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Joe Morrison

Originally published in February’s edition of my monthly newsletterAnything you read here gets sent there first. To get articles like this in your inbox once a month, sign up here.

A lot of folks don’t realize that Elon Musk got his first big break as an entrepreneur building mapping software. He and his brother Kimbal started Zip2 in 1995, which provided phonebook-style business listings along with embedded mapsfor a little wow factor. Part of me is envious of the days when your business plan could be as simple as, “we’re gonna put the phone book on the computer.”

After raising…

(This piece was originally published on my newsletter, A Closer Look with Joe Morrison on January 15, 2021. I post everything I write there first.)

TL;DR I’m starting a new job at a satellite startup this month. Think of this like a poor man’s “Why I left Google to Join Grab.”

Good times.

After a little over five years, I’m leaving Azavea. Some day, I’ll write more about my experiences there. I loved every day at Azavea. Parting ways has been bittersweet, to say the least.

Alas, it’s time for a new adventure. Later this month, I’ll start a new position as…

This post was originally published on my monthly email newsletter, A Closer Look with Joe Morrison and subsequently discussed at length on Hacker News. If you enjoy it, please consider joining the mailing list, since I post everything I write to the newsletter first and you can just “reply” to it if you want to share your ideas, feedback, memes, life story, or stock picks directly with me.

Also…the views expressed in this newsletter are solely my own, and do not represent the views of my employer! Don’t get me in trouble, please!

The race is on, and it’s all against one. Photo by Chris Kendall on Unsplash

If you work at the intersection of…

If you like this post, please consider subscribing to my email newsletter, “A Closer Look.” Once a month I share a new analysis (like this one!) related to the modern business and technology of mapping. Anything you read here goes out on the newsletter first.

Esri CEO, Jack Dangermond, at the Altar of Arc. Source.

Five decades ago, Jack Dangermond and his wife Laura started a boutique consultancy with a rather grandiose name: Environmental Systems Research Institute. Over time, “E-S-R-I” has simplified to just “Esri.” …

Become one of the first Lookers™ here:

The last month has been pretty wild. In the last 30 days, 145K people have been kind enough to visit my blog posts. Many have reached out privately with feedback, rebuttals, words of encouragement, and there have even been a few pleas to curse less. On that last point: dang, ok.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness and curiosity of the folks I’ve met through this blog. The proportion of constructive comments to destructive ones is easily 10:1, and that’s despite navigating trending stories on Hacker News twice this year.

So, I’m starting a monthly newsletter. You can sign up…

Eulogy for a simpler time

I work at Azavea, but this is my personal blog. What’s written here is my personal opinion and nothing more. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Spooky. Photo by Wendy Scofield on Unsplash

The news yesterday that the new version of Mapbox GL JS will be proprietary shook me.¹

I am not a zealot. I do not feel entitled to others’ intellectual property, even if they’ve given away their ideas in the past. I know from experience how exhausting, thankless, and exploitative the work of creating and maintaining open source software can feel.

Until yesterday, I was still clinging to a few shreds of romantic optimism about open source software…

The Billion Dollar Dataset Next Door

Special thanks to Jennings Anderson who looked over an early draft of this post and helped me refine it. Also, as usual, the views expressed herein do not represent those of my parents, my wife, my dentist, or my employer.

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

The first time I spoke with Jennings Anderson, I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. I mean that genuinely — I did not believe him. He was a little incredulous about it himself. I felt like he was sharing an important secret with me that the world didn’t yet know.

If I write it here, I probably wrote it…

Build something else. Anything else.

Disclaimer: This is purely my personal opinion and does not reflect the stance of my employer, Azavea. It’s not very “Azavean” to write negatively about a topic — but I think this is worth saying publicly since I can’t seem to shut up about it privately!

“Looks good on a whiteboard.” Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

A Word of Warning

Anything worth doing will be publicly criticized. In the words of Taylor Swift, the poetic conscience of my generation,“Haters gonna hate.”

Today, I’m the hater.

That said, I deeply admire the entrepreneurs starting satellite imagery platforms and marketplaces. I share their passion for fixing an industry that is obviously, fundamentally broken. …

On the Climate Emergency and the Role of Geospatial Technology

Photo by Lucy Chian on Unsplash

I believe we are on the cusp of a second golden age of geography. During the first wave, we were on offense. Cartographers during the Renaissance held the keys to unlocking unprecedented understanding about the scope and nature of the world.

But the “second coming of geospatial” that we’re about to live through is all about defense. Climate change is a clear and present threat to humanity’s cumulative wellbeing. The race is underway.

Time is Against Us

There is a dire need to take immediate action to reduce atmospheric carbon (even assuming we manage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally through cleaner energy…

The text below is adapted from an email I sent to an up-and-coming satellite imagery provider. Some details have been omitted or adapted in order to preserve their anonymity. I hope the advice is generally useful to others in their position.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash


  1. Release a small percentage of your data under a truly open license, preferably CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication. Ideally, partner with a cloud provider so that data is hosted for free and there are more stakeholders invested in its upkeep than just you (e.g. Earth on AWS, Google Earth Engine, or Microsoft AI for Earth). Let’s…

Joe Morrison

Comedic relief at Umbra. Writing about maps and the people that make them. For inquiries: jrmorrison.jrm [at] gmail [dot] com

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