Loqi.me Wins Most Useful App and Best in Show at CivicApps Award Ceremony

On Thursday, 29 October 2010 Portland CivicApps announced the winners of Round 2 of Apps for Greater Portland competition. Loqi.me, an entry created originally for the International GWOB hackathon by Aaron Parecki and I won Most Useful App and Best in Show.

We were both surprised and excited to meet Mayor Sam Adams and learn about the other award-winning applications (all of which are listed below). We were also surprised to win some prize money, which we will use to provide food and prizes for future hackathons in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, as well as pay for server costs incurred by Geoloqi.com.

About the App

Cross-platform Group Messaging and Location Beaconing for Disaster Relief

This application is a resource for citizens, medical teams and governments before, during and after disasters.

Loqi.me allows mobile users to send an emergency GPS beacon to a real-time map. Crises responders can view all of the help requests on the webpage, along with hospitals and fire stations, real-time 911 calls related to natural disasters.

CivicApps Location Beacon Map

Ground teams can easily use Loqi.me on their mobile phones to send notices of supplies and terrain reports in real time. Remote helpers can easily see the whole picture on the website’s real-time map, handle help and information requests, and send messages to the network.

Loqi.me supports subscription to group messages via SMS, AIM, Jabber and Twitter. No application installation is required. Location beacons can be sent simply by going to http://loqi.me on a mobile phone.

CivicApps Award Winners!

Congratulations to the award winners and runners-up for this second round of app submissions to CivicApps! Here’s a list of the official winners of the second round of the CivicApps For Greater Portland Competition:

Most Useful App ($1000 prize award):

— Amber Case & Aaron Parecki for Cross-platform Group Messaging and Location Beaconing for Disaster Relief judged most useful and utility to citizens overall.

— Runners Up: Justin Palmer, Matt Blair, Joseph Mosser, Bill Wilson, Melelani Sax-Barnett

Most Appealing App ($1000 prize award):

— Matt Blair for PDX Trees judged most appealing in terms of design and usability.

— Runners Up: Amber Case & Aaron Parecki, Justin Palmer, Max Ogden, Joseph Mosser, Bill Wilson

Most Original App ($1000 prize award):

— Melelani Sax-Barnett for Portland Bike to Transit Map judged best originality, uniqueness and inventive nature.

— Runners Up: Amber Case & Aaron Parecki, Atul Mathur, Matt Blair, Max Ogden, Bill Wilson

Best Use of Data App ($1000 prize award):

— Max Ogden for CivicApps Data Previewer judged best overall utilization of the datasets.

— Runners Up: Amber Case & Aaron Parecki, Justin Palmer, Bill Wilson, Melelani Sax-Barnett, Dan Wilson

Civic Choice Award ($1000 prize award):

— Joseph Mosser for Pdxtrian for receiving the most public votes.

Best of Show Award ($3000 prize award):

— Amber Case & Aaron Parecki for Group Messaging and Location Beaconing for Disaster Relief judged top overall app.

Participate in CivicApps!

You can learn more about CivicApps at CivicApps.org.

Download the Source Code for Loqi.me

Loqi.me is open source and free to use for anyone who wants to build on it. You can get the sourcecode for Loqi.me here on Github.

Loqi.me Wins Grand Prize in GWOBorg International Open Source Hackathon

On 10.10.10, Aaron Parecki and I participated in an international hackathon put on by Geeks Without Bounds. We finished at 4:30Am, just in time to submit the app and explain it over the hackathon IRC channel.


A few hours later, we learned that we won one of the grand prizes of $1010! Because we listed NedSpace as a helper, they were also awarded a matching $1010.  All of the prize money will be used to put on more open gov and open source Hackathons in the Portland community! If you have an idea for a hackathon, please let us know.

What is Loqi.me?

Loqi.me  allows mobile users to send an emergency GPS beacon to a real-time map. Crisis responders can view all of the help requests on the webpage, along with hospitals and fire stations, real-time 911 calls related to natural disasters.

Ground teams can easily use Loqi.me on their mobile phones to send notices of supplies and terrain reports in real time. Remote helpers can easily see the whole picture on the website’s real-time map, handle help and information requests, and send messages to the network.

Loqi.me supports subscription to group messages via SMS, AIM, Jabber and Twitter. No application installation is required. Location beacons can be sent simply by going to http://loqi.me on any GPS-enabled mobile phone.

Other Hackathon Winners

Sahana Eden + Tropo integration

Fran Boon and Praneeth Bodduluri’s innovation application that also used the Tropo API won one of the $1010 top prizes.  The features implemented allow Sahana to extend its presence over IM/Twitter/SMS – Simple queries can be performed on a Sahana instance using these.  Their app included examples that enable users to send queries via IM/Twitter or SMS to check Hospital Status or search for People or Organizations.  This was fantastic integration of two technologies.

