Tag Archives: open street map

Eric Gundersen & Alex Barth: “Working in the open lets us meet really cool people”

Eric Gundersen (top) and Alex Barth
Eric Gundersen (top) and Alex Barth
As CEO of Mapbox, Eric Gundersen coordinates product and business development. Eric has been with the team since the start, and splits his time working on projects in San Francisco and Washington, DC.

Eric got his start in the mapping and open data space at Development Seed, building open source tools for international development agencies. He holds a master's degree in international development from American University in Washington, DC, and has dual  bachelor's degrees in economics and international relations.
Alex Barth is an open data expert with years of practice in developing and implementing open data strategies and solutions on behalf of multinational organizations like the United Nations and World Bank. At Mapbox, he leads our data team to raise the availability and quality of freely accessible open data.

Before joining Mapbox, Alex was a developer and strategist for Development Seed. Prior to that, Alex managed information technology for an international development organization in Central America, where he became involved in the Central American open source community. In his free time, Alex has designed interactive robots and virtual reality interfaces, organized a traveling exhibit depicting life in Nicaragua and its sweatshops, and taken photos of his life and travels in Washington, DC, Nicaragua, and Austria.

Q: Mapbox is currently one of the coolest geo companies to work for, attracting top talent at neck-breaking speed. How do you do it, and how do you maintain the coolness factor?

A: So much of our work is out in the open, us coding on GitHub or editing on OpenStreetMap — working like this in the open lets us meet really cool people. When we find people who do cool stuff we ask them: You’re doing great stuff, would you like to get paid to do that?

Q: OpenStreetMap (OSM) relies on volunteers to map the world. Mapbox is relying on OSM to make maps. How do you help make sure there are people to map? How do you help recruit people to the platform?

A: We invest in tools to make it easier to map. We helped build the iDEditor, we love sponsoring mapping parties, collaborate with cities to do large data imports, and most recently have been designing micro-tasking interfaces like to-fix.

Q: With all that you’re doing — will you always be tied to OpenStreetMap as a basemap?

A: Our platform is totally data agnostic. We have customers using TomTom or HERE data to power their basemaps in addition to OpenStreetMap. For us it’s all about being a platform and providing the building blocks for developers to do whatever they want to locations. That said, you know our bet is all on open data in the long run.

Q: Do you aim to rewrite GIS in JavaScript?

A: Working on it.

Q: Verizon, Aol, MapQuest — what’s going on there?

A: Finally we can talk publicly 😉 — what’s so exciting for us is that MapQuest still accounts for an insane amount of map traffic, and it’s growing. Their team is going to use our building blocks to make their next generation mapping product on both mobile and web. And while I can’t comment on specifics, what I have seen looks really hot.

Q: An official Mapbox-MapQuest partnership announcement was made after our initial talk. Congratulations! Still no word on the Verizon mobile location data stream, and whether the ODbL OpenStreetMap license will be a barrier to using it. Can you comment on that?

A: Mapbox maps are 100% owned by Mapbox and licensed under our TOS. So everyone using Mapbox never has to worry about any data licenses from the dozens and dozens of sources we all pull together to make our map.

Q: What meat will Mapbox barbecue on the funeral pyre of HERE?

A: Obviously brats if the German auto consortium wins. But I’m starting to get excited to cook Peking Turducken — looking like the Chinese are making a for-real play, maybe with an American partner. If our bid wins, and we get a snapshot of the data, it’s going to be tallboy beer can chicken coast to coast.

Q: Mapbox is opening offices in South America and India. What are the business opportunities there for Mapbox to explore?

A: The data teams in Peru and India have been amazing! These are our dedicated teams for making OpenStreetMap better. From processing probe data we collect, to analyzing errors in OpenStreetMap, to tasking new satellite imagery — these teams run 24 hours a day 5 days a week feedback loop letting us be ultra-responsive and laying the groundwork to grow even more.

Q: Where do you see Mapbox in 2020?


Q: Do you consider yourselves geohipsters? Why / why not?

A: Ah, you saw the garage full of fixies?

Q: Thank you for the interview. Any parting words for the GeoHipster readers?

A: It’s the early days, and that is not meant to be prophetic.

Kate Chapman: “If what HOT is doing seems exciting to you, get involved”

Kate Chapman
Kate Chapman

Kate Chapman is the Executive Director at the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Her most recent work has been in Indonesia working on a three-year program with the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction using OpenStreetMap and InaSAFE to help disaster managers better develop contingency plans. Previous to working at HOT, Kate was involved in development of multiple web GIS applications, including GeoCommons and iMapData.

Kate was interviewed for GeoHipster by Randal Hale.

Q: So, Ms. Kate Chapman, how did you dive into the world of geospatial?

