Location-aware OpenGov & Crowdsourced Data

I’ve been reading a lot about OpenStreetMap because, for many reasons, travel is something that I’m intending to do a lot more of.

Using your Maps app on your SmartPhone when in a foreign country is just a license for your carrier to print money. When you consider the amount of data transmitted it’s evident that until roaming costs are brought under control. there’s no sense in using online maps when travelling. Which kinda defeats the purpose.

So, OpenStreetMap, if you download the maps (something that you cannot do with Google Maps) seems to be a much more sensible proposition especially now that storage on SmartPhones is getting to the point that this becomes practical.

So, is a map enough?

Of course it is. But where things become interesting is when you combine them with other sources of data. Such as the newly opened data we’re getting out of OpenDataNI or some of the data which is available from NISRA (though the latter seems all embedded in PDF and not raw data at all).

This sort of ‘real life’ data is of immense interest, if people realise they can ask for it.

What about a location-aware app that:

  • stays open and records one set of location data every minute. What’s the interest there? It tells you where the fast and slow bits of the roads system are. Collate this data with a hundred other users across the province (never mind any other country) and you’ll generate an instant map of where the traffic snarl-ups are. Make it so that you can shift through the data according to time of day and you’ve got the basics of a route planner that will help you see traffic trends ahead. That’s much more useful than having someone sit and count cars all day at a junction.
  • stays open and records any bumps and jolts in the roads system using the built in accelerometer that comes with every new SmartPhone. Built in a threshold value and send any data that exceeds this up to the server. You’ll have to take into account the driver hitting the kerb or the iPhone dropping out of it’s holder but those should be outlying data points – what you’ll get is a bump map (or more accurately, a pothole map) of the province. So you can either avoid those roads or ask your local politician why this has gotten so bad and not been fixed.
  • permits the average citizen to report civil issues such as vandalism, broken kerbstones, potholes, non-functional streetmaps, illegal dumping or other civic issues. They take a photo, maybe add an audio report or text tag and the data is sent up to a server. Combine them into a map and look for which councils have the most issues. Offer the data to the councils to help them find the issues that plague them. Keep a report open on which councils respond better.
  • listens for keywords that a driver may shout. And we can see which parts of the road and which times of the day frustrate the most drivers. Yes, it’s a simplistic measure of Road Rage but a relatively cathartic one. Maybe the DoE Roads Service can focus on those areas with the most reports and see what they can do to alleviate it. It’s not always going to be other drivers.
  • gives you some advance warning of roadworks? There must be a database of this somewhere within the Roads Service – the question is how to get that data. And have the app do it’s own reporting so we can crowdsource what data we can’t get from official sources. I’d certainly be interested in seeing the difference between reported roadworks and planned roadworks – I’d expect there to be none?
  • tells you where the nearest taxi is and gives you an indication of it’s availability. All Taxi companies install GPS units in their taxis – we just want to know who is available and close so we can get a taxi quick. On the taxi front, why is there not an easy lookup for the new Taxi plates so we can type in the taxi number (or God forbid, photograph it) and be quickly given back the Registration plate it belongs to along with a photo of the taxi driver meant to be driving it.
    Green Taxi Plate

    That would give me heaps more confidence in the system. I don’t want to know his name, how many kids he has or whether he’s got a Microbiology degree – I just want to know if he’s who he says he is. Anyone can stick up a coloured plate.
  • tells you where your nearest bus stop is and tells you where the next bus to that stop is, where it’s going and it’s estimated time of arrival. Every bus has a GPS sender in it so we know the data is available. And we’d need access to the timetables as well. It would mean having useful data on when we’d need to leave the office to get a certain bus whether that bus is delayed or whether we should run for the train instead. Whether or not this be expanded to include reporting of cleanliness or vandalism or even just reporting exactly how late the bus was is up for debate.
  • gives you the approximate location of the flight your gran is on so you can choose not to wait in the expensive car park and go have a coffee somewhere that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Tie that in with the flights timetables and we’re laughing. (Today we were picking a friend up from Belfast City Airport. And the flight was diverted to the International. BCA did not know. It landed safely. BCA did not know. In fact, they had no information at all on what it was doing.)
  • shows you examples of urban archaeology. There are thousands of pictures out there showing what the city looked like ten years ago, fifty years ago, a hundred years ago. Why not use a street map to provide a ‘historical Street View’ so we can see what buildings used to look like, what traffic used to pass here and view landmarks which have long since disappeared.
  • provides a glimpse into the future. I think there’s real potential for architects and city planners to get out of their micro-models and into the real world and use these devices to help visualise what buildings will look like in situ. I’d reckon if that had been done down near the Waterfront, we’d not see the Waterfront hidden by architecture that comes from the breeze block era. It’s a beautiful building. Surrounded by horrors.
  • shows you all of the tourism events happening today in a visual form. Drag a slider or swipe over to 11 am and see what’s on where. Drag again to 2:30 and see what’s going on there. Community groups and Tourism agencies should be all over this.