Fran and Praneeth affiliated their project with Sahana Foundation, one of the key open-source crisis management platforms that GWOBorg worked with in development of the hackathon event.

GMap a Crisis

Psytek from AlphaOne Labs in NYC (one of the hacker spaces we visited on the tour) won one of the Apple iPad prizes for developing a simple yet powerful application that uses Tropo to monitor Twitter for certain hashtags: #crisis, and takes the geo-location information and displays it on a Google Map.

Play This or People Die!

The Jigsaw team took home the third $1010 prize (and they get the matching prize for their space, Jigsaw Renaissance in Seattle, Washington). They built a simple playsourcing application called Play This or People Die! that usesTropo SMS and connects to Sahana and allows gamers to “play” by helping to translate, categorize or geolocate requests for help.

Thanks to Tropo and Geeks without Bounds!

Thanks again to Tropo for sponsoring the event and providing great support during the programming sessions. Thanks to Geeks without Bounds for supplying the ideas and framework for an excellent hackathon.

Tropo – A powerful, yet simple API that adds Voice, SMS, Twitter, and IM support to the programming languages you already know.  Tropo will award prizes to those registered apps that use the Tropo API.

Geeks without Bounds -An international coalition of passionate problem solvers working together to assist people whose survival is threatened by lack of access to technology or communications due to violence, neglect, or catastrophe.

Loqi.me and CivicApps!

We recently submitted Loqi.me to the CivicApps competition for Greater Portland. This city-run initiative is making great headway in providing open data to developers and people with great ideas. If you’re in the area, be sure to come to the CivicApps awards ceremony on Thursday, October 28th, 2010 at Webtrends!

Haven’t heard of CivicApps? You should really check it out.

Another Open Response to the Portland Development Commission State of the Software Market

Portland Development Software Survey

This is PDC’s third and final survey undertaken in the process of identifying initiatives that will create a more thriving software cluster in the Portland region.

Their first survey in April benefited from the involvement of more than 280 respondents who identified the issues that affect the region’s software professionals most. Their second survey looked into the issues affecting the alignment of our community and logged more than 300 respondents. Results of this survey will be shared with the community and regional leaders and used to create a set of policy initiatives for the City of Portland. My responses to the second survey were open, as are the responses to this survey.

Survey Questions and Responses

About 75% of respondents to the 2nd Survey said that a system to match mentors and mentees for business advice would be valuable. How valuable do you think this type of business mentoring would be?

Very Valuable

Mentorship Definition

For the purpose of this survey, we are defining “Mentorship” as the way to accelerate learning about business by pairing new entrepreneurs with more experienced ones in order to increase the likelihood of business success. Do you think this definition is complete?

This is good, but I would suggest a change.

What would you add to this definition to round it out?

Entrepreneurs are useful to talk with, but investors are the ones who make the rules. It’s very important for entrepreneurs to hear what investors are looking for, and how entrepreneurs appear to investors. Not having investors talk with entrepreneurs is missing half of the equation. Plus, it provides investors the opportunity to see what’s going on in the market.

Business Mentorship Network: Our Assets

What do you think are the most critical elements for creating a good mentor/mentee relationship?

  • Mentor experiences that are similar to those desired by the mentee
  • Similar personal values
  • Ability to create success for the mentee

Other: A track record of success and a willingness to speak frankly about how business works.

Business Network/Mentorship: Participants & Roles

What interests you about this idea of creating a network for the Portland region that connects interested Mentors with compatible Mentees?

Storytelling and education.

What would you like to be mentored regarding?

  • Sales & marketing
  • Adding value to your product or service
  • Management skills
  • Pitching potential investors
  • Development of strategic business skills
  • Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your personality traits in business

If a good Mentor/Mentee relationship was introduced to you today, would you set up a meeting immediately?


Mentorship Network: Obstacles

What are the most serious roadblocks that you anticipate as we try to help facilitate these mentorship relationships?

Organizational inertia

Mentorship Network: ROI & Metrics

What are the elements we should measure to determine if this initiative is successful or not?

  • Success of Mentees’ businesses
  • Satisfaction ratings from Mentors/Mentees

Other: It is quality, not quantity. There is only one Paul Graham, but he does what he does very well, and influences many, whether directly or indirectly.

Mentorship Network: Additional Ideas

Is there anything else you would like to see as part of this initiative that would make it successful to you?

Patience. Also, I’d like to be able to connect with those in Beaverton and surrounding areas and maybe even tour investor’s offices. I’d like to learn more about actual business. Software is something that makes sense to me, but there are many gray areas in my mind related to how other things and how business works. There is only so much I can get from books.

Mentorship Network: Involvement

Would you be interested in working on a task force to begin to plan and implement this mentoring network?