A: I was attending George Mason University focusing on Computer Science, but I wasn’t often going to class, and I ended up on academic suspension. During the semester I was not attending school I found a job with a mosquito control company as a pesticide applicator (this was back when West Nile Virus was going to kill us all). Unfortunately the first day we discovered I was allergic to the pesticide being used. Instead of being fired for not being able to do the job I was hired for, I was given a pirated copy of ArcView 3.2 and told to learn it. At this point I decided mapping was pretty cool, and discovered switching to Geography at GMU when I returned would allow me to graduate way more quickly than computer science. So I switched majors and continued working as a cartographer for the mosquito control company.

Q: As I have said — let he who has not pirated ArcView 3.2 cast the first stone. So you are now the executive director for HOT. For those who do not know — what is HOT? What does the executive director do?

A: My ArcView 3.2 came pre-pirated.

HOT is short for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. HOT applies the principles of open source and open data sharing to improve the welfare of the communities where we work, especially those at risk of natural disaster or other crisis. That essentially means two major things: First, we organize international volunteers to create data in OSM — primarily through digitizing and using already open data — and second, we provide training and technical assistance to communities and organizations in areas prone to disaster.

As the Executive Director I’m responsible for running the operations of HOT under strategic guidance from our Board of Directors. It is a position not dissimilar to that of a CEO.

Q: Nothing like the fabulous life of a CEO. If I’m not mistaken, you ended up in Jakarta, Indonesia, hopping islands, teaching locals about mapping in OpenStreetMap. All of that was in preparation for a tsunami event in the future. What was it like teaching the concepts of OSM and open data to an entirely different culture?

A: It is true that OSM brought me to Jakarta. The program name is Scenario Development for Contingency Planning (SD4CP). The goal of SD4CP is to help disaster managers use science to inform their contingency plans. What that means is the World Bank, Australian and Indonesian governments were working to build software that could do impact modeling (the software is now called InaSAFE). They had scientific models on hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis, but were missing exposure data such as buildings, schools and health facilities. I came in with HOT to see if we could help foster an OSM community to collect that data. Things have grown and now our team is responsible for the curriculum for the program and providing training. They teach OSM, QGIS, and InaSAFE to government, NGOs, individuals, and educational institutions.

Q: What was the best thing that happened — and the goofiest — while you were there?

A: The best thing was that I got to travel all over Indonesia with a great team. It was amazing to see how diverse the country is, and to meet all kinds of people. As far as the team, HOT Indonesia was divided into two training teams at the time, Team A and Team B (yes, we were so creative).

Hmmm, the goofiest… I think that would be the quantity of “jumping photos.” Jumping pictures are exactly what they sound like. Everyone in the picture jumps so they are airborne when the picture is taken.

Q: I notice on the HOT mailing list sometimes you guys respond to a request from an aid organization, and sometimes you just start mapping. Who are some of the humanitarian organizations that ask for help?

A: We get a lot of different mapping requests. Sometimes it can be as simple as someone has a particular interest in an area — they are from there, they have friends there, etc. Though often requests are from larger organizations. Recently we launched the Missing Maps project in partnership with the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, and Doctors without Borders UK. This is a way to bring people together and support HOT in filling in gaps on the maps.

We also receive requests from other International Non-Governmental Organizations, offices of the United Nations, and national governments. It really depends on the disaster and the need.

Q: How do you sustain an organization that maps for free (plug for money if you want)?

A: We sustain the organization primarily through grants for specific projects. We are also a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, so donations to HOT are tax-deductible to US taxpayers. http://hot.openstreetmap.org/donate

Q: So what about this Geoglobal Domination Video thing? What is that about?

A: Well, you can always post the link to GeoGlobalDomination: the Musical.

(Here it is. –ed.)

Q: Is roller derby as fake as wrestling, Wonderchook?

A: No.

Q: Any parting words for the smart and good-looking readers of GeoHipster?

A: If what HOT is doing seems exciting to you, please check out our “Get Involved” page: http://hot.openstreetmap.org/get-involved

Steve Coast to GeoHipster: “You try stuff and 90% of it’s gonna fail, and you should be happy with that”


Steve Coast
Steve Coast

Steve Coast is the founder of Open Street Map and Head of OSM at Telenav.

Steve was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev, incorporating question suggestions from Renee Sieber and Christina Boggs.

Q: Last week was the 10th anniversary of Open Street Map, which you founded. Congratulations! OSM and you personally got a lot of press, all of it good. Will that further the cause or OSM?

A: It’s a key part of the PR effort. At least it used to be. I’m not sure it has the same importance today, because there are so many people doing the same thing, but it’s part of that.

Q: My wife is my one-person focus group who has been remarkably accurate on most things Internet. She doesn’t use OSM. How will you convince her to start using it?

A: Open Street Map itself is not particularly designed to be used as a consumer product. It’s other people that make stuff on top of Open Street Map that package it in such a way that it’s usable by anybody. An example in the United States and now in the rest of the world would be Scout — a navigation client that Telenav makes. So we take Open Street Map and we spend a lot of time making it usable, so consumers can use it for turn-by-turn navigation. But today the focus of Open Street Map itself is about getting people to contribute data, not necessarily to use it. So it’s perfectly fine if your wife or anyone else wants to use another product, that makes a lot of sense.

