Geography 970

February 4, 2010


Returning home after our first class meeting, I found a weird email waiting for me.  It was a user key for  At first I thought it was another aspect of class to go along with lists, blogs, deliciousness, etc.  As it turned out, the timing was largely a coincidence.  I had asked for a trial user account for the SimpleGeo beta back in October after receiving a message on the siac listserve sent around by Puneet Kishor.  Now that that’s settled….

SimpleGeo is a newish take on the geo-web.  They say they want to do for the geo-web what PayPal did for the online shopping sector.  Apparently, that mission statement is just vague enough to get them $1.5 million in seed money:

The most interesting thing I have been able to find about this company is that their business model was developed because they failed to get an augmented reality game off the ground.  They figured, “We’ll program that geo-web stuff next month, and then role out the game in May…”  Turns that geography stuff is really difficult, so their game never got finished.  But then they had an epipheny, “Hey, I bet a lot of companies struggle with this stuff.  Can we provide a service (and make some money) by doing the geo-processing needed for online applications?”

My answer: no.  Best of luck to them, though.  As we are about to find out with the twitter project, the current state of geodata on the web is abysmally complex.  My experience is that it takes a month of failed attempts to fully discover all the limitations and possibilities of geodata.  What are the limitations and possibilities you are referring to Matt?  Well, that depends on your application.  In our case we’ll have a lot to figure out on the precision of geotagged and geolocated tweets.  In my flickr project, I have a lot to figure out in order to classify users as ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ for the flickr neighborhoods.  These are just two little projects, but the time investment for each one will on the order of 100 hours.  And most importantly, it will be the lead developers putting in the time.  The only way to figure out how to use web-based geodata is to … well … use it.

SimpleGeo thinks companies can outsource this part of development.  I doubt it.  PayPal was quickly and hugely successful because it plugs into the web application to fulfill a relatively simple, repetitive task.  PayPal gathers payment info, verifies accounts, and transfers funds.  While the banking and regulatory aspects might require lots of lawyers and bankers (hence the success of PayPal’s approach to taking this off the hands of smaller websites), but the interaction between the users and the websites are very, very narrowly defined.  Geodata?  It’s a wonderful mess right now, and it’s hard to see how prepackaged database and api services are going to meet the needs of application developers.

On the other hand, if they’re hiring, I’ll take a job, please.



  1. Hi Matt – Good find and I agree completely: Geographic data comes in a million flavors and has so many ways that it can prevent us from working with and merging it together and mapping it *automatically* and *seamlessly* than no one yet has cracked this nut. Not even close, in fact. And it’s not through lack of trying: Although it’s not my field of expertise, I wonder if these tech hipsters realize that there thousands of top academic/gov’t/industry folks have been working on this for-ever and that there are national and international commissions and working groups and conferences on data interoperability, meta data, etc.? Probably not (which both sides have to take some blame for).

    Side note, despite loving TED, I love the way Jarod Lanier portrays and calls-out this new breed of tech hipster when he asks “Is the exclusive TED conference intellectual nirvana—or just a return to high school?”

    Good read:

    Comment by markharrower — February 5, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    • ..a new crop of Web 2.0 businesses—Twitter, Facebook and so on—all run by handsome, pleasant, popular guys.


      Comment by mattmoehr — February 5, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: