5 Great Apps Created Using Open Data

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bright red and orange open sign

The city of of Madison launched it’s open data portal this week, and boy are we ever excited here at Hardin Design and Development! Madison, if you can believe, is only the second city in the country to pass an open data ordinance.


You might be wondering what the buzz is all about concerning open data and the Wisconsin State Journal has a great in-depth article explaining the concept, but basically it means the public will now be able to use data collected by the city to develop an app of their own design – for free.


With the copious amount of city-data now posted online developers will have plenty of information to dig and sort through to create an app, but where to start? To help fuel the creative juices we found five great apps created from open data portals from cities around the country to inspire the Madison area developers.


1. BusRadar (http://busradarapp.com/) Madison

A locally produced app that simplifies your bus experience. Allows users to see what buses will be arriving at any stop in the Madison Metro system. Tremendously useful to any seasoned or first-time bus rider.




2. Don’t Eat At_____ (http://donteat.at/) New York City

An app used on foursquare that allows users to receive an alerts when they check into any NYC restaurant that is at risk of being closed for health code violations.




3. Chicago Works (http://www.2pensmedia.com/) Chicago

Graffiti on your store sign? Abandoned car outside your apt? This iphone app that allows Windy City residents to submit and track reports to the 311 Chicago city services department.



4. MomMaps (http://mommaps.com/) (Originality San Fransisco, now over 30 cities)

Helps parents find kid-friendly locations (children’s museums, indoor play areas, kid-friendly restaurants etc.) while on the go.




5. Ottawa Biking Problems (http://ottawabikingproblems.ca/) Ottawa

A mapping website that allows cyclists to share information with the entire cycling community. Users provide data on specific locations in the city such as road work, busy intersections, poor bike lanes and more.



To get started on your exciting pathway to open data app development click the link to the official City of Madison Data Portal featuring all of the current datasets available to the public. We can’t wait to see what our fellow Madisonians are going to develop using our great new resource – we do know that will be great!

Startup Work Environment?

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At Hardin, we’re always looking to hire talented developers, both directly out of colleges like UW-Madison and developers with more industry experience. We’ve always prided ourselves in maintaining a fun work environment that encourages creativity, with flexible hours and plenty of pool and ping-pong tables, so long as people are productive. We’ve noticed and overall increase in productivity and dedication in response to this, and as CEO I’ve rarely felt the need to “crack the whip”, which is the classic concept of the startup work environment: few rules, dedicated employees, no cubicles, and no ties.

Groupon Offices

Groupon Offices

I’ve always assumed that most startups are like this, and certainly many are. Even when they grow rapidly, it always seemed that companies like Google were able to maintain a startup culture for a decent amount of time after they took off. With this in mind, it’s been disturbing to read about how it seems like the exact opposite is happening at some of today’s fastest growing startups, including Groupon and Zynga. Several weeks ago Gawker released a lengthy article on the growth of Groupon, including some interesting notes on the working environment in reference to the new management style implemented by a trio of brothers named Marc, Oliver and Alexander Samwer:

With some mixture of admiration, fear, and revulsion, their way is known amongst Groupon employees as “The German Way.” “They’re very shrewd, savvy, sharp elbowed guys,” says one source. “They are extreme capitalists,” says another. “For them there is no soft and fluffy side of the business. They’re revenue driven, not people driven. I think a lot of us who were enchanted by Andrew’s format of a combination of people and money and customer, were kind of turned off by The German Way. I think they really changed the internal happiness for the workplace.” For one thing, “The German Way” has meant the end of absurd pay days for entry level employees doing nine to five work. It’s also meant that Groupon’s office place has become a much more intense place to work for sales people. “It’s a total boiler room sales culture. And it’s really hardass. It’s pretty hardcore.” There are two views of this change. One is that it is ruining a once great place to work. One source who holds this view says that the Samwer’s proxy in the U.S., Chris Muhr, “is the kind of guy who will hold somebody up in a meeting, and say, ‘Bob, you made a really dumb decision. Bob, you’re a stupid asshole, sit down.’ Really hurtful, demeaning, bad shit.” The other view of the changes the Germans have brought to Groupon is—phew—it’s about time.

Zynga Offices

Zynga Offices

Recently, a post on Slashdot referencing several other articles had similar things to say about the work environment at Zynga:

If a recent internal survey and reviews left on glassdoor.com are to be believed, working at social games company Zynga isn’t much fun. Zynga’s competitive, metrics-driven culture may be scaring away potential acquisitions and forcing out employees seeking better work-life balance and less stress.