Not Sure (there wasn’t room for this, but my reasoning is that it’d have to be worth my time and not be empty talk and planning. Simple, to the point mentorship is what’s needed. I can go out and get that myself without needing to be on a committee. Scaling it so others can grab it without hunting being their main objective is going to be more difficult. Time shouldn’t be wasted , and things shouldn;’t be overthough. Some of us are busy.

Financing Network Topic Overview

More than 2/3 of respondents to the 2nd survey said that it was important to address the financial needs of software companies. When asked what those needs were, the majority (54%) of those that have tried to raise money found that Seed and Angel funding levels (investment under $500,000) were most difficult in Portland. Do you think that supporting the efforts of entrepreneurs to connect with Seed and Angel investors is an important initiative for the software community to address?


Financing Network Definition

For the purpose of this survey, we are defining “Financing Network” as the connection of start-up companies with “Seed Funders” (very early stage investors under $500k) in order to decrease the time that start-ups devote to raising necessary capital.
Do you think this definition is complete?

Yes – this is a good definition.

Financing Network: Our Assets

What do you think are the most critical elements for creating a good financing Network?

  • Identification of companies ready for an investment
  • Identifying trusted business experts to advise both businesses and investors

Financing Network: Participants & Roles

How likely are you to be involved in this type of entrepreneurial network?

Possible involvement

Financing Network: Participants & Roles

In what capacity are you interested in being involved?

As an entrepreneur

Financing Network: Participants & Roles

What type of company are you interested in obtaining an investment for?

Green tech and software.

Financing Network: Participants & Roles

What level of investment would you be interested in obtaining?

$50k to 100k

Financing Network: Participants & Roles

What types of activities would you use this investment for?

  • Improving an existing product
  • Hiring sales staff
  • Sales & Marketing

Financing Network: Obstacles

What are the most serious roadblocks that you anticipate if we facilitate these financial relationships?

  • Inexperience of software company leadership with fundraising do’s and don’ts
  • Trying to automate it by making a database instead of connecting people to people, one at a time, through interviews.

Financing Network: ROI & Metrics

What are the elements we should measure to determine if this initiative is successful or not?

From those that participated giving great reccomendations of the program to others.

Financing Network: Additional Thoughts

Do you have any other ideas about how we can improve our investment climate for the software industry?

I’d like to meet some local VC’s one on one, not to pitch, but to understand business and hear stories. I like to collect stories, because they are patterns for how things work and have worked.

Financing Network: Involvement

Would you be interested in working on a task force to begin to plan and implement this financing network for investment?

Not sure: (there was no space to write this)

If the task force required a minimum amount of time and was very efficient. I’m not interested in tasks forces that do not do efficient work.

In our 2nd survey, more than 72% of respondents said that it was important to find new ways to support Portland’s many User Groups. Do you currently attend a User Group?


Have you helped to organize a User Group?


Does the group have a working “Best Practices Document” that helps volunteers plan an event?


Is there anything you would like to see added to this document that you think might make it better?

Not right now.

Community Conversation

Which calendar(s) does your User Group currently use?

  • Calagator
  • Upcoming
  • Google group
  • Plancast

Are you able to find out about all of the events you’re interested in by using current calendars?


In our 2nd survey there were 3 concrete proposals that had a majority of respondent support: 1) An inventory of available meeting spaces 2) a document of successful meeting organization practices 3) identifying interested sponsors. Do you think that supporting User Groups in this way is a good idea?


User Group Support Infrastructure Definition

For the purpose of this survey, we are defining the elements of “User Group Support Infrastructure” as shared Meeting Locations, Best Practices, Calendar, Coordinated Promotion, Sponsor Information. Do you think this definition is complete?


What would you add to this definition to round it out?

People understand how to organize user groups, but there needs to be a centralized location for them. Focus more on the space and sponsors and less on the stringent organization documents.

User Group Infrastructure Support: Participants and Roles

What are the elements of a solution for User Group logistic support that you feel are important?

A space.

User Group Support Infrastructure: Road Blocks

Change is always challenging – do you foresee any roadblocks when it comes to coordinating User Group Infrastructure?


User Group Support Infrastructure: Roadblocks

What do you see as possible roadblocks to this initiative?

Overthinking and overcomplicating things.

User Group Infrastructure Support: ROI & Metrics

What should be measured to determine if this initiative is successful?

  • Growth of User Group membership
  • Number of User Group meetings held in identified locations

Other: Don’t use metrics. You’ll know if it is successful. It will be obvious. It won’t work for everyone, but if it works it will work well for a core group of people. You’ll know who they are.

User Group Infrastructure Support: Additional Thoughts

Is there anything else you would like to see as part of this initiative that would make it successful to you?

I’m employed and probably won’t be going to these spaces during the day. A lot of people would appreciate a 5-9Pm co-working space that’s open and has rooms for discussion.

