Where that doesn’t happen we should gently ask them to work elsewhere in the project on positive things. For all of the amazing work they’ve done in the past, for all the time they put in, for all of the sheer good they have absolutely contributed to the project, there should not be anyone who’s indispensable.

Maps at Google

Interesting Ed Parsons talk with some behind-the-scenes pictures of what Google uses to manage it’s geographic infrastructure. Nice enough talk but definitely for the Google audience, a little implicit that Google invented everything. Random dig at MapQuest who were apparently Google’s original map supplier (who knew?).

Google map data sources then and now

Interesting screen shot of what I’ll call GoogleGIS with streetview bubbles flattened out in to a donut as part of the editing process. Looks like a Mac app in some third party language/widget set:


Ed uses a tiny snippet of video of this guy who’s cheerfully editing map bugs submitted by the crowd;

Upper middle class Google Map Maker editor in relaxed Californian atmosphere fixing the occasional map bug

I’m not entirely sure how accurate that is though.

Map bugs dutifully fixed by glad worker bees

Full talk;

Selling SortGadget

SortGadget home page

I built sortgadget a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The site is pretty simple – it lets you browse Amazon cameras for sale. It has a couple of sliders to narrow down your purchase criteria and then in theory makes affiliate sales commission. In theory.

Only I never did anything with it, so now it’s for sale on flippa with a reserve of $1 for anyone who does actually want to spend the time iterating it to something useful can do so.

Article about OSM and SotM

I’ve been meaning to post a link over to this article by Carl Franzen for a little while. It neatly summarizes the US State of the Map conference and where OpenStreetMap is today.

The nice thing is that I can’t find any mistakes in Carl’s article. It’s literally the first piece of fact-checked deep journalism on OSM I’ve ever seen. Because of that, it’s worth a read.

Square Wallet

Square Wallet

I’ve been curious to try Square Wallet for a while. You run an iPhone app which magically knows where you are and transmits this to Square Central, which I imagine to be sort of like the Wonka Factory. Square needs to know your credit card details and then will let you make payments without having to swipe or sign.

I found a cafe and thought the story would be something like stand in line, open the app, click on what I wanted, magically get served and pay.

In reality you can browse the menu but it’s dog slow to do so and there is no ordering. Instead you order with the server as normal and you pop up magically on their terminal, which happens to be an iPad.

iPad Point of Sale with Square reader poking out

Then when you come to pay you say your name and they have a photo of you (taken when you set up wallet) to verify the transaction. After you pay the receipt almost instantly appears on your iPhone.

Square Wallet showing my receipt

This particular cafe also had 20% off the first purchase which rings all sorts of Groupon-esque alarm bells. And that’s an interesting train of thought; given the data they have on sellers, purchasers and transactions there are all kinds of fun analytics to be had. Hey, we know you buy coffee over there, switch to here for a week and get 10% off. It’s a more compelling idea than Groupon since they can do deeper tracking to see if you actually become a regular customer or whatever. The level of detail will be stunning if they can get the adoption; hey we know you like Beer x on a Friday, try this other place…

The problem I had is that I don’t have phone service. Normally I could have opened the app, or had it running in the background and it would do all this stuff over AT&T but instead I had to join the free wifi at the cafe first. That made it feel a bit clunky but I’m a tiny minority.

I figure the real transformational experience will be next summers batch of farmers markets. All those guys use square now and it will be possible to go from stand to stand making purchases without using cash or card. The time saving now I think about it would be substantial.

Square map

One last note on the nice design tweaks to the maps they show in the app. It looks like the Apple maps API in the background with some shadows around the map and a striped layer of darkness on top to give it the feel of being a semi-folded paper map. Very nice.



Great contra-article on VC

A nice article by Melanie;

A little anecdote: I have a friend of mine who runs a relatively well-known startup in NYC. He literally LIVES at the office. I’m serious, he moved in. And before that, he slept on the couch most nights. And, after working this hard for almost 2 years, guess how much revenue this startup is generating? Zero. Not a fucking penny. After 2 years of work! Now, I understand that they are trying to build a massive user base with network effects, blah blah blah, but, I’m sorry, that is absolutely fucking insane. I could never see myself living my life that way. I am just not built for it. To put in that many years of your life, and thousands of hours of work, for what will most likely turn out to be an unsuccessful startup, is just crazy to me. But, from reading the tech press, you would think this is one of the hottest startups in New York!

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