According to the articles, the reputation of the corporate culture at Zynga is so bad that Rovio walked away from a $2.25 billion acquisition offer from Zynga in part because of it. Last month, in dozens of e-mails to a companywide list, frustrated workers complained about the long hours and stressful deadline periods. The quarterly staff survey solicited 1,600 responses, with plenty of criticism, including one person who said he planned to cash out and leave after the initial public offering. Quoting some posts from Glassdoor.com:

You’ll work 8-18 hours per day 5-7 days per week. Company leaders demand creativity of employees after overworking them, and ignores most ideas that don’t follow the same technique/code base that most of their games currently use. Not much of a social life. Coworkers are grumpy because they’ve been overworked.

That working at a start-up can be difficult and require long hours is a given. That poor-performing employees are subject to dismissal is just how the world works. But it sounds like more than that is going on at Zynga and Groupon. I am firmly committed to maintaining an environment at my company that encourages employees to thrive and be creative, not one that grinds them down. I’d encourage fellow entrepreneurs to make it a goal to do so as well, since ultimately it creates better companies, and better employees.

An iPhone World Without Verizon or AT&T?

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According to John Stanton in an article on ITWorld referenced by Slashdot, Steve Jobs had plans to completely alter the landscape of mobile networks in the same way he conquered the music industry, by creating his own network that would use unlicensed spectrum rather than rely on mobile operators (i.e. Verizon and AT&T):

One of the more profound ways that the iPhone changed the mobile industry was the fact that it upended the relationship between the handset maker and the wireless carrier: Apple sells many of its phones directly to customers, and in general has much more of an upper hand with carriers than most phone manufacturers. But venture capitalist John Stanton, who was friends with Steve Jobs in the years when the iPhone was in development, said the Apple CEO’s initial vision was even more radical: he wanted Apple to build its own wireless network using unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum, thus bypassing the carriers altogether.

People often miss the fact that beyond completely revolutionizing the smartphone industry, the iPhone triggered a pretty profound shift in the balance of power between device manufacturers and networks:

Companies like Apple and Google, which develops Android, sell a variety of software and services that capture revenue streams that might have otherwise gone to the operators. [Stanton] advised operators to take some chances with new phones and services rather than invest too heavily in established offerings. Sprint, for instance, has been criticized for making a $15.5 billion four-year deal with Apple to sell the iPhone. U.S. Cellular, however, has revealed that it decided that it would not be a good investment to similarly take on the iPhone.

This shift in power has allowed Apple’s production and sale of the iPhone to be immensely profitable:

As the above charts show, the profit share of the iPhone far outweighs its actual market share, meaning that Apple is keeping a bigger piece of the pie than other manufacturers for the devices they sell. One can only imagine how profitable the iPhone would be if Steve Jobs’ vision had become true and Apple had been able to cut out the networks altogether.

Is Bitcoin Doomed?

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The concept of a “peer-to-peer” currency, with a value not impacted by the shenanigans of various governments, is a really cool idea in theory. When Bitcoin was first unveiled, it was thought of as a further indication that people’s lives on the internet were becoming nearly as legitimate as their “real” lives. This seemed to be supported by Bitcoin values growing steadily, or at least avoiding tons of instability. However, with recent news that Bitcoin values have fallen off 90% from their June 2011 peak. Ars Technica reports:

Unfortunately, the currency’s value hasn’t proven stable in practice. Several waves of media coverage between April and June pushed the currency’s value up from less than $1 to more than $30. Soon after it reached a peak, the currency had a series of PR disasters. One Bitcoin user claimed that a half-million dollars worth of Bitcoins were stolen from his PC; he may have fallen victim to Bitcoin-stealing malware. A few days later, the most popular Bitcoin exchange was hacked, forcing a multiday suspension of trading and generating another wave of bad press. Trading resumed in late June at around $17, and the currency’s value has been steadily declining ever since. In August, one of the most popular Bitcoin “banks” claimed it had been hacked, and had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Bitcoins, triggering a fall in value to under $7. Bitcoin fell below $5 in September, and it is now worth less than $3.