User Group Infrastructure Support: Involvement

Are you interested in working on a task force to begin to plan and implement this strategy for supporting our User Groups?

Not sure.

A few last questions…

Are you self-employed or working for a company?

Working for a company

Does this company primarily develop software or provide services (legal, accounting, recruiting, etc.) to the software industry?

Developing software

How many employees does your company have in this region?

6-25 Employees

How can we contact you in the future to share the results of this survey and to keep you informed as we move forward with implementing the next steps of this initiative?

Amber Case
caseorganic at gmail dot com

In previous surveys, respondents noted that Portland has a different software “DNA” than other regions. Please select the values that you think best define tech professionals in our region:

We value community (collaboration, networking, relationships…)

By the way, how likely are you to recommend to a peer in the software industry that they come to work or locate their business in the Portland area?

Not likely at all

Why do you feel feel negatively about having a software business in the Portland area?

I’m not at liberty to say.

Thanks so much helping us to refine the policies you would like to see the City of Portland pursue relative to our community’s business, financial and knowledge networks.

Any last thought before we go?

If you want to talk to me, contact me directly. I unsubscribe from all bulk mail lists.

An Open Response to the Portland Development Commission State of the Software Market

PDC recently  released the next instantiation of their State of the Software Market survey. It’s designed to dive deeper into their conversation with the software community.

For purposes of transparency, I thought it might be interesting to post my responses as an open response to the survey. Below are all of the questions and my responses. I don’t have the right ones – no one does. However, I hope that my responses might start a discussion that leads to something that might be considered a good response. It’s all very much a work in progress.

Portland Development Software Survey

We’ve all had different experiences in this community. My favorite experiences have been at WhereCamp, Open Source Bridge and CubeSpace. Filling out this survey is a chance to create more of those experiences and get support for them. If this sounds good to you, respond to the PDC software survey.

This is PDC’s second interview in the process of identifying the tools needed to develop a thriving software cluster in the Portland region.

Their first survey in April had 280 respondents, and this survey seeks to validate some of the ideas that were shared. Software is one of only four clusters that the Portland Development Commission is focusing on, so our input on this topic will have a large impact on the PDC’s work.


Survey Questions and Responses

Portland’s many User Groups run independently. Managing logistics, promotions and funding takes a significant amount of time for their volunteer leadership. An idea that came from our first survey is to compile an inventory of available meeting spaces, a “best practices” document and identify interested sponsors.

Do you think this idea would help align the software cluster and allow it to be more successful?

Yes – this is a great idea!

Why do you think this idea has merit?

Because a lot of us, whether we work full-time or not, need a place where we can all meet up. When we went to CubeSpace, it was like coming home. No matter what happened during the day, we knew we could find at least a few events going on at night. The space does not need to be open during the day – the majority of events that happened at CubeSpace were events happening between 5-9Pm.

It was open and welcoming, and a place to meet friends and collaborators, old or new. In a place where a lot of people work by themselves, and a lot of people do not work at offices during the day, regular community interaction becomes very important.

Another idea we heard was the possibility of identifying flexible meet-up spaces for folks to gather and share ideas. This could augment existing co-working spaces in the city and provide a place for small groups to gather and explore new ideas together.

Do you think this concept of identifying flexible meet-up spaces would be a good idea to support our software community?


Why do you feel that this concept of flexible meet-up spaces is a good idea?

For the same reasons I stated before. There needs to be a space for people to meet, where meetings can be scheduled. A watering hole, so to speak, for ideas, collaboration and exchange.

Having a sponsored meeting spot open from 5-9Pm would not compete with any of the other daytime coworking spaces, as it would be an event space.

Another idea that came to the surface was to encourage the integration of these User Groups into the other parts of our community such as non-software corporations, government and schools. (example: a school technology lab could tap the expertise of a User Group for best practices in changing operating systems, etc.)Do you think such integration efforts would strengthen our software community?

Great idea!

Why do you think this type of integration is a good idea?

It’s an interesting idea, although I’m not clear on the details enough to have an opinion on this right now.

By the way, are you personally involved with a User Group?


What User Groups are you a part of?

I assume you are using the phrase ‘User Groups’ as a way of describing groups of people with interests related to certain types of technology, methods, or ideas.

In that case, these are the groups I’m involved in (or have been in the past).

  • Geoloqi User Group (co-founder)
  • Portland Data Viz Meetup (founder)
  • CyborgCamp (founder)
  • WhereCamp (volunteer, speaker)
  • Refresh Portland (attendee)
  • Wiki Wednesday (attendee)
  • NTEN Nonprofit Technology Meetup (attendee)
  • Webvisions (board member)
  • Web Analytics Wednesday (attendee)
  • Demolicious (attendee)
  • CHIFOO (member)
  • IxDA (steering committee)

I used to go to 2-3 group meetings a night, until CubeSpace closed.

