Sunday, March 28, 2010

Time to move on

This is my last post using Blogger.

Thank you Google you have helped me to get GIScussions read by quite a lot of people and to be honest I have nothing but good words to say about Blogger and I would recommend you to anyone getting a blog started. But now is the time for me to move GIScussions to its new home at

Click on the logo to have a look at GIScussions' new home. It will take me a while to work out how to make the most of WordPress so be patient and if you have advice don't hesitate to leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Differing views on the OS consultation

I have been following some of the responses to the CLG consultation on freeing OS data and future business models. Some of the reactions to other peoples' responses are almost more interesting than the actual responses.

Before commenting let me be open and say that I chose not to respond to the public consultation for a several reasons - I had already been part of the first phase pre consultation so I had said my bit and I just did not have the time to do any more.

It seems to me that many of the the responses split into a few groups:
  1. Those who say give me as much free data as possible now and fund it through taxes (or even don't bother me with the technicalities of how it is funded) but basically keep OS going as the data collection agency.
  2. Those who say that there is a whole business ecostructure built around OS and that the consultation has been too superficial/quick/limited to find a better model. Oh and perhaps the damage to existing businesses might be larger than the gains from these thrusting newcos that will flourish and innovate on the back of this free data
  3. Those who have a long standing sense of injustice in their brushes with OS and want to see OS dismembered.
  4. Those who are more concerned with derived data than the free availability of a few mid scale data sets
  5. Bits of 1-4 above
I am paraphrasing liberally with tongue firmly in cheek before you start fuming at me. With the exception of 3 I have some sympathy with all of the above views.

More importantly though, if the consultation is to be taken at all seriously I believe that anyone who contributed has a right to express an opinion and for it to be factored into the process and decisions. The responses on twitter and the FOD blog to the letter from the MD's of ESRI, Intergraph, 1Spatial and Cadcorp seems to me to go a bit over the top in deconstructing and critiquing their views. They are expressing a valid concern on behalf of businesses that employ several hundred people that needs to be balanced against social and economic gains that may arise from the changes.

If you were one of the organisations that posted a response that questioned the haste of the process (or any other response) perhaps you would like to let Charles Arthur have a link that he can add to the growing list at Free Our Data and on Ed Parsons' site - the more the merrier.

I don't know how you balance the range of views from individuals and numerous different sized organisations in the public and private sector responding to the consultation. Whatever is decided (and many think the decision is already pretty much made) you can be sure that a lot of people will be unhappy (put the thousand odd people working at OS in that list for a start).

I have a feeling that in a few years time we might just look back on this process and say "if only ...." Babies and bathwater, broken eggs and omelettes come to mind.

So when the decision is announced (and expect it to not be as clear cut as many fear or hope) expect the debate continue. I very much doubt that this will all be over on April Fools Day.

STOP PRESS - you might want to start by reading James Cutler's megarant - hope he does this as a georant at AGI Soapbox this year.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A few BHP's on the Horizon

Fridays have been fun recently, last week wherecamp eu and this week the Horizon theme day in Nottingham. A few of last week's wherecamp crowd were there in cluding Gary Gale, Ed Parsons and Muki Haklay

Horizon is one of the hubs of the Digital Economy Research program
"Horizon will focus on the role of ‘always on, always with you’ ubiquitous computing technology in the Digital Economy.

Building on the Digital Britain plan, Horizon will investigate the technical developments needed if electronic information is to be controlled, managed and harnessed — for example, to develop new products and services — for societal benefit."

There is lot of interdisciplinary research going on here and some exciting ideas bubbling away in the program. I had a lot of fun talking to linguistics and ethics doctorate students on the Horizon program a few months ago and learnt a lot from them (apparently some of them even got a few ideas from me)

Some disjointed observations from my scribblings today:

There are three sectors that they are focussed on - Creative Industries, Transport and Service Industries and three challenges that they want to address - Innovation, Human Factors/Interfaces and Infrastructure. I like the idea that human factors and infrastructure overlap.

