Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Geo-Journalism | Map Blogging

I’ve been on an eye-opening path mapping notable stories.

Some fascinating patterns emerged after geo-tagging where notable people go, or where memories last.  

Charles Bukowski moved in a circle around Silver Lake

I’ll save many results for another post...like how prolific history-makers tagged 300+ places and people who became legends tagged 400+ places. Who knew Buffalo Bill had been to more places than any other public figure? Or that Bob Dylan put New York on the map more than any other New Yorker. There are surprises when mapping lives of icons--such as Steve Jobs never setting foot in Canada.  

So far, I’ve mapped 24,300+ stories at 14,300+ addresses.  It was very tedious. I spent  243, 12-hour days, with no other life but  distilling stories and putting them on a map. 

The reward was worth it: A new way to search stories by street address. 

You can see how stories shaped where you are

A collateral reward:  you can see where stories intersect at the same address. For example, Paypal and Google both rented the same office and became successful there.  Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson and Lady Diana once shared the same elevator at the same hotel getting on from different floors. That's a good metaphor for intersections we're seeing visible only when geo-tagging thousands of stories.

To map this, digital forensics has been an important tool to geo-tag  many obscure locations. Compiling digital facts scattered online, I could triangulate many obscure addresses.

Here are some memorable cases to find 5 of 14,300+ addresses.  

The Artist - Picasso 

I had already mapped every residence where Picasso had lived but one. It was bugging me. It felt like mapping  his whole life was incomplete without the address for “La Californie,” his villa in Cannes. There were many posts on activities and exhibits Picasso did there but no address.

While entering keywords for  Picasso, the years, the activities, the neighborhood and the villa, I came across a blogger who in 1951 sought out Picasso at La Californie. He somehow got the address of La Californie  from locals who kept Picasso’s address as secret as JD Salinger’s.  He photographed the address and it turns out, this photo is the only form in which you can find this address online. It is unsearchable!  This was the first of many incidences, where I found an obscure address from an image.

The Dentist

This photo might seem irrelevant, but I spent an hour online trying to figure out where this is. Millions have seen it in a famous movie scene. I googled the partial sign “R.I. Gutier” and got nothing. Then I made out words like “Oral Surgery” in the photo deducing "R.I. Guiter..." was a dentist. I added  “dentist” and Google found an address for Ricardo I Guitierrez at 144000 Roscoe Blvd, Panorama City.  I looked up this address on Google Streetview visually verifying this address matched this photo.

You might recognize this scene from Terminator 2:

What spoiled my search time was that IMDB claimed the famous ATM theft scene was in Reseda, CA, which is nearby but not exactly Panorama City. The Internet can send you on some wild goose chases.

The Traveler

I have been mapping the travels of Jump2Spot co-founder Andrew Burke for many years. Like many chroniclers, Andrew is not in the habit of blogging addresses of where he went. He'll often mention a city, in this case, Moorhead, MN.  Moorhead is where Buddy Holly was headed before his plane crashed. Flooding also ruined many houses in the area in recent years.

Andrew gave only a few clues for where the above photo is.  He noted his grandpa's house, whose address he found in medical records and old scrapbooks,  was from circa 1930 in Moorhead, MN, and near Concordia College.  If you search "yellow house,"  "Moorhead,MN," you get nothing. And  I was not about to search every street on Google Streetview near Concordia College.

But look closer.

Behind Andrew in the photo there’s an address (504)! Having a number without a street is  still useless in Google search, but in Google Images…I searched "yellow House," "504," "Moorhead, MN," and found an image of the house! I had to double check every visual pattern on it and its surroundings  to confirm it was the same house. I clicked the image to get an address 504 6th Street, Moorhead, MN. The house had been bought recently and the real estate listing with this photo was still online. Realtors are actually the best chroniclers of addresses today (photos, details, history and  addresses). They should change professions! 

The Writer

I was dissatisfied to map writer Jack Micheline lived somewhere in Greenwich Village. It felt like lazy geo-journalism for a map blogger. 

But if the Hudson Park Librarian local to the writer didn’t know where Jack lived for 5 years, how would I? The library had posted addresses of almost every notable writer in Greenwich Viillage (100+) and only a few didn’t have an address. 

Here is how I applied digital forensics to find Jack's address.

The trick is to have good key words—“leads”-- to start a search path.  I might Google “Jack Micheline,”  “apartment,” “Greenwich Village” and “lived in” and get lucky. Through some variation of this, I discovered Jack Micheline lived in the "same building" as Howard Hart and Jack Kerouac. I had already mapped Jack Kerouac’s entire life! But it wasn’t going to be that easy. Kerouac couch surfed a lot. Howard Hart is not mentioned living with him in any known Kerouac address I could find. There was only a mention of them performing on 10th Street. I then omitted Kerouac in the search and started to look for Howard Hart apartments. Sure enough, in a Google Book search result, I found a New York address for Howard Hart at 242 West 10th Street fitting the other facts time-lined with Kerouac. So that’s how digital triangulation narrowed down where Jack Micheline lived. 

Triangulation isn’t bullet proof in fact-checking, but for digital mapping, it generates valid pin on a map. Geo-journalism only approximates where something is on a map. Google Maps itself is not accurate, only an approximate projection. Time will allow you to pinpoint further for accuracy with more intel and better technology. 