How valuable are you finding this involvement in User Groups?

Very valuable

Why have you found User Groups valuable?

Knowledge is brought to life by people, and people are often difficult to find. User groups allow information to pollinate and multiply. It drastically speeds up the ability for one to get things done. When one tries something alone, it’s often easy to get stuck. When one is surrounded by users who are familiar with a system, help is never far away.

Do you have any other ideas about User Groups before we ask your opinion about the next topic of “Regional Resourcing”?


A number of people provided feedback about how we could take the resources we already have and become smarter about understanding and making use of them. For example, many wished they had a place to search for every local software company’s products or services. Some also wished they had a database of every gifted programmer in the region. For the purposes of the survey, we’ll call this “Regional Resourcing”.

In terms of its value, how would you rate this idea of a “Regional Resourcing” directory?

Very valuable

Why would such a “Regional Resourcing” directory be valuable?

It’s been attempted before, especially with sites like PRTLND.

An easy to use directory with community tagging capabilities would be useful, especially if it imported Twitter data and allowed one or others to fill into profile information, recommendations, etc., wiki-style.

Linkedin does this, but it’s not locally oriented.

In our last online conversation, 75% of those who did not have a mentoring relationship said that they would like to have one.

How valuable would it be to have a system that matches mentors with mentees to help with business issues? (for example: formation, planning, development, etc.)

Not very valuable

Why wouldn’t “mentorship matching” be valuable?

Well, if you think about it – having a community in place, with a place to have events, takes care of the mentorship idea. A community naturally has mentors and newbies. Those who contribute to a community get community support in the form of funding, reviews, and collaboration. Having a structured and stringent program might not be as effective as simply allowing it to happen and providing a space for it.

In our discussions, we have heard several concerns about the challenges associated with financing software companies. Depending on their experience, some have focused on a need for more VCs in Portland, others on the need for more Mezzanine funding sources and still others on unmet needs in Early Stage funding.

How important do you feel it is for our community to better address the financial needs of its software companies?

Very important

Why do you feel that we should better address the financial needs of software companies?

I don’t know if it’s simply the idea of bringing VC’s into Portland that would address the financial needs of software companies.

I think the key is to provide actual learning experiences or good managers for companies. A lot of great developers out there are very good at coding, but are quite inept at design or bringing products to market. The idea of the product lifecycle, or the need to market a product, is sometimes misunderstood.

Learning about business – and this means business planning, legal issues, taxes, business plans, and simplicity, are all things that are needed. VC’s that provide this would be nice, but startups also need to understand how to run startups on little to know funding at all. If they can turn a profit without having to go to VC’s, it’s all the more impressive.

Have you been a part of an effort to raise money for a company in the Portland region?


I raised money for GreenIt!, a renewable energy company I started with two colleages of mine during college. We raised two rounds of seed funding.

In your experience, what is the most difficult financing stage for a Portland-based software company?

Angel funding (less than $500k)

Please describe the challenges you faced in obtaining Angel Funding:

The amount of time it takes to obtain funding

Some have mentioned that we need to do a better job connecting start-up companies with “seed funders” (very early stage investors under $500k) in order to decrease the time that start-ups devote to raising necessary capital.

Do you feel that we need to develop better ways to connect start-ups with seed funders?


What are some ways the we might be able to build these networks of funding relationships?

  • Building a matching database
  • Streamlining the review process
  • Having “speed dating” events

Before early-stage entrepreneurs can go to market, they must literally “prove the concepts” of their innovations. The work may entail developing a research technology further, perhaps to a working prototype, and/or studying markets to see if the business concept will fly.Developing a local “Proof of Concept Center” has been suggested as a way to provide this support through seed funding and expert assistance to help entrepreneurs prepare for the strongest market entry possible.

How valuable do you feel a Proof of Concept Center would be in the region?

Not very valuable

Why do you feel that a “Proof of Concept Center” might not be a good idea?

While a center like this could provide User testing, QA testing and focus groups that would not be available to an otherwise unconnected entrepreneur, this is something that naturally emerges from a community. Providing the place for community should still be the highest priority. A startup can have a meeting within that space that can act as a ‘Proof of Concept Center’.

Do you have any skills or resources that you would like to volunteer to help in the development of a community “Proof of Concept Center”?


Helping entrepreneurs to simplify their ideas and get their products to market.

Do you have any other ideas about how we can improve our investment climate for the software industry?

Have a clear guide to regulations, legalities, and process.

Starting a company is difficult. I had a lot of help starting a C corp because my team was part of a college. There was no business program, so the college president and his business development team helped us in securing funding, connecting us with attorneys and conferences. Without them, no progress could have been made.

Also, a focus on success stories here in Portland is essential. Patterns of development and best practices can be easily found if one interviews successful entrepreneurs here. Take, for example, Andy Baio, developer of Yahoo!’s Upcoming.org. There are many more of these stories. If a community has good role models and examples, they’ll be more likely to succeed.

