Tag Archives: google

Mano Marks: “The map is just a piece of what’s going on”

Mano Marks
Mano Marks

Mano Marks is a Staff Developer Advocate on the Google Developer Platform team. He works to help developers implement Google’s APIs in their applications. He has a Masters in History, and another in Information Management and Systems. His career has taken him from database management at non-profits, to keynote addresses at Google Developer Days around the world. Mano has been with Google for 8.5 years, and was the founding member of the Maps Developer Relations team, working back then with KML and then the Maps API. Now he works across the Google Developer Platform. You can find him on Google+, Twitter, and Github.

Interviewer’s note: In 2013 CalGIS had the privilege of getting Mano Marks (@ManoMarks) to speak at our conference. Since then, I’ve found out how much more of a geohipster he was than I realized at the time. Thanks, Mano, for spending some time answering questions for the GeoHipster readers!

Mano was interviewed for GeoHipster by Christina Boggs.

Q: You have degrees in history as well as in information management and systems. How did you get into the geospatial universe?

A: Of course I’ve always loved maps. Who doesn’t? When I was a kid, I had a subscription to National Geographic, and I pored over the maps trying to understand them. I was really into games, role playing games and board war games, which were really map-related. Match that with my Masters in History, where I focused on Eastern Europe, where the map was constantly changing, and I was set up to try to crave knowledge of the world from a spatial point of view. I just never considered it from a career point of view.

I got my Masters from the School of Information at UC Berkeley in 2006. At the time, XML was the major data interchange format and I spent a lot of time understanding the XML universe and document construction. So when I started at Google on what became the Developer Relations Team, they had me work on KML. So I backed into it, but as soon I was there, I started learning everything I could.

Q: One of the neat things about the geohipster community is how diverse we are. You’ve been with Google for more than eight years now, what do you do with them?

A: I work on the developer relations team, helping developers learn how to use Google’s developer platform in their applications. This resulted in spending a lot of time on the road for a few years, talking to tens of thousands of developers around the world. One trip in 2011, I literally flew around the world over the course of a month, from San Francisco to China to Australia, Tel Aviv, several stops in Europe, and then home to San Francisco.

Recently, I’ve worked more internally, helping out other members of the team and working on code samples. I helped out on this project, which shows developers how to create sites using JSON-LD, Web Components, and Schema.org markup. Of course there’s a strong mapping component to it.

Q: In times past you have functioned as a liaison between developers and geofolk. If you could give advice on how these two groups could better interact together, what would you say?

A: Honestly, I’d say to geofolk it’s time to learn how to code. There will always be a place for people who are GIS specialists. And, more and more GIS-only folks are getting left behind by focusing on just using complex applications to create a map that is divorced from everything around it. The map is important — it’s a star in whatever platform you’re using. But it’s just a piece of what’s going on. Location, identity, interaction, and more are where people are spending their time. The vast majority of developers using maps don’t want to know how the maps technology works, they want to know that it’ll be stable, and provide their users with what they need.

Q: Google Maps just turned 10! I was just reading an article from Directions Magazine where Diana S. Sinton said:

“Over the last decade, what Google has done to build up the public understanding and awareness of maps and mapping, particularly through the web, has been priceless for GIS. They made the inaccessible accessible, and produced a common point of reference to be able to communicate about GIS. “It’s a little like Google Earth” may be one of the most effective GIS conversation starters ever. Whatever may happen to that technology in the future, it will have left an indelible cultural impact.”

She’s right, it was a change in our culture. What do you think is going to be the next thing imprinted on our culture? Any upcoming developments that you’d like to leak on GeoHipster first?

A: Ha ha, yeah…unfortunately I can’t leak anything. And I can say that the core technologies that our platforms are built on are evolving at a rapid pace. We carry around these super computers in our pockets. I’m using a Nexus 6 right now, which is akin to having a small laptop in your pocket, both in power and size. People have talked for years about “location-based apps” but that time has come.

And what’s amazing to me is how much people just expect it. It’s a little like the early days of Google Earth, when people would say to me “My Google Earth is broken. I left my car in the driveway but it doesn’t show up when I zoom in on my house.” People now get confused when there’s a new business that hasn’t shown up yet in their app. I think we’re going to see a lot more of, well, I wouldn’t say “real-time” data in maps, but more up-to-date data.

Q: You put Mountain View on the GeoHipster map. I think of Mountain View for Shoreline Amphitheatre but I drive by Google every time I’m going into the parking lot there. Silicon Valley has been the driver for tech and geo trends and now I might even extend the sphere to the entire Bay Area (San Francisco Bay Area). Do you think your region is going to continue to drive tech and geo trends into the future?

