What I learnt trading coffee for feedback

Coffee for Opinions

Coffee for Opinions

So you have a Thing and you want to get feedback from Real People. Buy them a coffee in exchange for a little time, right?

First, don’t expect busy cafe owner guy to agree. Or care. The first one didn’t. It turns out that offering free coffee sends all kinds of mixed signals for a cafe even if they’re still making money. The question is, are they making additional revenue? In other words, they’ll sell the coffee anyway so why add the complication of putting you in the middle?

Don’t pick a busy coffee shop. They don’t have time to deal with your stupid feedback idea. Find a coffee shop where they have enough time to listen to your stupid feedback idea, but also have customers occasionally so you can actually, you know, get feedback.

Don’t go to a coffee shop with 20-something hipsters. The wifi will be saturated and you want a more representative sample of the population.

Get a sign. Mine was simple; “ask me for free coffee”. I printed it on a piece of paper. The plastic stand, you won’t believe. Staples sells them for $11. $11. And that’s the low end model. There are all types of deluxe super platinum crystal edition stands.

I evolved my idea in to just paying the barista. I kicked it off with a flat $25 tip and $25 behind the counter to buy coffee. About half the customers agreed to free coffee, the other half were too busy. The flat tip gets the barista on your side. To the point of evangelism since it would otherwise take 25 sales to get the same tip. It also vastly simplifies the whole “money changing hands” thing. No awkward cash for every other coffee getting in the way of that valuable feedback time.

Now throw away the sign since barista person is doing the PR for you.

You’re showing them the Thing on a laptop, phone or a tablet right? Make sure you don’t mind crumbs and coffee being spilt all over it. Make sure it doesn’t have all your secret passwords on it. Make sure you don’t mind if it gets dropped or stolen. Basically, buy a cheap android thing.

Show the barista how the Thing works. Now, they’re the ones showing customers and asking for the feedback. Yay! Division of labor!

Next, prepare for feedback.

Whatever you thought you were going to get feedback on, it will be on something else that you actually hear. Getting out of the building and talking to Real People is extremely valuable. Things you thought were obvious will be incredibly complicated for Joe User. Complicated things will be simple.

Write everything down. Everything. I avoided audio or video recording since it would complicate things and might be creepy.

A few hours later, richer for conversations and feedback, poorer $50, you have your data to go iterate on.

Oh and the barista is your new best friend.

OpenStreetMap: Is Cartographic Innovation Possible?

The primary way many people experience OSM is through the main website at osm.org.

Consider what you might have seen, in the map, in 2006. Basically it would be mostly blank with map data here and there where it was available. Incredibly, in the mean time, we’ve built something that looks great today.

But that’s a problem. It looks great.

It’s not great. It’s missing all kinds of address and turn restriction data. Data that is vital to making OSM a true digital map.

It used to be that you saw the worst view of the map, now you see the best view of it. It looks complete. It isn’t!

Here’s what I say we should do: show the worst possible view of the map possible and let others show the best view. When there were big empty spaces in the past people would feel compelled to complete the map. You could see there were blank areas and go fix them.

Now there isn’t that same compulsion. I say bring it back.


By making the map look blank again. Don’t show map data that is fresh. Don’t show roads with no addressing data associated. Don’t show unedited TIGER data.

In reverse order.

TIGER data which has not been edited will have dave_hansen or something as the username. So it’s super easy to filter it. Don’t show that map data at all in our front page rendered map. Or, if you want to, show it in bright angry orange. Call attention to it, or remove it. Create a big incentive for people to edit it. If it doesn’t need editing (and let’s be honest, that’s rare in TIGER data) then we can use the tiger:checked key (or whatever it is) to mark that it is ok.

Address data. If roads have no address data don’t show them. Instantly large chunks of the entire world will go blank. Good! We need a reason for people to collect the data. Or, if you like, show those roads in bright purple. If a road has no addresses on it, mark it as addressing:none. Let the renderer figure out to show roads which have no addressing. Will people add one address point and suddenly the road is visible? Yes! But that’s a good thing. Now up the limit to needing more than one point. And so on. Until it’s marked as ‘complete’.

If data is version 1, that is if it’s been entered by one person, and it’s been sitting on the map for a year then don’t show it. Or show it in bright orange. Force people to go check old v 1.0 data and as above, check that it’s correct in order for it to be rendered.

Instantly you’d have a global map of orange or missing data and thousands of people would plunge in to fixing it all.

Will any of this happen?


Or, at least, I doubt it.

With everyone in charge at OSM nobody is. Innovation, bold innovation, doesn’t happen by committee. Who would give permission for such a bold change in cartography? Who would order it done?

Inherently there would be a gigantic discussion on the mailing lists about the pros and cons by people with nothing better to do. Nobody would feel the authority to make such a striking change, which is (one of the reasons) why we end up with effectively no change in OSM’s user experience. To be clear, I give you permission.

And yes, anyone could go make a map style like this. The point is to make it the default on the main OSM site. You could turn it off if you wanted. There could be a banner saying “Hey, this is a view of our map with all the bugs exposed, here’s how you can help” to manage expectations.

We desperately need those with the keys to the castle to feel both the ability but also the permission to innovate in new and unexpected ways like this to force the project forward.

OpenStreetMap: Addressable?

How on Earth are we going to add addressing in to OpenStreetMap?

Today OSM is a great display map. It’s routable too if you squint. But it’s essentially not geocodable, you can’t turn an address in to a location.

If we fix that then there’s really not a whole lot of point to ever using a proprietary map ever again.