Would you be interested in receiving the results of this survey and being invited to attend a discussion of the issues impacting our regions’ software industry?

Yes, definitely

Please let us know your contact information.

First name: Amber
Last name: Case
E-mail: caseorganic at gmail dot com

How would you describe the regional footprint of the company which provides your primary source of employment?

6-25 Employees

In addition to this company, are you involved with a side-project or projects?

Yes – I have several side projects

What is keeping you from building a side project into a full-time endeavor?

  • Technology development
  • More customers
  • Investment capital
  • Business strategy development
  • Not interested in making this more than a side project

Other: It’s a tremendous liability to move to developing a company full time. Often it’s not the most intelligent choice, especially in a place like Portland. It’s far safer to keep it as a side-project while remaining fully employed. There aren’t a ton of customers in Portland either. One has to be able to connect nationally and internationally in order to make a blip outside of the Portland sphere. That’s not especially easy to do, no matter where one is.

Does the company that provides your primary source of employment develop software or provide services (legal, accounting, recruiting, etc.) to the software industry?

  • Developing software
  • Providing services

(Note: There was no way to choose both. Vertigo provides both types of services).

What type of services are you providing for the software industry?

  • User Interface/Artistic Design

What position do you hold in the company?

  • Technical/developer

(Note: They didn’t provide designer).

What was your company’s revenue last year? (if you have multiple side projects, please select your primary one)

I’d rather not say.



There’s still a lot to be done, and I need your help. Do you like the idea of a 5-9 meeting space as well? Let me know on Twitter, or in the comments below.



Amber Case, (@caseorganic) is a Cyborg Anthropologist and a happy member of the Portland Tech Community. She is happiest when surrounded by wonderful people sharing ideas.

Non-Visual Augmented Reality | Geonotes, Proximal Notification Systems, and Automatic Check-ins with GPS and SMS

If you don’t know Aaron Parecki (@aaronpk) yet, you should. You have an excuse if you don’t yet. He moved to Portland in October 2009.

The reason you should know him is because he created a system for automatic location check-in two years ago. He’s been taking GPS data every day for those past two years, and he’s got major data visualization skills. And Aaron innovates. The system he built keeps getting built.

I first met Aaron at Beer and Blog when he had just moved to Portland from Eugene. I forgot who introduced him to me, but I was very excited. I’d been talking about so many of the systems that Aaron was actually building. I promptly told him to present at the second Portland data visualization group, which he did.

Since then, we’ve been working on micro projects together. I started carrying around a GPS with me starting on 12/28/2009. With the exception of Japan, I’ve been logging pretty much everywhere I’ve been.

Having two GPS devices in play makes for some interesting opportunities, which is the subject of this post. This will all make sense in a minute.


Automatic Location Check-ins

A while ago, Aaron set up an automated check in system based on GPS coordinates. The system allows one to check into locations without having to load an interface. This was about 2 years before any of the geosocial systems were readily available. Parecki was not living in Portland, and his audience was small.

Now, social sharing platforms are hot, but they still require user action. This means that one still has to pause social flow to look down at a device, poke a few buttons, and check in. This is normal when one is around a tech-focused crowd, but should one still do this on a date? Or in the presence of a non-geek?

Checking in and Social Punctuation

Checking in can punctuate social flow. I ate lunch one afternoon with and experienced this. A group of five was sitting at the table next to me. One of the guys in the group got excited when he sat down. “Oh! I have to check in on Foursquare!” he said. His tablemates looked at him with blank faces as he tapped away at his mobile device. When he realized this, he started trying to describe Foursquare in order to explain why he had stopped to check in on his mobile device. It didn’t work. There is a way to avoid this.

Quadrant-Based SMS Alerts

Early on, Parecki’s system was able to SMS messages depending on quadrants of Portland, or pre-defined locations. Every time I go home, I get a text message on my phone telling me that I’ve arrived at home. Instead of actively checking in, I can simply dismiss the message. This reduces the time and space it takes to check in because I don’t have to load an app, wait for the location, and then check in. When I leave SE Portland and enter Downtown Portland, I get a SMS message telling me that I’ve changed locations.

Co-Location Negotiation proximity-notification-aaron-parecki

But there’s a lot more to the social equation than just automatically checking in. GPS is useful for a number of things. For instance, co-location negotiation, or “meeting up”, is one of the most text heavy social protocols currently in existence. It gets worse when one party hops from place to place, because one can’t constantly text their location or forward motion. Two people who haven’t met before must also negotiate by multiple texts. One might sit in a coffeeshop and wait for quite a bit of time without knowing when the other person should arrive. New visitors to buildings need specific directions in order to enter the location.

