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Joe Morrison

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!

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

If you work at the intersection of maps and software, at some point in your life you’ve probably heard yourself muttering some version of the following analogy to a stubbornly confused family…


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.

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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.” …


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Become one of the first Lookers™ here: https://joemorrison.substack.com/welcome

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 here: https://joemorrison.substack.com/welcome


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.

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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 businesses. Mapbox is the protagonist of a story I’ve told myself and others countless times. It’s a seductive tale about the incredible, counterintuitive concept of the “open core” business model for software companies. …


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.

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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 first on Twitter. …


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!

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“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

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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 sources).¹ …


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.

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Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

TL;DR

  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 call it…1% of your capacity. That has a nice ring to it. …


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Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

I recently wrote about the commercial satellite imagery industry and how fundamentally backwards it is. In that piece, I was mainly addressing companies serving up data derived from the narrow swath of electromagnetic spectrum we humans are most comfortable with — visible light (and its nearest neighbor, infrared light). As it turns out, there’s a whole world of spacefaring companies capturing data about the earth in the oft-overlooked expanses of the electromagnetic spectrum that we humans can’t naturally perceive.


All (Mapped) Roads Lead to In-Q-Tel

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Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

Disclaimer: this is all personal opinion. I don’t represent the views of my employer, Azavea. I disclosed publicly, and regularly, that I have also worked directly with CosmiQ Works, a research lab under the In-Q-Tel umbrella, but that is the extent of my personal experience with the organization.

It’s hard to imagine today, but in 2002, technology startups were decidedly not cool. That year, the NASDAQ-100 index had bottomed-out at 78% below its March, 2000 peak. The infamous “dot-com bubble” had burst, and the venture capital industry was soaked. At that time, no self-respecting investor would have been caught dead speculating on internet startups; hadn’t public markets just illustrated their worthlessness? …

About

Joe Morrison

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

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