Posts Tagged ‘berlin’

Farewell Ovi, Nokia And HERE; It’s Time To Open The Next Door

This may be a personal foible but when I join a new company I mentally set myself two targets. The first is what I want to achieve with that company. The second is how long it will take to achieve this. If you reach the first target then the second is a moot point. But if the first target doesn’t get reached and your self allocated timescale is close to coming to an end, then it’s time to take stock.

Sometimes you can extend that timescale; when reaching your achievement target is so so close and you can be happy to stretch those timescales a little. Sometimes though this just doesn’t work, not necessarily for any reason of your own making. Large companies are strange beasts and a strategic move which is right for the company may not align with your own targets and ideals.

In 2010, I left the Geo Technologies group at Yahoo! and departed from a very Californian large company to take up a new role with a very Finnish large company called Nokia. Though Nokia started life as the merger between a paper mill operation, a rubber company and a cable company in the mid 1800′s, by the time I joined Nokia it was best known for mobile and smart phone handsets and the software that makes these ubiquitous black mirrors work.

In addition to mobile data connectivity, apps and GPS, one of the things that defines a smartphone is a maps app and the suite of back-end platforms that drive that app as well as all of the other APIs that enable today’s smartphone location based services. Just as TomTom acquired digital map maker Tele Atlas in 2008, Nokia had acquired rival maps provider NAVTEQ in 2007, putting in place the foundations for Nokia’s maps and turn-by-turn navigation products, part of the company’s Ovi brand of internet services.

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I spent the first 18 months of my time with Nokia commuting weekly from London to Berlin, where the company’s maps division was based. The pros of this weekly commute of almost 600 miles each way was rapid progression through British Airway’s frequent flyer program, getting to know the city of Berlin really well and developing deep and lasting friendships with my team, who were behind the Ovi Places Registry, but more about them in a moment. The cons were living out of hotels on a weekly basis and the strain it placed on my family back in London.

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In 2011, Nokia pivoted its strategy as a result of new CEO Stephen Elop’s infamous Burning Platform memo. The company’s NAVTEQ division finally started to be integrated into Nokia, resulting in the rebranding of Ovi Maps to HERE Maps, by way of a brief spell as Nokia Maps and just before we were ready to ship the next major revision of the Places Registry, effectively powering all the data you see on a map which isn’t part of the base map itself, the project was shelved in favour of NAVTEQ based places platform. This was probably the right thing to do from the perspective of the company, but it had a devastating effect on my Berlin based team who had laboured long and hard. The team was disbanded; some found new roles within the company, some didn’t and were laid off and after spending several months tearing down what I’d spent so long helping to create, an agonising process in itself even though it was the right thing to do, I moved to help found the company crowd mapping group, driving the strategy behind the HERE Map Creator product. Think of a strategy not dissimilar to OpenStreetMap or Google Map Maker, only with a robust navigation grade map behind it.

Gary-Gale

All of which is merely a prelude to the fact that after almost 4 years with Nokia I’ve been taking stock and it’s time to move on. The door marked Nokia, Ovi and HERE is now closed and it’s time to look to the next adventure in what could loosely be termed my career. The metaphor of doors opening and closing seems fitting as Ovi just happens to be the Finnish word for door.

There’s been a lot of high points over the past 4 or so years. Launching Nokia’s maps and location platform at the final Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco. Negotiating the places section of Nokia’s first strategic deal with Microsoft in a meeting room set against the amazing backdrop of Reykjavik in the depths of an Icelandic winter. Judging the World Bank’s Sanitation Hackathon in Dar es Salaam.

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But most of the high points have been people.

Someone who leads a team is only as good as the team and in the original Ovi Places Registry team and the subsequent Nokia Places team I found an amazing group of individuals, who made a roving Englishman feel very much at home in Berlin.

There’s also been a lot of lows over the past 4 years, but I don’t want to go into them here.

Instead, I want to close the door on the Nokia chapter with a brief mention to five people who made my time in Berlin so rich and rewarding. There’s Aaron Rincover, HERE’s UX lead, who taught me so much about the user experience in a relatively short period of time. There’s also four members of the Places Registry team, Enda Farrell, Jennifer Allen, Mark MacMahon and Jilles Van Gurp, who made me welcome in a new city, who it was an absolute pleasure to work with and who will, I hope, remain close friends. Enda and Jennifer are still both at HERE as Senior Technical Architect and Product Manager and a damn fine ones at that. Mark and Jilles were amongst those who moved on when the Places team was disbanded and are now the founders of LocalStream. Thank you all of you.