With RTK it is now possible to get down to 1mm accuracy with professional GPS, research is now underway to make this level of accuracy available on mobile devices. I don't know why we need that level of accuracy. A few tiresome comments about mobile services being find your nearest Starbucks prompted Gary to have a little rant (he seems to hate 'bucks) but we'll forgive the academics for their quirky sense of humour (I know I am humorously challenged at times). Some interesting thoughts on internal positioning (within buildings) and the need for positioning without infrastructure (need to revisit this and my old article on vector one)

After a lot of slides up comes the guy in jeans with the mac to do a demo of a car sharing application that they knocked together in 6 weeks - "contextual computing and socially mediated real time car sharing" which in English meant hooking up with people at a meeting or in your office to share journeys. Once you understand the challenges in social, human factors and technology plus the combnination of routing and preference/choice algorithms you realise that this is one of those BHP's (the best acronym of the day, read to the end for explanation). And ignoring all advice about doing live demos, particularly of a proof of concept we get a group of people using web browsers, iphones and SMS all joining a car sharing scheme as passengers or drivers and getting routes and pairings suggested. Neat.

The sessions on privacy were some of the best discussions of the subject that I have heard in the last year. I know the cat is out f the bag theory has many adherents but it doesn't cut it for me and this was some sensible thought about trust, and reasons for sharing your personal data and issues about who controls it and ..... I hope that Jeremy Morley gets the slides up on slideshare soon because they really are worth reading through. The tech solution proposed "Personal Data Stores" in the cloud sounded like a very duff idea to me but what do I know?

After lunch we pondered whether Crowds can be authoritative? Muki Haklay updated his research on the coverage and accuracy of Open Street Map with some good motivational research based on a survey. I still have doubts about whether a map that has gaps really is good enough but then if you aren't interested in Newcastle (where apparently coverage is limited) who cares? I wonder whether people will still be contributing in 5 or 10 years or whether we will have found less human intensive ways to gather and maintain the data. Glen Hart of OS finished the session with a somewhat tongue in cheek view of crowd sourcing and its relevance to OS - bottom line is yes but you need to understand what you are getting (I agree with that).

A good agenda, lots of interesting conversations. I hope there are more Horizon events soon.

Oh in case you wanted to know a BHP is a

Bloody Hard Problem - I might be using that one a few times now I know it.

Goes well with a SLAGIATT (answers to @stevenfeldman or via comments here)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Info Porn

By far the most uplifting session that I attended at wherecamp eu was Hal Bertram from ito world talking about his work visualising Open Street Map and transportation data. People sometimes dismiss the geoweb as "only visualisation" well this is visualisation as art and there is no "only" about it.

Info porn? You work it out. Not my phrase, Hal's

Just sit back and enjoy (next time I will take my gorillapod with me so there will be a bit less camera shake and no heads interrupting your view)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Recharging my geobatteries at #wherecampeu - an unconference

Yesterday I was fortunate to have a ticket for wherecamp eu. I say fortunate because this was a free unconference and tickets, which were released in blocks over a few weeks, were sold out within a couple of hours of release. Hardly surprising really if you knew what to expect but I didn't. This was my first unconference and I was a bit puzzled as to how this loosely structured event would work.

After 3 years of chairing GeoCommunity I thought I knew a bit about organising a geoconference - at an unconference there is no programme, you just turn up and stick your name and topic on the wall to show that you have something to say or to talk about and people turn up and join in. Some slides but way less than in the death by PowerPoint or drowning in Keynote days that we have all suffered silently. Spontaneity, improvisation and participation seemed to characterise the day.

There were about 180 people there from across Europe (although to be honest it was largely Brits) enjoying two days of geogoodness ranging from stuff about Open Street Map, location based games strategies, some pretty philosophical stuff about sense of place and capital, map visualisation as art to a heated discussion about the value in Making Public Data Public lead by Eddie Curtis of Snowflake titled "Walking with Dinosaurs" and a presentation called "why metadata is shit" from Charles Kennelly of ESRI. Oh yes and Gary Gale of Yahoo expounded on his "theory of stuff".