Q: You currently work for Telenav, whose mission is to make people’s lives less stressful. Does your job make your life less stressful? What do you do for Telenav?

A: Historically I have been working on making sure that Scout works for consumers. Making sure the navigation information is there, making sure the addressing works, making sure the consumer experience is great behind Open Street Map. So I work with a team of a large number of people, 120 now we are up to, to make it all work. My official title is Head of OSM.

Q: In your most recent video you talk about why “Open Street Map is going to win”. What do you mean “to win”? Win what?

A: I mean having the best map in the world. Not necessarily the best consumer experience but the best map data. It’s already the best display map, right? So the next question is can it also be the best addressable map and the best navigable map. Those are the next two things to go after.

Q: What is the future of OSM? Gamification? Monetization?

A: Lots of people have monetized Open Street Map, including Telenav. The gamification, personally I love that, but OSM today is a lot of communities and lots of people, and you have to make a case for those people that it should be gamified. And in fact people do make apps on the side to try and gamify things like the collection of data on mobile devices, but getting changes and integration into the main site is hard because it affects a lot of people. But that doesn’t stop you from making your own app on the side to do these things.

Q: Is there a future in which the majority of contributions to OSM will be from passive sensing of location?

A: Again, with Telenav we’ve purchased a lot of GPS traces to get the navigable information into the map itself. So people already do that. OSM itself started with GPS traces, before we had aerial imagery. So I guess you can say we started with passive stuff and we just got better at it over time.

Q: What do you think of CC BY-SA?

A: I think Creative Commons is great. It’s fantastic. It works very well for creative works like books and photos. Unfortunately it didn’t work super well for data, like we have in OSM. Which is why we spent a lot of time on the Open Database License. Which is designed to be actually very similar to Creative Commons, just different enough that it covers the data use cases.

Q: Some have asked “Why not just release the data in the public domain?”, but isn’t the issue that in some countries in Europe (not in the US), you just can’t release your work into the public domain? You must release it under some kind of license?

A: That exists. In some countries it’s called the moral right. You can’t give up the copyright in the same way you can’t sell yourself into slavery. Do I particularly care? No, as long as I don’t live in one of those countries, and you can always sign a waiver that effectively does the same thing.

Q: Does OSM have a moral imperative? Is OSM out there to do good? Should the GUI be developed to maximize the diversity of participants? Enhance democracy? Is there such goal?

A: I think that it’s good that there are people involved in the project that do want to do that, and they are interested in OSM from a different perspective. That enhances what we get done, because of the diversity of opinion. Me personally, I was just out to create a map. Those other things are good things, it just wasn’t my focus, but it’s good that there are people on OSM who are focused on that.

Q: Little is known about Steve Coast, the person. Tell us more about yourself — any hipstery hobbies? I hope you ride a unicycle or grow your own hops. Do you?

A: I go hang gliding. I am completing my private pilot’s license. I ride bicycles. I think that’s it.

Q: What is going on with Map Club?

A: I shut it down. Everyone in OSM is a volunteer, and the question was could we create some sort of membership organization that could be self-supporting and go do things. Whether those things are building tools, or collecting more data. We have two choices: either everyone’s a volunteer or everyone works for a company. The companies tend to have overlapping interests with OSM but they are not the same interests. We can work together, and it can be beneficial, but it’s not like you have directly identical goals. So the question is could you do something in-between? A membership organization came to be the one way to go. Unfortunately wasn’t convincing enough so it didn’t work out. But it was worth a try.

Q: What is the takeaway from this experience? What’s the lesson learned? That people don’t want to pay for mapping?

A: I don’t think it is that people don’t want to pay. It’s two things. One: The amount of money required was a bit more than I’d hoped. You could pick $100/year but then you’d need a lot of people, but if it could be $50/month — which is what people are paying for their cell phone — then you can get a lot more done. The actual model could work if it was slightly different. I was undercharging. Second: What is the value that you are offering. And there wasn’t a clear value proposition. It was an experiment. What can we achieve? And it was difficult to find out what we could go do because we didn’t have any money. It was very chicken-and-egg.

Q: This from a GeoHipster contributor: You are so playful and fun… After being in the industry so long, how do you keep a smile?

A: Ha ha ha. That’s a really good question… I just don’t take this stuff seriously I guess. On one level I take it very seriously because obviously finishing the project and getting the data out there is important, but on another level, I think, the simple answer is being very aware that you’re going to die one day. So it’s hard to get upset and angry about stuff when you realize that. It’s more important to go build things and show people and just be happy that 90% of the stuff that you’re gonna do is going to fail, like Map Club, for example. Most people never try to do anything at all. So you try stuff and 90% of it’s gonna fail, and you should be happy with that.

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