One of the article’s point is that while there are a lot of Bitcoins in circulation, the number of transactions is quite small in proportion, and thus the value of the currency is very vulnerable to volatility:

The value of Bitcoins is (like any fiat currency) ultimately driven by supply and demand. With dollars, the supply is controlled by the Federal Reserve, and the demand is driven by the size of the US economy. The supply of Bitcoins grows automatically, asymptotically approaching 21 million, and the demand for Bitcoins is driven by the volume of Bitcoin-denominated transactions. And that’s Bitcoin’s fundamental challenge: as far as we can tell, the volume of Bitcoin-denominated transactions is tiny. True, there are a few hundred merchants who say they accept Bitcoin, but most of them appear to be small concerns, and almost all of them also accept dollars, euros, or another national currency. They may do only a small fraction of their business in Bitcoins.

So while Bitcoin is a very interesting concept, the jury is still out on whether a currency not endorsed by a major entity (i.e. a government) can remain viable and stable.

Zuckerberg for President?

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A post on Slashdot recently mentioned how Facebook’s increased political involvement has led to it establishing a political action committee:

According to a recent SFGate article, ‘Social networking giant Facebook is expanding its political footprint, confirming that it has filed the necessary paperwork to open a political action committee in advance of the 2012 elections. The move is the latest in a series of maneuvers boosting the Palo Alto company’s political profile in recent years, joining a steady rise in lobbying spending, several high-profile fundraisers and the failed statewide candidacy of one of its key officers for attorney general last year.’ With 800 million users in its social network, and with very deep pockets, we could have a new, powerful Congress-influencing entity steering American politics.

While the title of this post is obviously in jest, it’s interesting to see Facebook taking a more pro-active political stance as compared to more reactive companies like Microsoft in the 1990′s, recognizing that when you control the online profiles of 800 million people you are automatically involved in politics whether you like it or not. As social networking and our online identities become more and more intertwined with our offline identities, look for those who control information online to continue to become more involved in politics, and likewise look for politics to get more involved with that information and the privacy concerns associated with it. It is becoming more and more apparent that the companies who control the internet (like Google, Facebook, and others) build their financial bases using the information and analytics they are able to pull from their users, and this combination of money and information is certainly under the radar of our current government, along with those who seek office in future elections.

What is Economic Development?


Today I served on a panel and focus group for Thrive, an economic development group here in Madison. They are working on a plan for economic development for Madison and its surrounding counties called “Advance Now”, which is described as follows:

Advance Now: Madison Region’s Strategy for Economic Growth is a comprehensive, action-oriented regional economic development strategy that will systematically move the Madison Region’s economy forward. The eight-month development process will engage citizens, as well as public- and private-sector leaders from throughout the region, to define a shared vision for sustained economic growth. The project will culminate in a detailed implementation plan that includes tangible performance metrics, capacity assessments, and one-to-five year action plans.

The panel was interesting to me, since it was composed of entrepreneurs and fellow CEO’s of small businesses in Madison, including friends of Hardin DD Matt Younkle from Murfie, Chris Meyer from Sector67, and others. They were interested in what we thought was Madison was doing right to encourage entrepreneurs, and what it wasn’t. This led to a much more interesting discussion, which is: what is economic development? Most economic development committees I have encountered in the past have been devoted to encouraging real estate development and thus driving tax revenues for cities, but it seems like a more hybridized approach is necessary to build not just real estate and tax revenues, but also continue to create true prosperity by actively encouraging other businesses by making capital more easily accessible, and by enhancing the hiring process beyond simple job fairs at the university. I’m not implying that Thrive is necessarily the answer for Madison, but they do have some interesting ideas:

Advance Now will position the Madison Region as one of America’s leading job creation engines and most livable communities. It is our goal to build a world-class business infrastructure as seriously as we invest in our quality of life. To this end, we’ll focus on such outcomes as business retention and expansion, sector development, and capital attraction.

In the tech space, our biggest issue is finding and retaining talent. Unlike some other fields, we see almost full employment, and so it is vital that the city of Madison help us as its tech employers not just hire entry level talent from the UW, but also find ways to help attract existing talent from other cities. Madison is an amazing city to live in, with an incredible average overall quality of life. I hope that the city’s economic development plans take advantage of this and recognize that bringing in and retaining talented employees is every bit as vital as constructing new buildings.

If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts on future economic development in Madison, I’d encourage you to not only post here but also take Thrive’s economic development survey, which will be used to help make decisions and prioritize the development of future economic development programs.