I talked (no slides because screen wouldn't connect to my mac) about business models "Without a business model we are all FCUK'd" The basic premise was that to turn your idea into a successful business you need to know who your customers are, what they are buying from you, how much they will pay (and how much it costs you) and why they will buy from you. It was a lively session with people standing up and giving elevator pitches with feedback from the audience. One guy from Google did not see the need for giving thought to a business model he said "Why do you need money?" - turned out that he had a successful bedroom business (a mobile browser for iPhones and Androids that didn't store your history so your girl friend wouldn't know you had been watching porn) that he was running outside of his day job so maybe I had it all wrong, to be honest I didn't know there was that much demand for mobile porn.

These are the slides I would have used if the screen had worked for me

It was a great day and thanks and admiration go to Christopher Osborne, Gary Gale and a load of other people who got the event together. My geobatteries were recharged at the end of the day and it prompted several thoughts about the conventional approach to running a conference - GeoCommunity could borrow a bit from this unconference.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A simple bit of GeoVating, any offers of help?

Louise Campbell at Goodfindr sent me a link to her Craft Nations Unite app that she initiated using Google My Maps. She seems to be getting quite a lot of craft businesses to add their info to this app.

View Craft Nations Unite Map in a larger map

The geocognoscenti may be a little dismissive at the simplicity, lack of search, linkouts to other web pages etc. But for me what is exciting about CNU is that it has been put together by someone who is not a coder but has a passion for craft and encouraging small local businesses and producers to flourish. This was the vision that we had when we launched GeoVation last year.

Anyone out there want to offer Louise a bit of help in adding functionnality and scalability to the site so that she can focus on publicity and reaching the small businesses that CNU could serve? You can find her contact details on the site.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Why customer experience matters Pls RT #custexp

I just signed up for an account with ******* (name withheld, you will see why) so that I could try out their service which I had read about on my favourite social network (begins with t).

To sign up I had to provide quite a lot of information but to be fair the service has a commercial model that probably needs this information. I then waited for my account to be approved, not too long after I get my user name, some quirky meaningless combination of capitals - FAIL 1 - I want to choose my own user name or use my email address not have another one to store or remember.

Move to first try at logging in. Minimum system requirements Windows and IE - Aargh! FAIL 2

OK so that's me off (and about 35% of browser users) but why not warn me about their requirements before I filled in the application form? FAIL 3

Then I thought that if I wasn't going to be able to use their service I would prefer that they did not keep my personal details in their database. Where is the account settings or other link to manage my account and delete if I want? Nowhere (and that is not a pun on my company name) - FAIL 4

So I then sent this mail to their customer services dept:
I registered to use your services only to discover (after taking time to register) that the service only works when accessed from a Windows based machine running Internet Explorer neither of which I have or wish to acquire.

Approximately 35% of internet users now use a browser other than IE and the number of people using operating systems other than Windows is rapidly growing as well. Shame that I won't be able to find out how good your service is or view the quality of ******.

Since I am not going to be using ****** I wanted to delete my account and remove all of the contact information that I provided to you, unfortunately there is no obvious link to manage my account details or to unsubscribe. Could you remove my details from your database and confirm to me that this has been done.

Thank you
Back came this response

Good morning Mr Feldman

I can confirm that the account has been closed

Kind regards

****** *******

Senior Customer Service Executive

Am I missing something here? No apology for any inconvenience caused, no explanation or response to the points made, no regret that I wont be able to use their service or spend money with them. And this person has the title Senior Customer Service Executive! FAIL 5

I sent back this curt response
Thank you

No apology for any inconvenience or explanation of design choices

I get the message
I haven't heard anything else. I won't be using this company, nor would I recommend them to anyone that I know. FAIL 6

You may be wondering why I have not shared the name of the company, I don't want to flame them or cause them undue embarrassment (although maybe they would not care). The reason for posting this is to illustrate how easily a poor customer experience can convert a potential champion into a peeved "detractor" (that's the language of customer experience and satisfaction analysts).

Now if the detractor has a well read blog (not me) or media access or an active social network the company could find itself facing some pretty poor publicity. I don't want that to happen to these guys but I do hope that if they read this blog or a tweet about it (and they might) then they think about retraining their Senior Customer Service Executives.

If you wanted to share this story with other companies who could learn from it then the tag #custexp would enable others to follow the viral spread of the story and learn how important every customer contact is to the success of a business.