Here in the United States there are essentially two readily available sources. TIGER data has address ranges between intersections and counties (all 3,000 odd of them) have parcel data.

TIGER is public domain but it’s kind of crappy. There is a problem importing it because automatically taking TIGER ranges and putting them in our map is non-trivial. In lots of places new roads have been added, old ones deleted and so on. So, getting an address range in TIGER and then figuring out where to put it in OSM isn’t always easy.

Parcel data is much better but it’s all over the place. There are companies which will aggregate it together for you and sell it to you, but that’s millions of dollars of cost. And, they have no incentive to make it all available.

And it’s even worse in Europe. And even more worserer in Japan where addresses are assigned according to the age of the house and the block they are on, which may as well be random().

So what the hell are we going to do?

I say import the TIGER ranges and slap them on top of the map. They won’t impact the rendering. It will be kind of painful to go and fix all those ranges but it’s much better than what we have today (which is nothing).

All the other solutions are basically horrible. We could crowd-source it but that might take 100 years. We could try and raise the money to purchase the data. We could go visit all 3,000 counties. None of these is palatable.

So, let’s just import what we have available and make the most of it. It worked for the road network, it can work for addressing.

OpenStreetMap: Indispensable People?

Should anyone in OpenStreetMap be indispensable?

I think firmly not. There are whole graveyards full of indispensable people.

A project as broad and important as OpenStreetMap needs the systems in place to withstand the loss of anyone. Should someone important get run over by a bus or simply decide to move on, as many have, the project should at most be slowed a little.

Today that isn’t the case. We have points of control which are fully owned by single individuals. The people around them readily acknowledge that they don’t have a clue what we would do if they quit.

I say that’s terrible. I say they should quit and we should find out what we have to do. By keeping the de-facto in place all we are doing is kicking the problem down the road, for they have to leave at some point in the future. Let’s find out how we distribute the workload now while we only have 900,000 registered accounts instead of 9 million.

Those people should, if anything, build that process themselves. Where that doesn’t happen we should gently ask them to work elsewhere in the project on positive things. For all of the amazing work they’ve done in the past, for all the time they put in, for all of the sheer good they have absolutely contributed to the project, there should not be anyone who’s indispensable.

Maps at Google

Interesting Ed Parsons talk with some behind-the-scenes pictures of what Google uses to manage it’s geographic infrastructure. Nice enough talk but definitely for the Google audience, a little implicit that Google invented everything. Random dig at MapQuest who were apparently Google’s original map supplier (who knew?).

Google map data sources then and now

Interesting screen shot of what I’ll call GoogleGIS with streetview bubbles flattened out in to a donut as part of the editing process. Looks like a Mac app in some third party language/widget set:


Ed uses a tiny snippet of video of this guy who’s cheerfully editing map bugs submitted by the crowd;

Upper middle class Google Map Maker editor in relaxed Californian atmosphere fixing the occasional map bug

I’m not entirely sure how accurate that is though.

Map bugs dutifully fixed by glad worker bees

Full talk;

Selling SortGadget

SortGadget home page

I built sortgadget a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The site is pretty simple – it lets you browse Amazon cameras for sale. It has a couple of sliders to narrow down your purchase criteria and then in theory makes affiliate sales commission. In theory.

Only I never did anything with it, so now it’s for sale on flippa with a reserve of $1 for anyone who does actually want to spend the time iterating it to something useful can do so.

Article about OSM and SotM

I’ve been meaning to post a link over to this article by Carl Franzen for a little while. It neatly summarizes the US State of the Map conference and where OpenStreetMap is today.

The nice thing is that I can’t find any mistakes in Carl’s article. It’s literally the first piece of fact-checked deep journalism on OSM I’ve ever seen. Because of that, it’s worth a read.

Square Wallet

Square Wallet

I’ve been curious to try Square Wallet for a while. You run an iPhone app which magically knows where you are and transmits this to Square Central, which I imagine to be sort of like the Wonka Factory. Square needs to know your credit card details and then will let you make payments without having to swipe or sign.

I found a cafe and thought the story would be something like stand in line, open the app, click on what I wanted, magically get served and pay.

In reality you can browse the menu but it’s dog slow to do so and there is no ordering. Instead you order with the server as normal and you pop up magically on their terminal, which happens to be an iPad.

iPad Point of Sale with Square reader poking out

Then when you come to pay you say your name and they have a photo of you (taken when you set up wallet) to verify the transaction. After you pay the receipt almost instantly appears on your iPhone.

Square Wallet showing my receipt

This particular cafe also had 20% off the first purchase which rings all sorts of Groupon-esque alarm bells. And that’s an interesting train of thought; given the data they have on sellers, purchasers and transactions there are all kinds of fun analytics to be had. Hey, we know you buy coffee over there, switch to here for a week and get 10% off. It’s a more compelling idea than Groupon since they can do deeper tracking to see if you actually become a regular customer or whatever. The level of detail will be stunning if they can get the adoption; hey we know you like Beer x on a Friday, try this other place…

The problem I had is that I don’t have phone service. Normally I could have opened the app, or had it running in the background and it would do all this stuff over AT&T but instead I had to join the free wifi at the cafe first. That made it feel a bit clunky but I’m a tiny minority.

I figure the real transformational experience will be next summers batch of farmers markets. All those guys use square now and it will be possible to go from stand to stand making purchases without using cash or card. The time saving now I think about it would be substantial.

Square map

One last note on the nice design tweaks to the maps they show in the app. It looks like the Apple maps API in the background with some shadows around the map and a striped layer of darkness on top to give it the feel of being a semi-folded paper map. Very nice.



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