July 2008


So I’ve left Multimap and I’m no longer a Microsoft employee, I have relinquished my blue badge and handed in my laptop. I’ve really enjoyed working at Multimap. The people I’ve worked with have all been friendly, incredibly intelligent and fun to be around. Not only has working with them been great, but the many times we’ve managed to meet up outside work has also been fun, including my wedding and stag do and lots of other occasions too.

Three years ago Fake Ed Parsons came to me in a dream and told me the secret to draggable maps. I knocked something up and then sent an email through to Multimap. Apparently the email was passed on to Sean Phelan, the founder of Multimap, who then passed an email around the senior management asking which of the following options they should use:

  1. Tell me to stop
  2. Sue me
  3. or offer me a job

I’m obviously quite happy that they decided to go with the 3rd option! I worked for Multimap as a contractor for 6 months and then started working there full time at the end of September 2005. Since then I’ve worked on the API full time. Though I’ve written nearly all of the JavaScript in the API it wouldn’t be much use without the work put in by others in the team to build the many great web services that it uses. “Tiling the world” to make sure we had map tiles and imagery in as many places around the world as possible was also a huge undertaking that went really well. I’ve spent the last month or so knowledge sharing and I’m confident that the people who will be taking on the API work from now on will have no problem. I’ll also be doing contract work for Multimap in the near future too so I won’t be completely hands off on it.

The photo above shows my blue badge before I handed it back but I thought it would be amusing to also show an old business card of mine with it. Before I started working for Multimap I actually worked for a Manchester web agency – Fast Web Media. When I started working there they were actually a subsidiary of “FAST Search and Transfer” and were working on a “soccer search engine”. That project was eventually shelved but the company continued doing it’s flagship Premiership football scores and news website and started taking on more client work. Though they were eventually spun out from FAST to be a separate entity, FAST continued to hold the largest single share in the company. Fast forward to now and we find that Microsoft has bought FAST. The sale appears to have gone through so now it seems that Microsoft will now own the largest share of my old company. This is a fact I’m thinking I should highlight to any potential companies that I might work with, every company I work for gets bought by Microsoft!

So “State of the Map” is over for another year :-( But it was a really good weekend! The standard of the talks was really high and the organisation of the conference in general was very well handled.

Though Saturday might have seemed to have a slightly more commercial slant (partly due to my own talk) I think in general it didn’t detract from the experience at all. As far as I can remember ITO were the only company launching a product and that product has obvious and immediate benefits to the OSM community. The main other commercial speakers – myself and Ed Freyfogle of Nestoria were talking about our own experiences of trying to use OSM data, and other crowdsourced data, and hopefully the lessons we’ve learned will be valuable for the OSM community.

Apart from this the various “State of <insert country>” talks were interesting as it’s really good to see how various countries are progressing in OSM, and it’s good to see how coverage is increasing at a generally rapid pace. I’m just noticing that there was no “State of Great Britain” which is perhaps a little odd. I suppose we assume that everyone knows what it is, when in fact many of the attendees were visiting from foreign countries (they’d have to be or we couldn’t have so many “State of <insert country>” talks!) My favourite had to be the Italy one which featured this video:

Apart from this there were also lots of talks about how people were using the data. Unfortunately this year there was no pulsing maps but work is continuing on renderering the data, there’s a number of people aiming to get routing services going with the data, and there was also newer uses such as Wikitravel’s Free World Travel Guides and more active development on uses with mobile devices.

Ed Parsons also talked about Google’s Map Maker, in general covering the same ground as his earlier blog post but offering more reassurances that Google was not out to destroy OSM and would most likely be willing to work with the OSM community in the future. He raised similar concerns on the current OSM CC-BY-SA license to those I made so hopefully we will be able to make a switch to an alternative license before too long.

The new license was mentioned a few times during the weekend but the difficulty of obtaining pro bono legal help has been slowing it down. It’s hoped that a second lawyer may take a look at it in the next week or so. Also Ed and I both expressed interested in getting Google and Multimap to take a look at the license too with a view to the companies using OSM data if the license is suitable. No idea what will become of that though. In Ed’s talk about Map Maker he also listed the countries currently being mapped by Google. The long list of Caribbean countries inspired Gervase Markham to set up an OSM fieldwork pledgebank. The idea is that if 60 people pledge to donate 10 pounds and an hour’s mapping effort then Grenada, and other Caribbean countries, will be mapped in OSM in no time, and hopefully a lucky one of the 60 will get to go to Grenada to do some OSM fieldwork!

Chaitanya has already blogged his weekend review and I thought he summed it up pretty well in his post:

The main reason I see OSM getting viral adoption and growth in the future is the pragmatism within the community. From the founders down everyone is already (only 2-3 years into its existence) asking what do we do now that we have (or very quickly acquiring) data? What applications can we build with this? What do we need to change to make OSM even better, make it a viable data choice for commercial uses ahead of the likes of TA and Navteq etc etc. Bravo!

morning after sotm 2008

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Not really a review, just thought I’d mention that day one went really well, even without SteveC managing to get there for his keynote. My talk seemed to go ok although I rushed through it and then was told I didn’t have any time for questions as the previous talks had overrun. A few people have grabbed me for questions though which is good. I’ve also published my slides on slideshare.

As I say the day went really well, the theme of the day was “OSM in the real world” which meant that there was a slight commercial slant, but also a number of demonstrations of how people are using the data. This is one of the most important things about OSM, the open availability of the data which I’ve been intending to blog about sometime but not had time.

If you want more information about what was talked about you can take a look at the schedule, some reports here or Chaitanya’s blog where he’s been putting notes for each talk.

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A few weeks ago I handed my notice in to Multimap. My last day will be Friday 18th July. While I’ve really enjoyed my time here I’ve decided that I want to branch out and try some new things. I’ve had the privilege of designing and building one of the most important products that Multimap has delivered over the past 3 years – the Multimap JavaScript API. Specialising in this way has been a great experience but I’m intending to broaden my horizons to cover more back-end technologies, which is where most of my previous experience has been.

My intention is to start doing freelance work once I have completed my notice period with Multimap. I have arranged work with some good friends that should keep me pretty busy for the first few months after leaving but a large part of what I’m looking for in the future is variety so I will be very interested to hear from other friends who have interesting projects that they might like my help with.

Due to contractual obligations I may be looking to minimise the amount of geowanking I do for the first few months. Fortunately I do have five years experience in PHP, three years experience of intensive JavaScript coding and various bits of experience in Ruby on Rails and even a little Python. I also have good experience in setting up Linux-based web and database servers. I’ve been using and contributing to the interweb for something like 14 years, so yes, I do remember Netscape 1.0 (background images!), the launch of Yahoo! and the BBC’s wonderful “list of interesting web pages”. I was also putting music online when Shawn Fanning was probably sleeping peacefully in his dorm room, and I was doing it legally (I think)!

If you are interested in hiring me then you might like to take a look at my CV which you can find here (yes I know I need to replace the dodgy matrix). If you want to get in touch then you could try contacting me on my linkedin.com page, or just email me at my first name @ my surname dot net. If you’re having trouble getting me then drop a comment on this page and I’ll get in touch with you. I’m not looking to hear about a thousand unsuitable posts from agencies but if someone from an agency has something flexible to offer that’s relevant and can fit in with my other obligations then that will be fine.

I will still be attending the State of the Map conference this weekend. I’m really looking forward to it and it promises to be a lot of fun. I will also be representing Multimap for the last time while giving a presentation on “Using Crowd Sourced Data in a Commercial API” which I’m hoping will be interesting enough for those that attend. If the conference is anything like last year though there will be plenty of good presentations to contend with.

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