So where next? My last two companies have been large multinational affairs, but to open 2014 I’m looking to keep things a lot smaller and more agile. I’m going to take some time to do some freelance consulting, still in the maps, location and geo space of course; this industry continues to grow and innovate at an astounding rate, why would I want to work anywhere else?

For the first quarter of 2014 I’m going to be joining London’s Lokku, consulting for them as their Geotechnologist in Residence. Since 2006, Lokku have built up an impressive portfolio of geospatial and geotechnology assets under the lead of Ed Freyfogle and Javier Etxebeste, both alumni of Yahoo! like myself. Through the success of their Nestoria and Open Cage Data brands and the #geomob meetup, Lokku are in a great position to take their expertise in open geospatial data, OpenStreetMap data and open geospatial platforms to the next level. My role with Lokku will be to help them identify where that next level will be and what it will look like. It’s going to be a refreshing change to move from the world of a large corporate, with staff ID badges and ID numbers to a world where everyone fits into the same, albeit large, room and where everyone literally knows everyone else. So say I’m excited by this challenge would be a massive understatement. If you want to know more about Lokku, check out their blog, Twitter feed or come and say hello.

As for the rest of 2014 and beyond, it’s time to follow up on all those conversations that you tend to have about the next great thing in maps and location. Who knows precisely where 2014 will take me, but no matter where, it’s going to be geotastic and I can’t wait.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Re-imagining Berlin’s U-Bahn And S-Bahn System

This is another mass transit map, but this time it’s not of the London Underground system, but the U-Bahn and S-Bahn system in Berlin. The name U-Bahn derives from Untergrundbahn, or underground railway whilst S-Bahn comes from Stadtschnellbahn, or fast city train.

As a general rule of thumb, the London Underground is, as the name suggests, underground in the centre of the city and surfaces as you move into the suburbs. The same can’t be said of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, which is underground and overground in pretty much equal measures over a lot of the network.

But this post is not about the official map of Berlin’s transport, it’s about this, unofficial, map of Berlin’s underground and not so underground trains.

Berlin - Octolinear

Not content with reworking London’s Underground network maps, Maxwell Roberts has turned his sights on Berlin’s, producing not only a rework map which looks very similar to the official London map, but also one which is all curves, with not a straight line to be seen.

Berlin - Curved

I hope that both Berlin’s BVG and S-Bahn Berlin are aware of Maxwell’s work. As a fairly regular traveller to Berlin, I use the U and S-Bahn a lot and whilst the official map is accurate, it’s not the easiest of thing to use at times.

Photo Credits: Maxwell Roberts via The Local.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Not Your Average User Contributed Map

Today I contributed to a map. I did this yesterday as well. I even did this last week. In fact I’ve been doing this since the end of July 2009. As of right now I’ve done this 11,880 times. I’ll probably end up contributing to this map again later on today and will almost definitely do it again tomorrow.

But this isn’t your average user contributed or crowd sourced map. It’s not one of the usual suspects; it’s not OpenStreetMap, or Google MapMaker or Nokia MapCreator. It’s none of these, but it’s a map nonetheless and it looks like this.

London CheckIns

Most of my contributions are in the centre of the map and towards the South West corner. I’ve also contributed to this map in other places and it looks like this.

Berlin CheckIns

Here most of my contributions are in the centre with a few towards the North West corner. Maybe the maps will make a little more sense if I turn on an underlying labelled layer.

London Map

This is the map of the last three months on Foursquare in London.

Berlin Map

And this is the map of the last three months on Foursquare in Berlin.

Each dot is a check in and every time I’ve checked in, which is almost every day, I’ve contributed to this map. Now it’s not a strictly geographic map in the normal sense of the word, but each check in is a geographically accurate (subject to the GPS lock that someone’s smartphone has) affirmation that a place exists and that it’s important to someone.

It’s fascinating to see how the world looks when viewed by check ins alone, with the UK, Europe and North America’s coastlines standing out like a night-time satellite image when there’s no cloud cover.

World CheckIns

It’s definitely not your average user contributed map but it’s a map I helped make in a small way and will continue to do so; though I know of one person who probably disagrees with me.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

What Do You Call The Opposite Of Mapping?

Dutch computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra, who was awarded the Turing Prize in 1972 is reported to have once said …

If debugging is the process of removing bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in.

