I’m a hacker. And a surfer (Surprisingly, not such a rare combination). About a year ago I decided I’ve had enough with the poor quality of real time surf reports. Advanced surf forecasts are available, some surf cams on various beaches are installed, and yet without having a precise view of the surf at any given moment, I found myself too often wasting precious time (otherwise spent hacking) driving to the beach to find poor surfing conditions, or on the other hand, dismissing the drive just to be sorry later when I got the “dude, it was pumpin so awesome, u should have come!” line from someone who did surf.
So I developed [the 1st version of] SwellPhone, a service for “producing and consuming real-time surf reports” in my declarative way of describing it. I reckoned that if I give the surfing community a tool to share photos and videos of the surf that they take just before or after surfing, I will revolutionize real-time surf reporting. Hell, why not? You have a smartphone right? Why not point it to the surf, take a video or photo and help other surfers tell the surfing conditions?
It was a noble idea. It even got to the front page of HackerNews. But I was so naive… Everybody wanted to “consume” the surf reports alright. Just about everybody. However, No one was willing to “produce” a surf report. Absolutely no one. And without anyone producing, there was nothing to actually consume.
I was trying to crowd source surf reporting. But the crowd simply didn’t want to source. Crowd sourcing sucked.
I let SwellPhone linger and diverted my energy elsewhere…
Until some day, when while at Intsagram, I stumbled upon this pic of a cute little girl in the Maldives, and it made me laugh, so I Gimped it to express my thoughts:
Then I took another look at the pic and it hit me: Any surfer within a driving distance from this awesome tube who would get to see this photo in a timely manner after it had been taken, would simply leave everything and rush to surf there. Dude, this is not a pic of a cute girl. This is a surf report!
Wait, it’s taken from Instagram, do they have an API? Yes, they do!
Wait, do they geo tag the pics? Yes, they do!
Wait, do they timestamp the pic? Off course they do!
Wait, is there sufficient inventory of pics around known surf spots at any given time? Well, sometimes there is!
Hooray! SwellPhone can rise again! This time though, without the reliance on the crowd to source pics to SwellPhone. People already take thousands of pics of their kids, tanned legs and bellys, gorgeous looking girlfriends/boyfriends, and let’s not forget the empty beer bottles stuck in the sand. All of them have some view of the surf in the background. For us surfers, this is the foreground…
All in all, it was a lesson to me, and I learnt something. Crowd sourcing can sometimes suck. But that doesn’t mean the data you need is not already sourced in some other manner.