The information context we need on all of this is location and time. Without both of these, there’s not enough context to make them truly useful.

We’d need everyone in every country to be using apps like this so there’s definitely an Export potential and a method of getting the information in there. These sorts of apps would be incredibly suitable for the “Mobile Apps Challenge” that is being organised by Digital Circle and Momentum, details of which will be forthcoming once sponsors are confirmed.

All of this becomes extremely exciting when you start looking at the apps which are driving AR to the top of the Hype Curve but even without AR, this is useful stuff.

Northern Ireland Water: Sewage Spill Shenanigens

Screen shot 2009-08-26 at 20.25.29

He’s referring to this.

Northern Ireland Water discharged untreated sewage into a body of water right beside a bathing and dinghy sailing area at Ballyholme in Bangor.

And they were fined £2000 plus £25 court costs.

If you think about it, they might as well just start pumping it in there wholesale – might be cheaper than actually treating it. What utter bastards. This occurred in August 2007 so it’s taken two years for the offence to be punished?

I’m surprised at the Environment Agency. They should have gone for blood especially because it was a government body which committed the offence. They may say that no-one is above the law but does £2000 really reflect the seriousness of the offence?

iPhone imitators are Cargo Cultists

Via O’Reilly Radar:

“In this week’s Ignite Show Jeff Veen, well-known for his design work on Google Analytics, Wikirank and Typekit, lays out a strong argument for why iPhone imitators are the cargo cults of the digital era. The people building touchscreen knock-offs don’t understand what makes the iPhone great. So instead of creating an end-to-end service they attempt to imitate it’s flashiest features – kind of like Pacific Islanders who built “planes” out of bamboo.”

It seems obvious when someone says it but this is how we all feel when someone tells me about how the new XXXX phone from XXXXX will be an iPhone Killer. They also don’t get it that you have to be BETTER not ‘almost as good as’ in more than one notable feature in order to assume that title.

This is what upsets me so much about Nokia’s recent handsets and the Ovi store. It was obvious what was good, they had a year to do something better with a plethora of content and developers behind them. And they still didn’t manage anything like the iPhone and AppStore.

Such a damn shame.

AR – Openness and Interoperability

Y’see, it’s all about the SPAM.

From 5 barriers to a web that’s everywhere

Interoperability, standards and openness have been what has let the Web scale and flourish beyond the suffocating walled gardens of its early days. The same is true of telephones, railroads and countless other networked technologies. Logically then, a lack of interoperability between AR environments would be a tragedy of the same type as if the web had remained defined by the islands of AOL and Compuserve or Internet Explorer, forever. (A lack of data portability when it comes to Augmented Reality could cause substantial psychological distress!)

As they continue in the article, no-one has yet published anything representing an open platform free of legal fears but there is an obvious attempt to create a beachhead by a couple of companies and it’s going to take a while for this to settle.

I have a mixed opinion. Control will go to the user and while I tolerate adverts in the web, I wouldn’t want them in Twitter and I won’t want them in my AR lenses unless they are heavily influenced by context. At the moment I see adverts based on the content of the web pages I visit or, in the case of television, on the time and channel – which leads to a very unsatisfactory experience. I don’t care about your 1U servers or your blades. I won’t be replacing my graphics card and I’m probably never going to buy a giant plush microbe.