Instead of receiving a text message like “I’m late!” or “stuck in traffic”, I’ve been able to simply look at Aaron’s GPS. The picture is worth a thousand text messages. I can see if he’s left the office or if he’s crossing the Burnside bridge. If the GPS lines are squiggly and slow, I know he’s having trouble finding a parking spot.

In this situation, there is no need for text messages. Looking at a GPS map still takes user effort and load time. This punctuates task completion and social flow if one must always be checking and refreshing a GPS map 15 minutes before someone arrives.

In an effort to reduce the need to look at the GPS map, Parecki set up what has proven to be my favorite part of the entire system: proximity notification.

Proximity Notification

Instead of having to look at Parecki’s GPS map, the system detects when Aaron and I are in a certain distance of one another. I know when Parecki is near when I get a text message that says “you are 0.4 miles from aaronpk”.When I get a message that says “you are 0.1 miles from aaronpk”, I know that he’s arrived.


I can wrap up client work or finish what I am doing right up until the moment he gets there. I don’t have to waste time waiting. I get a warning “0.4 miles!” and then a confirmation “0.1 miles!”. It’s the equivalent of “on my way” and “here”, the two most common co-location ‘drags’. I call them drags because they are redundant and repetitive communication protocols. They’re actions that can be costly, especially when struggling to split concentration between driving and texting, or the sheer inability to text while on bike.


Bridge Notifications

A few nights ago, Aaron created bridges as locations, so that one could be checked into them as well. I got the text message you see here on my iPhone when I crossed the Burnside bridge.

Aaron wants to take the two years of GPS data he’s gathered and use it to visualize how many times he’s crossed the many bridges in Portland. It’s kind of amusing to get an SMS when crossing a bridge.

Why is any of this stuff important?

I’ll tell you why it’s important. Computers are evaporating. Interfaces are dissolving. Innovation in technology comes from reducing the time and space it takes to preform an action, or compressing redundant actions in order to free up time. Computers used to be the size of gymnasiums. Now we have computers in our pockets, begging for attention. We’re constantly planning for our future selves. We look at Yelp! reviews to prepare our next culinary adventure. We want to guarantee that our future selves will have a good experience. We’re connecting to tons of people to do this, connecting to the collective wisdom of a data set that consists of many samples. The more samples, the more accurate the data set. Why ask one person when you can ask many?

Tablet GPS

Xerox PARC had little tablets in the 80’s that allowed everyone to see where everyone was. There were little local GPS maps in the offices, so people could co-locate more easily. One of the guys working there was very excited about the tablets. “This is the future,” he said, “in maybe 20 or 30 years, everyone will have one of these. What works within these walls will work everywhere on Earth”.

Good interfaces disappear. Good work is invisible. Good technology dissolves. A book is a good piece of technology. If the writing in it is good enough, one’s consciousness dissolves into the pages and one has a consensual hallucination of an alternate reality.

All that is Solid Melts Into Air

The mouse is melting. The button is evaporating. Why check in physically when you can do so automatically? “Buttons are losing their shape,” says Interaction Designer Bill DeRouchey in a recent speech on the History of the Button at SXSW, (Bill’s slides on SlideShare) “Before [the computer monitor], buttons always had a sort of tangible border around them, whether physical or visual”. Automatically checking into a location means that the button does not even have a center. It is just a state that one physically walks into, or something that occurs after a certain amount of time has passed. An environmental button.

This is very similar to a video game, in which pieces of the environment closer to the avatar are loaded more fully than far away variables. Our lives are turning into video games, with plus one follower, and plus one friend. Our phones are our friends, giving us statistics about who we are and what we can do. They are our remote controls for reality.

Button Evolution

“Steve jobs hates buttons”, DeRouchey continues, “He sort of has this mandate to not have buttons. This is evidence if you consider how long they resisted having a two button mouse. It’s a all about hiding the buttons, hiding the barrier between us and technology”. Good design is reducing buttons.

A vehicle is a physical transportation device. There are limits to how small it can be made. But a computer is a mental transportation device. It need not be limited by tangibility.

Geonotes – Attaching Notes to Place

Location sharing platform Gowalla has items that one can collect when they check in, but they have to physically check in on the interface in order to retrieve the item.

This Sunday, Parecki developed the ability for users to send geonotes. That is, an outsider can open up a Google map and drag a circle over an area.

You can leave a Geonote for @aaronpk. Just drag your cursor, choose a geo size, and leave your message!


If you leave your E-mail address, you’ll get an E-mail when @aaronpk gets your note. Also, the bar will let you know @aaronpk’s likelihood of receiving your message, based on 30 days of GPS history. You can also leave a Geonote for me as well.


Geolocal Autosubscribing RSS Feeds and Augmented Reality

When one takes automatic check-ins further, one can add streaming data, allowing one’s device to collect SMS messages for hyperlocal areas without the need for QR codes or any visuals. This could be called non-visual augmented reality.