With this in mind, if the process of taking geographical information and making this into a map is called mapping … what do you call the opposite, the process where you take a map and deconstruct it back to what makes up the map in the first place.

Un-mapping? Anti-mapping? De-atlasing? Whatever you call it, you start out with a map and you end up with an oddly compelling form of art. Which is just what French artist Armelle Caron has been doing.

Start with the map. Let’s take a map of Berlin. If you’ve spent any time in this city, the map will look pretty familiar. It’s not the most granular or small scale of maps, but that doesn’t matter. What happens next is most definitely art and is akin to magic.

You take the city apart. Block by block. Then you order the blocks and shapes. You categorise them, sort them, rank them and stack them. And you end up with the complete opposite of a map.

Berlin isn’t the only city that Armelle has turned on its head. There’s also Istanbul, New York and Paris to name but a few. Just take a look for yourself.

I’ve no idea what these opposite of maps should be called, but they’re definitely art in my book.

Photo Credits: Armelle Caron.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Map Wars; Are Apple’s Maps Really That Bad?

Making a map isn’t easy. Making a map of streets and land features is hard. Making a map of streets and land features that stays up to date is harder. Making a map of streets, features and places, businesses, services, points of interest is harder still. Making a map of all of the previous that stays up to date is really hard. Making a map with all of the previous, wrapping it up in an app that runs on your smartphone and making it useable is verging on insanely difficult. Yet that’s what Google and Nokia have been doing and with the release of iOS 6, that’s what Apple is now doing as well. So how is Apple doing?

To make a map you need several things. Firstly you need spatial data for the streets and land features. You can either license this data globally from TomTom (TeleAtlas), from Nokia (NAVTEQ) or from OpenStreetMap or you can stitch together data from local and national sources, such as the UK’s Ordnance Survey, and come up with a modicum of a global map. Yes I know that Google now have their own maps, a by product of Google StreetView, but this isn’t global, at least not yet and even Google license map data from TomTom.

Secondly you need non-spatial data. Places, businesses, services, points of interest and the like. Most people license this sort of data from a variety of sources, ranging from the more traditional Yellow Pages companies through to internet data providers such as Factual.

Thirdly, you need satellite imagery. Again, you typically license this from specialist imagery providers such DigitalGlobe.

Fourthly and just as importantly, you need time and you need money. All of this data costs; it’s very expensive, labour intensive and time consuming to put together. You also need to take all of this data, which comes in whole plethora of different forms and make it work nicely together; this is also expensive, labour intensive and time consuming.

Wrap all of this data together in a smartphone app and you should have a working maps app that consumers will find easy to use and which gives them the answers to the questions they typically ask of a map. Back to my original question then, how is Apple doing? The polite answer would have to be … not that well.

Let’s start with a nit-picking point. The app icons from Google and from Apple. Both icons are centred around Infinite Loop, Apple’s HQ in Cupertino, California with the 280 interstate going from East to West and North De Anza Boulevard running from North to South. Maybe it’s just me, but the Apple Maps icon on the right, seems to advocate that you enter the 280 by driving straight off of a bridge carrying N De Anza over the freeway, which does seem a little risky and foolhardy.

But nit picking aside, how does Google and Apple square up and compare. To do this I used my iPhone 4, recently upgraded to iOS 6 alongside my second generation iPad, still running iOS 5 and still with Google Maps as Google hasn’t, yet, released an iOS version of its maps app. I compared three areas I know pretty well. My local neighbourhood in Teddington, South West London, the area of Berlin around the Nokia offices and an area just to the South West of Campbell in California where some close friends live.

Let’s start with Teddington. I’m going to leave out the discussion about the look and feel of the spatial map as this is both subjective and a matter of personal taste. Some people like Google’s map style, some don’t. So I’ll just skip right over that topic.

At first glance, all the usual suspects are there. Roads, public transport, green spaces and a smattering of POIs, at least at this zoom level. To be fair, neither Google nor Apple get it completely right. There’s a restaurant which closed down and reopened a few months back under a different name which, given the challenge around keeping data fresh can be forgiven. But Apple seems to also have places which don’t exist, at least they haven’t existed in the 10 plus years I’ve been living in this neighbourhood.

Switching to the hybrid, map plus satellite imagery, view and Apple seems to be ahead, but this is more a case of differing zoom levels between iPhone and iPad to try and get screenshots that can at least be compared side to side. Both sets of imagery seem relatively fresh, albeit taken at different times of the year.