A: I absolutely think that it’ll be a big driver of world tech. Fortunately for Google there are smart people who like to work everywhere. I just spent a year in the Zurich office and loved it. I think you’ll increasingly see developers in countries like Mexico, Brazil, Kenya, and other countries contributing to driving tech.

Q: Speaking of trends and developments … HTML5, JavaScript, turf.js, dat, do you think these are the next game-changers, or are these passing fads? As folks make technology choices, how much do you think the sexy/cool/hip factor drives those choices?

A: Hmmm…I definitely think that there is a coolness/hipness factor to many new technologies. I don’t think that means they are not important or really good at what they do, but remember when XML was the big thing? Sure, it’s still used a lot, but it’s not growing dramatically. Or PHP? There’s a language whose time in the sun is gone. What I wonder about instead is what is the next HTML? That was the most important game changer, it made creating a presentation easy, super easy. KML did that for geospatial data, to an extent. I’ve seen a lot of people who were not developers create KML files and really get into it. But what’s the next thing that someone who doesn’t really understand programming can get into? What can they use to create something that communicates with millions? That’s the real game changer.

Q: I’ve seen you post cool pictures and photo spheres from your travels. Many of the most hip of the geohipsters have passion projects that they’re able to either incorporate into their work or they work on outside of work. What are you working on right now?

A: You know, the last thing I worked on was the semantic markup plus web components project. I wrote a small reference Node.js app to take arbitrary data from a MySQL database and return it as a JSON-LD feed in Schema.org markup. Yes, Node.js is very hipsterish right now :-). I think the question of transforming data to semantic markup in non-XML format is not well settled. There aren’t great libraries for it — in part because JS developers have so many frameworks already, I think they’re afraid of something complex and potentially slow. Especially if it smacks of XML.

That question interests me, but that specific project is wrapping up, at least on my end. So I’m not sure. I am really interested in photography, games, and old maps. One thing I wish someone would do is develop a really good way to OCR old maps to capture location data that we don’t have any more. I’m not sure that’s me, but if anyone has any ideas that would be great.

Q: Last question, while you’ve got the ear of the geohipster community — do you have anything you’d like to share?

A: Pity the poor developer. Remember that creating a new data format doesn’t solve all your problems. Chances are it just creates more.

Most geohipster types I know code, but if you don’t code, start. And spread the word.

Josh Livni: “Depth is important; breadth is more useful”

 

Josh Livni
Josh Livni

Josh Livni has been making maps ever since he started getting lost in the wilderness. He works on the Google Crisis Response team, helping to make actionable information more accessible during times of disaster. Before joining Google, he ran a consulting company, integrating cartographic and statistical tools on the web.  He cuts his own hair, likes his beers bitter, and his salsa spicy.

Josh was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: How did you get into mapping/GIS?

A:  Well, my wife thinks it’s because I can’t find my way around anywhere. Which is generally true: I don’t have a great sense of direction.  Starting in high school I spent a lot of time in the wilderness, and maps were like magic to me as I figured out different routes.  By the time I got to college I started to think that the integration of technology and maps was imminent and I really wanted to be part of it all.

After working at a streaming media startup during the first “.com” boom, I decided to make a career for myself that allowed me to focus on technology and the environment. I had a degree in environmental studies, and GIS seemed like a great way to mix some computer skills with figuring out how the earth works, and hopefully having a positive impact.

I started out volunteering at an environmental non-profit, where I taught myself how to use Esri and related proprietary software. From there, I slowly switched to using open source as I needed to programmatically handle bigger datasets, longer running processes, and webmaps. I never turned back and I’ve been working in geo now for over 12 years. I feel lucky to have found a profession that is so perfect for me and that I enjoy doing everyday.

Q: You recently transferred within Google from being a geo developer advocate to the Crisis Response team. What will your new duties include? Will you be doing more or less geo stuff than before?

A: There’s almost always some spatial component in getting useful information to people who have been affected during a disaster, so I’ll still be working with lots of geo data. But as always, there are many more ways to effectively communicate spatial data than simply placing it within the context of a map. My colleagues on the Crisis Response team have put a lot of thought into this (and many other areas), and I’m going to be focused on helping automate and scale more of our response processes to bring actionable information to those affected, more quickly, across the world.  The exciting part here is mixing spatial content with other data, where the concept of geo goes beyond maps and cartography.