At WhereCamp 2008 in Portland, I wrote about the possibilities and opportunity of Geolocal Autosubscribing RSS Feeds.

I began the session by drawing a big grid of Portland’s on the white board. I drew 5 circles representing Portland’s 5 quadrants on the white board, and labeled them NW, NE, SW, SE and N. The circles represented ranges of ‘hearing’ that a mobile device might have to RSS feeds. I pointed out that as one progresses from street to street, quadrant to quadrant, one’s phone should understand this and automatically subscribe the user to the geolocal RSS feed for that area. That way, data could be very relevant and contextual to the area.

Aaron Parecki has developed a framework that does just this. Locations are defined by circles on a map, and SMS messages are triggered to send when one enters into the area defined by that circle. One can set neighborhoods, areas, and blocks.

Privacy, GPS, SMS and Check-in Exhaustion

Privacy is an enormous issue with systems like this. One does not always want SMS updates, open GPS map data, or text notifications of another’s proximity. In our case, it works well because we work together frequently. If, on the other hand, we were to get proximity notification texts all the time because our commutes were similar, the data fuzz would be annoying and unvaluable. We’re the only two people using the system right now. Anyone with more than 10 active friends on Foursquare or Gowalla and has probably experienced a Push Notification nightmare of endless texts.

Relative Location Value

Here’s a definition: One’s location is valuable to another if and only if that location or person is socially relevant during that time period. The basic case here is the meeting. Person A and Person B need to meet each other, but GPS data is only shared between them when they have a scheduled meeting. When the meeting ends, the data wall closes off, giving them back their privacy, kind of like a wormhole of temporary transparency between two people. This solves the problem of extreme bouts of “checkin-ism”., as well as the issue of remaining privy to one’s whereabouts all the time.

If more people were on the network, this sort of action would have to be taken. Negotiations of privacy and messages would have to be structured so as to prevent push and SMS notification exhaustion. When done correctly, the system is a valuable time saver that decreases anxiety, showing that technology is not inherently good or bad. It is design that is important.

Want to Learn More?

There’s a lot more. Hours and hours worth. But if you’d like 45 minutes of it, come to our talk at Open Source Bridge session: Non-visual location-based augmented reality using GPS data.


The presentation will cover the topics discussed above. It will also highlight the advantages and disadvantages of visual and non-visual augmented reality. We’ll cover alternate types of augmented reality techniques and how they have been saving us time in the past few months.

We’ll demonstrate how we’ve been merging available technologies with custom programming to create location-aware social networks with custom proximity notification. Finally, we’ll describe other uses for location sharing, such as automatically turning off house lights when leaving for work, and wayfinding with piezoelectric buzzers. Privacy and data transparency will also be discussed.

How is the GPS data taken?

Aaron Parecki uses trackr.eu. They have windows mobile, java, and blackberry versions of their software. Parecki says that, “when the GPS device has a lock it is very accurate, you can tell what side of the street I am on”. The program logs data about every 6 seconds, so it ends up being a very smooth line when drawn on a map.

iPhone Software

iPhone users can use a program called InstaMapper. However since it’s an iPhone you will be limited to running the application in the foreground, which means you’ll stop tracking if you get a phone call or want to check twitter or something. But as long as the program is open you’ll be tracking. IIRC it doesn’t end up with as high resolution data as the program on my phone.

boost-mobile-phone-gpsSince I have an iPhone, I can’t run a GPS apps continuously unless the device is jailbroken, so Aaron set me up with with a pre-paid Boost Mobile phone, which the InstaMapper program runs on as well.

One downside is that I have to carry and charge another device. This isn’t bad at all, because I can carry 8 hours of GPS tracking, and it feels kind of awesome to have a physical GPS tracker instead of some claustrophobic invisible mobile app within a device. Not to say that the Boost Mobile interface isn’t archaic. In a way, it’s the age of the interface that makes it nice. Switching between the two makes one constantly appreciate and consider the extremely fast evolution of interface design.

Boost Mobile Phone as GPS Device

You can pick up a Boost Moble phone for $50 at Target, and get a $10 prepaid card. You wouldn’t be using any voice minutes on it, but the credits expire after some time. It would only cost $10/month to run it all the time. Over the summer I loaned a friend my Boost phone and she took it on a bike ride from NY to LA logging most of the way.

Instamapper has an API which provides a CSV file of the last 100 points logged. Aaron then imports them into a MySQL database.


More about Aaron Parecki

You can follow @aaronpk on Twitter, or you can go to aaronparecki.com or visit aaron.pk, the mobile version.
Leave Aaron a Geonote if you’d like. If that’s not your thing, enjoy some Data Visualization that Aaron’s done with his GPS data.

And if you liked what you read, I suppose you can follow me on Twitter as well, or see if I’m in town.