Overall, both Google and Apple are pretty lacking in the suburbs of London so next I tried a more metropolitan area surrounding Nokia’s office in the central Mitte district of Berlin.

Here both Google and Apple score higher for the amount of POIs on the map and for freshness and accuracy, although Google’s 3D-a-like building outlines still show the old Nokia office with a large car park on the south side of Invalidenstraße, rather than the new office building which is there now.

This lack of freshness on the part of buildings is even more apparent on the hybrid view, showing the state of Nokia’s office construction some 9 or so months ago, again with different imagery between Google and Apple.

Finally, over to California and not that many miles away from Apple’s HQ in Cupertino. Here I’d really expect Apple’s maps to shine, but sadly they don’t. Although again, to be fair, this is also not that far away from Google’s HQ in Mountain View, and neither Google nor Apple shine here, it’s more a case of who shines less.

One thing that my screenshots don’t show is the ease of use. How simple and accurate are these maps to use to find a given street address, postal code or POI. Given that I’ve already found Apple lacking in overall POI numbers it comes as no surprise that searching for a set of local POIs is disappointing on Apple’s map. Both maps find streets pretty well in all three locations, though Apple seems to have problems with street numbers, especially those which contain number ranges, such as 18-24 High Street. Apple also falls down on postal code searches, which is surprising in the UK given that both companies license the Royal Mail’s Postal Address File via the Ordnance Survey.

Back again to my original question … how is Apple doing? When you’re launching a competing product which is meant to go head-to-head with existing competitors you need to ensure that you launch something which is at least as good as your competitors, if not better. When you’re launching a competing product which effectively removes the competitors from the public’s sight, as iOS 6 did with Google Maps, then you need to be better than your competitor. Does Apple succeed in this? No and not by a long margin. You could argue that the maps from Apple and the maps from Google are just about on a par in terms of content in central metropolitan areas, but out in the suburbs, where a lot of people live, Apple doesn’t even come close. Yet.

That’s a key word in all of this debate of Apple vs. Google … yet. Apple have only just launched their maps and haven’t yet had time to put in place all of the data relationships that Google’s maps rely on. Comparing the legal notices for Google’s maps with those for Apple’s maps – shows just how much Apple have to catch up on. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to count how many relationships Google has compared with Apple.

As Charles Arthur pointed out in The Guardian recently, Apple is no stranger to launches and products going wrong. In time, Apple will correct the glaring omissions and errors in its maps and will build up a critical mass of data relationships to be able to go head-to-head with other maps apps on a basis of quantity and quality of data, but right now Apple is using their control over iOS to replace Google’s maps with a sub-par experience. As I mentioned right at the start of this post, making a map is hard and it takes time and it takes money. Apple have the luxury of both. Time will also tell whether Google does launch the rumoured iOS 6 Google Maps app or whether Apple will reject this due to competing functionality with iOS; somehow I doubt they will do this due to the inevitable bad publicity this will undoubtedly generate. But even if Google do launch Maps for iOS6; I cannot help but wonder how many people will jump back to Google maps in favour of Apple’s map, in just the same way that Internet Explorer still enjoys a large installed user base simply because it’s on people’s PCs when they switch it on for the first time.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

London Mapped By People’s Surnames

The rather geotastic James Cheshire and Ollie O’Brien from London’s UCL have produced a map of London which is certainly not your average map. The Thames is shown winding through the capital but what really grabs the attention is the fact that the rest of the map shows the population’s surnames.

As James says in his accompanying blog post

London is renowned for being a diverse city but this is barely reflected in the most prevalent surnames- only a few name origins can be discerned from the map. You have to look a little further down the surname rankings for this diversity to become apparent. The surnames shown on all 15 maps can be traced back to one of 38 origins; I have selected unique colours for 10 of the most popular. Surname origins were established using the Onomap classification tool. We are mapping the origins of the surnames, which are not necessarily the same as the origins of the people possessing them. Many people in London have adopted Anglicised surnames.

Written and posted from Nokia House Berlin, Invalidenstraße, Berlin (52.53105, 13.38521)

The Olympic Tube Map

Not all maps are created equal. I’ve always had a soft spot for maps of the London Underground network ever since I saw one on the back of an old London A-Z street map far too many years ago.