Q: I was an early user of your shpEscape tool, which loads shapefiles into fusion tables and now also converts shapefiles to GeoJSON and TopoJSON. I love shpEscape — it fills an important void. Will you continue to enhance and add functionality to shpEscape?

A:  shpEscape was actually a weekend project of mine many years ago.  The Fusion Tables API doesn’t accept shapefiles as an input, but it was gaining a following amongst non-GIS folks who weren’t sure what to do with this “shapefile” thing they had downloaded. The code was originally designed to be throwaway, and the site was never really advertised; I’m constantly surprised it’s still running, let alone used.  But I’m glad you like it!  When people tweet me if the queue seems stuck (usually when someone uploads a few very large complex files), I often say:  ‘Yup, I should really think about working on that sometime.’  Maybe it’s that time now and I’ll check it out again: What enhancement would you like to see?

Q: How about the ability to handle all features of the “enhanced” KML output of Google My Tracks, which currently comes across as just two points (beginning and end) in most mapping applications?

Well shpEscape only accepts shapefiles as input.  But adding more formats, including KML, is definitely a good idea.  I’ve had in the back of my mind a total rewrite that turns it into a general interchange site for any spatial data for a while now.

You may also be interested to know the OGC KML Standards Working Group is currently discussing whether to put gx:Track into the upcoming 2.3 spec. While some of the gx: extensions to KML don’t make sense for 2D-only applications, or those without robust temporal visualizations, this one certainly does.  If and when it becomes part of the KML namespace, I’m optimistic we’ll see more applications accepting it.

Q: Do you think the current open/closed source balance — within and without the geo industry — will change significantly in the near future? Will open source continue to gain market share?

A: There are a lot of different markets, and in some niche verticals open source may never gain traction.  But overall yeah, I expect open source software will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in both geo and the rest of the software ecosystem.

Q: Heartbleed and the recently-discovered OpenSSL vulnerability have bolstered skepticism regarding one of the main advantages of open source. Does it make a difference that the code is available for review if nobody reviews it?

A: I’m not convinced that security is a priority for most developers.  That is the real problem, and I think it affects both open source and proprietary software similarly.  There are exceptions on both sides, but developers are mostly interested in features, like ease of use, or interop, or whatever.  Getting stuff to work is hard, so most developers focus on just getting stuff working, which is why everything is broken.

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: I think that poll has me nailed: I almost always prefer GeoJSON (my only complaint is no explicit winding order), and I would never refer to myself as a GeoHipster.

Q: Geohipster (and geohipsterism as a concept) is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and/or attempting to foster divisions within the industry. Or sometimes for being different for the sake of being different. You have published the source code for shpEscape. Did you do it to be different?

A: Cliques can be important for building depth within a specific community, but I lean towards breadth as being more useful (at least for me).  When webmaps became popular, the neo-geography crowd purposely avoided a lot of knowledge from the GIS community. By passing up a lot of unnecessary complexity, one result was a tremendous upswell of simple and elegant tools, but also a lot of mistakes and miscommunication that still hinder us today.

Looking at the poll results it seems like people who responded to being geohipsters are bridging that divide more than coming up with anything particularly exclusive, which wouldn’t have been my initial definition of a hipster, but I think it’s good in this case.

As for publishing the source code for ShpEscape, I did it because open sourcing stuff like that just makes sense.  I recall being a bit embarrassed by the code quality, but that wasn’t the point of the demo, nor is it a good excuse to keep it hidden.  I doubt many people have actually tried to deploy it though; I’d like to go back to it one day with a fresh rewrite as a generic swiss army knife for transforming data, with a more reasonable architecture.

Q: You fly paragliders, which is something I always wanted to try. How did you get into that? Did you do that to be different? 🙂

A:  No, I tried paragliding to see if it would be awesome. For as long as I remember I’ve had dreams of flying, and when I first heard about paragliding I thought it might be boring (sitting in some kind of chair didn’t compare to my superman-style vision).  But a friend of mine convinced me to give it a shot, and I was totally hooked.  In some ways, it’s more amazing than my childhood dreams were.  Unfortunately I have not been up for a long time.  As a personal goal, I’m going to go flying before I work on shpEscape.  Sorry!

All one planet

I am just going to leave this here while I work on my tractate (Working title: “Is (geo)hispterism exclusive?” (Thesis: “No”)).

Matt Richards, Josh Livni, Andrew Turner at SOTMUS 2014
Matt Richards, Josh Livni, Andrew Turner at SOTMUS 2014