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The Rise of Interactive Data Maps – Collaborative Tools of the Future

Someone using a digital pen on a collaborative map

Collaborative and interactive platforms have been created in a variety of areas. Many people use Google Docs as a collaborative tool for group projects. Various 3D mapping services guide autonomous cars. (Read more about Japan’s autonomous vehicles tasked with 3D mapping in this Bold story.) Likewise open-source and wiki platforms allow anyone to contribute  knowledge toward specific topics. But despite these developments, such a thing is essentially non-existent when it comes to data maps. But one company is looking to change that with their innovative collaborative map software. If all goes as planned, their interactive mapping tool could completely revolutionize the way we look at data.

Felt, an Oakland-based startup company, is getting ready to launch its collaborative mapping software as a beta product. Though the company is relatively new, and boasts only six key members, it’s expected to make quite the splash. In fact, Felt has raised $4.5 million in venture capital funding to further its mission. This is a sizable amount of capital, which justifies taking a look at the interactive mapping tool industry more closely. In a world that seems to be shrinking every day, perhaps data maps are indeed the way of the future.

Examining the Competitive Landscape

Notably, there are several potential interactive mapping tool platforms available today. One of the most reputable ones is ESRI’s platform GIS. This particular mapping product is perhaps among the most common one used today. It has also been available since 1969, which helps account for its widespread use. But like several others available to users, none reflect a collaborative map software product. Instead, they tend to provide geographic templates that can be customized according to a specific need. This is quite different from the platform that Felt plans to offer.

Several interactive map tool platforms can be included among Felt’s list of competitors. For example, Visme Map Generator and Infogram Interactive Map Maker both allow customers to design their own maps. Both also provide some data points to assist with the creation of  customized design. QGIS offers an open-source product, which to an extent, could be considered a collaborative map software service. However, none have the vision that Felt’s cofounders have when it comes to a truly interactive mapping tool. They believe a truly collaborative map software builds upon itself through user enhancement. But unlike open-source platforms, their software allows users to develop progressively better maps for their own individualized needs.

“We really want to be much more aspirational in what we’re trying to accomplish and go much more broader [so it] results in a totally different kind of company.” – Sam Hashemi, Cofounder of Felt

Felt’s Collaborative Map Software Solution

The basic motivation for designing an interactive mapping tool was the lack of such a product on the market. One of the cofounders of Felt, Sam Hashemi, was involved in another company years prior called Remix. Remix was essentially a city transportation planning software that allowed city’s to design transit systems. But in the process of developing this product, it was realized how limited the available interactive mapping tool options were. A collaborative map software was not included in Remix’s development. But Hashemi made note of this potential opportunity, which eventually led him to cofound Felt. By the way, Remix was eventually purchased for $100 million by Via Technik, a digital urban design company.

Felt’s platform is unique in that it allows users to build their own customized maps using datasets. Felt offers its own library of datasets from which users may choose. Or individuals can input their own datasets to meet a more specific need. However, the datasets and maps created are available for collaborative work, just like Google Docs. Multiple people can contribute to a single map, and Felt’s data library grows in time. The more data integrated into a map, the richer and more insightful it can become. This is why Felt believes that its “build-a-map” services has the potential to change the way we examine data.

“Everyone was trying to do something with maps [during the California forest fires], but only a few companies in the world had the resources to build something….it was broken.” – Can Duruk, Cofounder of Felt

Felt’s Potential Impact on Industry

In recent years, the demand for customized maps has increased significantly. During recent presidential elections, networks and media have invested heavily in interactive mapping tool platforms. Likewise, visual media and videos are now preferred for individuals looking to understand complex subject matter. This has been evident in several climate-related events such as those involving hurricane tracking and forest fires. Finally, the vast amount of data available today makes it hard for a single source to construct comprehensive data maps alone. This naturally invites collaborative map software as a means to resolve these challenges. In this regard, Felt’s platform offers an ideal solution at just the right time.

A Google Map of what I think is a city
Chances are you’ve already been using an interactive mapping tool on your phone and you didn’t even realize it.

Numerous industries can utilize such a collaborative map software platform to improve their abilities. Many already use existing mapping tools to enhance their offerings, including tourism, real estate and education. But in total, investors believed a truly interactive mapping tool like Felt’s could affect more than two dozen industries. Various scientific endeavors, including those related to the environment are among the most likely ones. Mapping constructs could also enhance business strategists, political scientists, resource conservationists, and crisis management. This is likely why Felt has had such success in acquiring venture capital support despite its early-stage efforts.

Future Plans and Precautions

Currently, Felt plans to use its venture capital funding to expand its core team of engineers and developers. Likewise, it also plans to launch a beta product for use to explore opportunities for monetization. But along the way, Felt’s cofounders recognize that there is some potential for misuse of its collaborative map software. Bad actors could sabotage such an interactive mapping tool with bad intentions. Thus, they also plan to create some inherent accountability measures and system safeguards as development proceeds. But for the moment, Felt looks to be addressing an unmet need in many industries. If they continue in a favorable course, data analysis could have a completely new look in the future.


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