If I’m walking along the road using my AR browser, I don’t want to see adverts for tampons, viagra, designer watches, managed servers, custom business logos or whatever. The real world is filled with advertising already, I only want to see adverts that have chosen context.

If we move to a standard display platform, like we have with the web, will I still have control over what gets downloaded to my handset? Remember, the data deal we sign up to with our phones is very different to our home broadband. If we step outside an arbitrary border, we start racking up huge charges. Coverage is often poor and every image is going to be worth thousand and thousands of words so online advertising is going to drain our pockets and leech our patience in new and tedious ways.

I’m all for an open platform – but let me choose the filters by which I can see the augmented world.

Muni WiFi: escape the Dialup Dark Ages

A few years ago I approached Belfast City Council with the idea of my company putting a large chunk of cash into a Meraki WIFI mesh which would then provide free WiFi to Cathedral Quarter. Cathedral Quarter was and still is plagued by having historic cobbled streets which prevent the laying of new lines – but for my business it was an opportunity. If Belfast City Council would pay for two or three ADSL lines in some buildings, we would sink a heap of capital into the network hardware and handle all of the installations. What would we get out of it? A bit of advertising to the Creative Centre of Belfast. That’s all we wanted. The response we got back was that the area already had BTOpenZone, which, if you investigate is notable for it’s absence in the area.

Undeterred I believe that Belfast needs a free-to-access Municipal Wi-Fi network.

There are providers around but the cost and subscription burden of many providers (and lack of basic interoperability, never mind poor user interfaces for mobile travellers) makes the current WiFi subscription set up to be a very unsatisfactory experience for the average traveller.

Belfast allegedly attracted 800,000 people for the Tall Ships event recently.

“Around 800,000 people crowded to the city’s docks for the biggest event ever staged on the island of Ireland. This included 100,000 holiday-makers who visited the city especially for the event – and 250,000 people believed to have watched the magnificent Parade of Sail out of Belfast Lough.”

(Doing the maths: This means there were 200,000 per day. Which means 10,000 per hour or so during the four days the Tall Ships were here. I call bullshit but hey).

Either way – there were thousands of people present and over 1000 crew from those ships. Would a free WiFi service have been useful to them? Of course. Last time I travelled to the US, I had to pay nearly £1000 in data and voice roaming charges and my next trip will likely be as bad if not worse. It is essential to the Tourism economy in Northern Ireland that we have a tourist-friendly environment. Rather than the tourist not using voice or data services (or worse, spending hundreds of pounds on roaming data paid to their home carrier), we should be providing that service free of charge and permitting them to use Skype or other voice services to call home. We need to build Northern Ireland as a progressive traveller-friendly destination.

Recently in the news, San Francisco is pioneering with Solar-Powered WiFi bus stops.


By 2013, San Francisco is planning to construct 360 new Muni bus stops that’ll further the causes of both solar power and blanketed Wi-Fi at the same time.

and Toyota created a bit of a news story with their new Prius advertising campaign:


Toyota planted five 18-foot tall “solar flowers” in Boston’s Prudential Plaza and provided free Wi-Fi and electricity that was “partially powered” by the solar panels attached to the petals and stem.

Think of where the roaming charges go. This money is not being used to build the Northern Ireland economy, they’re not being used to upgrade our infrastructure, build our schools or assist local business. The money goes somewhere else.

So, lets unwire Belfast. Let’s break the stranglehold on communications held by the mobile carriers where they can charge £6 per megabyte downloaded or uploaded which, frankly, drags us back to the dialup dark ages.

Kirkisms: Funding by Numbers part 2

Definition of insanity,
doing the same thing repeatedly
and expecting different results.
– @dhkirk

A few days ago, David wrote an essay which was called Funding By Numbers (Part 1 of 2) which I posted in it’s entirety here on my blog. Tonight, David sent me Part 2 – talking about markets, products and teams. It’s an interesting insight for those of us who have a company idea – I have lots of ideas but only one that I’m planning to do anything with RealSoonNow® so this has come at an opportune moment.

David begins:
Knowing VC arithmetic and fund metrics is only half of the equation. The numbers in your business plan’s financial forecasts need to positively answer the question “Can I make money with this deal?”

I have three questions, which help me answer that.

