This story begins in 2014.
At that time, crowd funding was a big hit and I financed many projects. One of them was Graffmap, a very cool streetart application.
Simple pitch, great ambition: using their mobiles, users would geolocalise themselves and find the closest streetart pieces.
After a successful kickstarter campaign, the app was launched and hundreds of people from all-around the world started to post pictures.
Unfortunately, good things never last long. In May 2017, I received an email from Simon (the founder of Graffmap) saying that due to technical difficulties the service was going to shut down.
You know the saying « Do not go gentle into the night »? Well, that’s exactly what I said to myself: I sent back immediately an email asking if I could get access to the database to reboot the project on the Web.
A couple of months later, a new version of Graffmap was born.
Here is a glimpse at the list of features it provided:
- Explore a global map and easily visualise the graffs.
- Find the closest streetart piece around you.
- Get more info about a particular graffiti piece.
- Search for a specific city and pinpoint on it.
- Access a specific graff based on a custom URL.
Technically speaking, I learned a lof from this side project. For instance:
- I learnt how to design a Node JS app at scale.
- I learnt how to use MongoDB and structure a database properly.
- I discovered the power of geospatial queries in DB.
- I used the Google Vision API to generate keywords from an image dataset.
- I learnt how to deploy a Node app on a server.
- I learnt how to resize, crop and make copies of images in JS.
- I learnt how to read the EXIF metadata of images.
- etc …
Where it’s getting interesting though it’s in term of project vision. Making this first MVP made me realize that maintaining a project like this would require many more people.
Talking about things that I clearly underestimated, I didn’t take the time to understand why the original Graffmap app failed. Being 100% focused on the technical challenge I made the error to jump straightaway into the code without having a clear product strategy.
The inherent challenges with streetart apps
Stepping back, what I can say is that launching a new app on the market is hard. After a little bit of research, I realized that there is already a lot of similar applications on the Apple and Play stores.
Pushing this investigation further I also dicovered that streetart is a very special kind of field!
- Because Art is by definition subjective, people will have different opinions about what to upload to the platform. So, at scale, it’s very hard to maintain a good quality on the overall content if you don’t curate it by hand.
- The fact that streetart is ephemeral is not helping either, and a ton of manual work is required to keep up to date the database (ie it’s very hard to automated this task).
After finishing this first MVP it became clear that I would have to either spend more time on it or get more people involved. Given that none of these options were really on the table the question I asked myself was: How can I still make this project a success?
And my conclusion was pretty immediate: open sourcing it!
Looking online, I didn’t find any other data source for geolocated streetart. So, my assumption here is that it would be particularly helpful for somebody interested in starting a new project.
Thus, with the agreement of Simon, I decided to open all the data collected on Graffmap (see this repo for more info).
In a similar way, I also open sourced the code of this MVP in case somebody would like to use it.
If I could come back in time, I would probably try to better understand what kind of questions I am actually answering with this side project. I would probably also discuss and get feedback from other people earlier on.