Open Data

for value creation

Wami MAP, OSM data for everyone, easily.

Can chance encounters and coincidences result in profitable business relationships? Unlikely as it may seem, sometimes ideas and projects can spring from such episodes. It’s not all about being lucky, though: today, a good entrepreneur is someone who can see and seize opportunities, take advantage of valuable networking and create the conditions for the company’s success.

People often ask me what it takes to run a successful startup: actually, most of the time nothing to do with the idea we have of people like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. It’s not an easy road and it generally means a lot of work, poor profits (at least at the beginning) and continuous ups and downs. You must be well prepared, fully committed and focused on your goals.

Nevertheless, on the way you may bump into people that can make the difference for you. This is pretty much what happened when an established Italian IT company and a startup met, not a long ago…

At Wami we needed to figure out how to manage open data in a fast and lean way. To be more specific, our technical team was testing OSM maps with the ultimate goal of improving our services and implementing new functions related to our mobile travel guides.

For those who are not familiar with the work of this worldwide community, OpenStreetMap is a project that deals with free and open cartographic data, that are made available to anyone needing them.

Although it may sound trivial, it is not. In spite of what we commonly think of maps, they’re not free: they come with a lot of legal and technical restrictions that prevent people from using them for creative purposes.

Basically, we were supposed to access a large amount of data in real time and process them combining different data sources. Official APIs and third-party services are not built for such purpose, though, which implies long latency; besides, you can only manage small geographic areas at one time. If we had chosen to stick to proprietary solutions that work within a closed environment, we wouldn’t have had a single chance to succeed in our project. On the other hand, an open platform like OSM allowed us to completely import data and go ahead with the development process.

Non-developers won’t probably be able to follow me here, but at this point we had the right intuition: why not use Node.js and a non-relational database like MongoDB? In other words, in few days we created a small local server that could efficiently handle data related to an area of Italy we selected as our test area. Nothing really special so far: that’s what tech people do every day — trying to push the limits. We had laid the foundations, it was time for large-scale validation.

Just a simple demo, nearest points around me. Pebble JS

A year ago Wami signed a partnership with CloudItalia and we have been using their datacenter ever since. It’s not the kind of formal relationship where you feel intimidated by the other, though. It’s more like “Hello, how are you doing? What can we do together?”, it’s about helping one another so as to find synergy and successfully run our own businesses.

This is exactly what happened when I met Lucio Gamba, Marketing Director at CloudItalia, at an event we were both attending as guests. We were immersed in the classical cocktail conversations and we started chatting about our recent projects; it was quite natural for me to talk to him about the work we were doing on open data. “We’ve just developed a tool and we would like it to be an open project so as to be able to share it with other developers”. He looked excited about it and I went on saying: “Well, to go on with this project we would actually need a new datacenter featuring many Terabytes of data space and a huge RAM…”.

If you are not an expert in this field, I must explain I was speaking of a great amount of resources — worth about 5k euros per month.

I finally came up with a proposal: “Shall we do it together? After all we can prove that a startup like Wami and a big company like CloudItalia can work together on a project and create real value”.

I would have expected a negative feedback, maybe even a hearty laugh. Lucio did nothing of that. He asked me some technical questions to better understand the situation and then he simply sealed our new agreement with: “Ok, let’s do it. I believe in you and in your project”. We didn’t need further technical validations nor to submit an official request to the company’s board: we were 100% on the job from day one.

This is how Wami Map was born; in few weeks we’ve collected many positive feedbacks from the community and developers from all around the world have started adopting it.

Where is value created in the whole process?

First of all, Wami Map represents value for the developers. In fact, they can count on an efficient tool to have access to worldwide OSM data.

Value for CloudItalia, that proved to be a smart company, willing to put its know-how at the service of young startups.

Value for Wami. Thanks to Wami Map and the cooperation with CloudItalia, in fact, we obtained great visibility and were able to kick off new projects we will be ready to officially launch in 2015.