“Is this a big market?”

“Is this a hot product?”

“Is this the team that can deliver?”

But what is a “big” market and a “hot” product? It used to be we looked for a $100M of revenue in year-5 in a $1B market. Interesting how that $100M looks strangely similar to the year-5 revenue for exit valuation? It all comes down to “returns”.

Remember to scale down according to your investment needs and the returns needed by the VC. But even if you scale down, the ratio here is interesting. Basically it projects a 10% market share of the available market [I’ll return to available market later.] That’s a good market share target. Greater than 20% market share and you’ll see eyebrows raised and eyes rolling back. Less that 5% and you don’t have the ambition to get a “yes” to question three above.

OK. Available market. This is important, but skip this section of you already understand this.

There are three elements of market size; total market (TM), total available market (TAM) and total serviceable market (TSM). For starters and simplicity I’m going to ignore Total market – I can almost hear that sharp intakes of breath by countless business school professors! The other two are meaningful:

Total Available Market = size of the market that would buy your product
Total Serviceable Market = size of market that you will be selling to.

By way of example, lets say you have a product that disables a laptop if it is stolen.

The Total Market (which is meaningless) is the total number of PC’s in the world.

But this product only runs of Win XP, so the Total Addressable Market is the total number of PC’s, worldwide, running WinXP. This is the count of your potential pipeline of customers. The target customer. Note, you may also segment this further by identifying further target customer attributes, e.g. English speaking.

And, if you only ever plan to sell in Europe, then your Total Serviceable Marketable is the total number of PC’s, in Europe, running WinXP. Now you have a basis for projecting market share and strategic growth.

Without expanding your territory or adding additional OS support to your product, your market share is projected sales/Total Serviceable Market. You can increase your market, both available and serviceable, by expanding your product and your territories. That’s your business decision. As a potential investor, I just want to know I can make money whichever.

Welcome back to those you knew all that.

Now for your financial projections. The old rule of “no hockey sticks” is still relevant. And year-over-year growth is follows the laws of operational physics. I’ve never seen a $10B company double [outside of acquisition], but I have seen a company quintuple its revenues in the early years. Whilst there is no pro forma for revenue growth, I like to apply an operational realistic growth curve to the first five years of financial projections.

If year-1 is N, then
Year-2 over Year-1 can be 500%, giving a projection of 5N
Year-3 over Year-2 can be 300%, giving a projection of 15N
Year-4 over Year-3 can be 200%, giving a projection of 30N
Year-5 over Year-4 can be 180%, giving a projection of 54N

Year-1 MUST be a bottoms up calculation, showing that you know the operational reality of the sales channel for your product, and the channel MUST be scalable. Then just make sure that 54N is between 5% and 15% of your addressable/serviceable market!

Just a truism on business plan financial projections.

Revenue NEVER comes as fast as you think.

Cost are ALWAYS greater than you planned.

I expect that, its not a negative the first time, possibly even the second time … stuff happens, but lets hope the error is on the side of planning, verses execution.

And that brings me back to the final question … “Is this the team that can deliver”. At the end of the day, we invest in PEOPLE. There are LOTS of great ideas, big markets and hot products, but the road to financial nirvana is paved with teams of people that just couldn’t deliver.

I rate the management team as:

A … past champions (serial entrepreneurs), they’ve been up the hill before and just need a sounding board

C … first time in the game, need adult supervision
 think Bosack & Lerner and Morgridge [Cisco]
Case and Kimsey [AOL]
Andreessen and Clark [Netscape]
Page & Brin and Schmidt [Google]

B… played in a few games, but never scored

In all cases, with the right VC, you get the operational experience you need.

And that is the first 1% of what it takes to get a company funded and make a bucket load of money.

Augmented Reality Soundbites

I’m watching this:

Video: Bruce Sterling’s Keynote – At the Dawn of the Augmented Reality Industry from Maarten Lens-FitzGerald on Vimeo.

The keynote is something to watch I guess but on that host page scroll down for some of the soundbites.

“Is there an Augmented Reality system for building Augmented Reality systems?”
“You are going to need an industry journal”
“You are going to need an industry code of ethics”
“The majors will buy you out”

These four statements give me most pause.