The Singer

Mapping creativity has yielded a lot of connective stories in parallel places.  After I mapped Joni Mitchell's life, I discovered in a parallel universe my old friend Katherine Monk was writing a book on her (coming soon).  We were doing the same thing at the same time in different ways at two different places!  I've mapped a lot of stories like that. 

Mapping places mentioned in lyrics, where words were written, or where video scenes were made has added a new dimension to my love of music. I mapped the entire lives of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Daniel Lanois and many other Artists. You can start to chapter creative works by location and see how a movement continued there or was influenced by that spot. Geo-tagging indexes a catalogue superbly well.

Mapping the most popular YouTube videos or where iPod  songs were played in public was very applicable to define the times of a place. 

For decades, I've chronicled music in depth and have taken more than 100,000 photos of Artists. It seemed obvious to map where it all happened or how an Artist traveled to go far in life. I also needed a better way to index my photos. Finding 1 photo out of 100,000 by title was no longer practical. But there's always an address for a musician. Everywhere a musician has played is documented online.  Searching for a photo by address and date would be way easier than by title. 

Each venue, I recently wrote, is like a new amusement ride. A place has its own creative style. I am still confounded by how things happen in music and where. The connections are more creative and magnetic than logical or linear.

Once I was invited to meet Joni Mitchell on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia where she hangs  but I had to hop on a plane. Soon after, I met her kid in Toronto.  I've mapped a lot of deja vu too. 

The line between privacy and publicity is always blurry in music. Musicians write about so many private things in music publicly. Where I was to meet Joni and where I met her kid twice and had profound conversations was not mapped until I did it. As a chronicler, it would seem remiss to not map key locations for an Artist's life or where an Artist made history. The line between publicizing and privacy is trust I think. Trust is every writer's compass before releasing anything in a song (or map).

Some addresses we have are known only through inside knowledge but within the context of a wealthy atlas of addresses, these addresses do not stand out. 

Long after an Artist dies, the privacy of where an Artist lived no longer matters. But not knowing where they created art is a huge regret for art history.  I still often wait many months if I am unsure when to release a story and its location. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Disposable Generation


When you look back in history

All that is left is writing and art

Works describe every generation

Paper books are passed along to the next reader

Paintings & poetry picture moods of that time

Songs and snapshots define retro

All of history is aglow

* * *

Analog’s the tortoise that continues the road.

Digital’s a hare that runs fast to disappear

Everything Apple ever made will be gone

Downloads will all disappear

We are the Dispoable Generation

* * *

Yesterday's posts, forgotten today

A hunger from malnourishment is fast

Everything we make to be seen

Is seen less and less in less time

Makes you wonder

Was it just a dream

Or just hard to recall

Wiped out by transience

Now you see it, tomorrow it’s gone

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How We Change The Stars

I’ve been rethinking how we make a great product.

I've reflected on things I've done well in my career as a founder/executive or as part of an investment team:

(insert brag)

But what’s given me pause is what I haven't experienced:

(insert definition of product changing the future)

Even though I've always had leading edge ideas, access to funds and world-class resources, I've never experienced a great product built by people I personally know. This includes people I know in other ventures if I were honest. 

All the great digital products I use passionately are built by people I don't know:

“Unknown Artists.”

* * *

The ideas we've had could always be proven. I see others proving it eventually.

It has led me to believe, most of us have had the wrong mindset to make a great product.

What's been missing is a culture for making something great. 

This equals making what our peers think “cannot be done.”

* * *

Listening to doubters has one fundamental flaw. Doubt is based on what “has been.”  

But we don’t want to be a “has been.” We want to create a new  future.

When I read Steve Job's bio, everything he set out to build was labelled "can't be done."

Glass staircase - "can't be done." 

Advisers, pros and experts are often shaped by what they know, but not by what they don't know to challenge a new frontier.

Even after we achieve unexpected success,  even  after doing  “the impossible,” the culture is still too frequently...not being able to go past where we are...to  protect what we have.

The conversation is regularly "you can do this (efficiently)"..."this platform will allow you to"…"given where we are now” ... "realistically for execution"…or my favorite “when we get funding… (as if it will guarantee a big difference).”

This keeps us regular. 

Right away, we are stuck inside the box, circling within norms, copying current trends or  knowledge like it was some easy way out. But it never was. Who among the millions found an easy way out?  

We do non-resistant things for the purpose of survival but it is a state that keeps one in only a state of survival.  

Even the term MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is all about the status quo. It's set up for people in the status quo.  The focus is on minimal effort with tools today available to get something “done.” 

Peer pressure skews towards what can be done in the current context. It focuses on what exists and  what is acceptable. Millions will do it.  So how does this stand out or change anything? 

* * * 

Great ventures don't think in terms of MVP (not that I've seen). They go for it.

Can you even imagine George Martin telling the Beatles to do the minimum for a viable product? Pioneers who break boundaries do far more than minimum from the get-go. 

Too often we do what "can be done." We are surrounded by people with a mindset influenced by clients/peers (who don't innovate). We are surrounded by a repetitive language of...status quo. 

We forget "innovation."

* * *

Innovation is how we change the stars.

Innovation IS what “can’t be done.”

Most talented people do what can be done. But the great ones who make history, who produce what changes the future, do what can’t be done.

Stars can only be seen by turning off the lights shining on everything else