In case you hadn’t noticed, London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games a few weeks ago so what could be more natural than a map of the Tube with famous Olympic athletes in the place of the more familiar and geographically correct station names. Maybe Chris Boardman instead of Swiss Cottage, Victoria Pendleton instead of St. John’s Wood or Daley Thompson in place of Baker Street?

Hop over to the Transport for London web site and for between £3.99 and £49.00, the Olympic Legends Tube Map can be yours. I certainly want one. Huge amounts of kudos go to my darling wife for spotting this in the first place.

Written and posted from the Arcotel Velvet, Oranienburger Straße, Berlin (52.52602, 13.38834)

The English Map Of Berlin

Apropos of nothing in particular, this is the first of an occasional series of posts which contain nothing more than maps that I like as I peruse the Interwebs.

First up is a map of Berlin. In English. So now I can say to myself so that’s what Prenzlauer Berg, Tiergarten and Kreuzberg mean; in a literal translation so of way.

Map Credits: Willy Karma on Facebook, via Emmanuel Decitre.
Written and posted from Nokia House Berlin, Invalidenstraße, Berlin (52.53105, 13.38521)

Making Maps Underground

Warning. This post contains a sweeping generalisation. Yes, I know that Places are not just part of today’s digital maps; see the James Fee and Tyler Bell hangout The One Where Tyler Bell Defines Big Data as a proof point. But for the sake of this post, just assume that Places and maps are synonymous.

It’s never been easier to make a map. Correction. It’s never been easier to contribute to a map. Today we seem to be makingcontributing to maps everywhere, even underground, or should I say Underground?

To makecontribute to a map, you used to have to be a professional map maker, with easy access to an arsenal of surveying or an industrial grade GPS.

Then came the notion of community mapping. Be it OpenStreetMap, Navteq’s and Nokia’s Map Creator or Google’s Map Maker, anyone armed with a GPS enabled smartphone, hell, anyone without a GPS, could help make a map.

And now it seems, all you need to do to help make a map is to be somewhere unmapped with some form of internet access, be it a 3G or 4G cellular data connection, or a wifi connection. As part of the London 2012 Olympic Games, some London Underground stations (finally) got wifi access and sure enough, where wifi goes, so does mapping, even platforms on the London Underground.

With apologies to Steve Karmeinsky for exposing part of his Foursquare check-in history.

Written and posted from the Arcotel Velvet, Oranienburger Straße, Berlin (52.52602, 13.38834)

The Tegel Comeback

I’m writing this at Berlin’s Tegel airport, waiting for my flight home to Heathrow. Only I shouldn’t be here. I should be in the new, gleaming Brandenburg International airport on the other side of Berlin. Only I’m not, because the 2nd. of June closure date for Tegel has come and gone and Brandenburg still isn’t finished or open. This isn’t the first time Tegel’s doom has been postponed, the airport was originally slated to close in November 2011, only it didn’t because Brandenburg wasn’t finished or open. Currently Tegel is slated to close sometime in March 2013, whether that comes to pass or not is a matter of speculation.

There’s a lot to like about Tegel; it’s small and efficient, each gate has a security and passport control section and you can get from plane to taxi in under a minute on a good day; try doing that at Heathrow.

As Hans Krause, an associate of David Chipperfield Architects in Berlin puts it …

It’s a unique concept that avoids so much of what irritates people about other airports. It has a clear structure, extremely short walking distances and makes great use of daylight. As a concept, it works incredibly well.

Amen to that sentiment and, coincidentally, the postponement of Tegel’s closure has caused Amen, one of Berlin’s many tech startups, to feature the airport in one of their ad campaigns, calling it the best comeback this year.

I also managed to get a very Tegel specific souvenir on this trip, from April’s Pro Race TXL, a speed walking relay race, with suitcases, around the airport. I kid you not. This is Berlin after all, where quirkiness is almost mandatory. In a nice twist on the I Heart style of tee-shirt, this is an I Hex TXL tee-shirt.

Which makes sense if you’ve ever been to Tegel and if you haven’t, a satellite view of the terminal will explain the hexagonal connection.

So whilst Tegel’s demise has merely been postponed, it’s good that the airport still lives and breathes, for now at least and as I wait for my flight home I can almost believe Pro Race TXL’s hyperbole laden pronouncement that it’s

astonishingly efficient and a structure of geometric beauty, Flughafen Tegel is known among Berliners and international travelers as the greatest airport of all time, space and dimension

Amen to that too.

Written and posted from Berlin Tegel Airport (52.5545447, 13.2899969)