Open Data

After not travelling long-distance for around 15 years, I found myself in San Francisco twice this year. San Francisco has many similarities to Belfast – a plethora of neighbourhoods, a strong history of civil rights activity and the majority of economic activity being firmly in the ‘S’ part of SME.

San Francisco also has an initiative to open City data such as crime statistics, restaurant health codes and municipal recycling information. This will be stored at DataSF.org. Northern Ireland’s equivalent is the recently launched OpenDataNI initiaitve.

These efforts are aimed at the citizen as well as the entrepreneur. There’s nothing stopping a smart developer/designer from building and marketing a service that uses open data in a new and interesting way. Whether that’s directing individuals to recycling spots around the city or mixing school and crime data together with a property rental service (something I’m guessing we’ll see coming out of Propertypal judging by some of their recent tweets – smart guys!)

We already have some innovators in this arena and Momentum / Digital Circle is working to foster additional development. I’ve been working to develop the already exciting iPhone development community in Northern Ireland. DevDays in April attracted 155 people and Refresh Belfast last Monday got 90 people through the door focusing on iPhone Design despite a literally last minute venue mishap due to double-booking.

Momentum / Digital Circle are launching a Mobile Application Challenge in the coming weeks. The premise is to get folk out there displaying some of the work they are doing in Mobile Applications (featuring but not limited to iPhone development) and getting them in front of potential investors and also a potential audience. By focusing on the areas of Consumer, Health & Wellbeing, Public Service Value and Enterprise, we’re showing off some of the excellent work that goes on behind closed doors or under license to other companies in other countries. We’re putting together a series of workshops – highlighting design, Connected Health, applications which use the Cellular network and assistance in protection and exploitation of intellectual property.

For open data the possibilities are still yet to be realised and the OpenDataNI staff would love to hear more suggestions on data sources which would benefit the general public. What have we, the public, paid for and yet we don’t have access to?

Knowledge Navigator +22 years

In 1987, Apple made this video.

ComputerWorld showed off some demo shots of the new OLPC.


With everyone freaking out about what Apple may do for the Tablet form factor – and even some manufacturers holding off releasing devices until they see what Apple is up to, I’d say that this market is probably going to change rapidly. We’ve already seen the impact of the iPhone and iPod touch to the portable computer/mobile phone market so that it now has carriers, manufacturers and OS-vendors scrabbling to catch up – but what does the future bring.

Is the world ready for a new tablet, whether that’s an Apple tablet or a OLPC? Frankly – looking at the OLPC – I’d buy one (or more) for my kids.


From the Irish Times:

IN RECENT months, The Irish Times has published a number of articles defending the €8.2 billion science budget in the current National Development Plan, but its striking that the practitioners of the hard sciences present few hard facts in its defence. Dreams of finding a new Nokia are fine but critics question the over-reliance of a small country like Ireland, on university-driven basic research.

The Oireachtas has given little attention to reviewing the planned expenditure of €8.2 billion over the period 2007-2013, and last June, Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced a 28-strong innovation taskforce, packed with insider members from the universities and State agencies.

US venture capital-backed businesses use different people and procedures than the typical laboratory high-level research: they employ a much smaller proportion of PhDs in their technical staff, and their overall workforces contain a larger proportion of managers and sales and marketing staff – people who are close to users.

It would be foolish for Ireland to bank its future on a university lab or unquestionably accept the position of the various vested interests involved.

The first question I had while reading this was “Where’s our innovation task force?

Over the last months, I have toyed with the idea that Northern Ireland needs some strong, non-aligned leadership in a future digital economy and that should come in the form of a technocrat-think-tank. This is the independent body that our Ministers should be talking to when talking about the future of the Northern Ireland economy. They should come from all walks of life – biotech, greentech, digital content, software.

(And yes, I’d love to be part of that but I’m humble enough to know that my technical smarts are probably not up to scratch for this kind of thing.)

We do have the HORIZON panels – but since the report was published what’s happened. And if grassroots initiatives like NISW are going to find any traction with government, surely it’s going to need to include buy-in from groups like the HORIZON panel on ICT.

So…where do we go from here?

We start lighting fires.