Open Data and Cool Maps

We’ve started offering clients open data and open source strategy consulting, and hope to have some case studies in the coming months.

Releasing data and software (or even both) to the public seems counterproductive to good business – how could it do anything but feed the competition, or draw attention to mistakes?

It’s worth thinking one step deeper:

  1. Releasing code and data can be a conspicuous demonstration of competence, a great way to draw incoming leads and even recruit to your organization.
  2. It also signals that your value is greater than the contents of files – you’re not worried about giving away the data, because where you really shine is customization and customer service, which is much harder to copy.
  3. In a world where a million companies are selling software and services for a monthly subscription, there’s a sharp discontinuity in user acquisition at $0. Start them for free, then offer upgrades in the form of additional features or support.
  4. Competitors may learn from your data and/or your code, but that’s a short-term effect – if the overall market grows, that’s good for you, even if your competitor gets a chunk of that market.
  5. If you have mistakes in your code or your data, you want to know as soon as possible, and what better way than to increase use by offering it for free – it’s almost like outsourced testing, and in our experience, fixing a publicly known bug or inaccuracy with grace and polite thanks to the finder does no harm to your reputation.

We talk about #4 a lot – if we’re unable to fit a project into our schedule, we don’t hesitate to refer to competitors. If there are more groups delivering successful projects in our field, that’s great!

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United States Topography

I downloaded a shapefile of North American topographical contours a while ago, and never spent much time with it until recently, when I noticed there are some really fascinating subsets of the United States.

For reference, the file comes from this page, and contains contours at 100-meter resolution. That’s actually not very detailed if you’re looking at a county or a city, but for an area this large with a pretty wide range in elevation, it’s plenty to get the big idea.

Speaking of big idea, here’s the full layer, with the color scale ranging from blue at the low end to red at the highest elevations:

Might as well be honest – I could look at this map for hours and not get bored.


Okay, big deal – flat in the east and south, mountains in the west, right? Stay with me…

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