Over on Medium I’ve joined the One Side Project movement. The goal of this movement is to focus on one side project at a time. This is extremely interesting for me as I usually am juggling numerous side projects and wind up struggling to finish any of them.

This year I’ve decided to focus on Whalesight.com as my first side project to “finish”.

What is Whalesight?

The problem: today there are numerous efforts to help clean up and make our oceans healthier places for marine mammals. The trouble is that these efforts aren’t coordinated, the data they gather isn’t shared, and what data is collected isn’t always in a format that others can benefit from. Think about it this way: every time there is a new study or survey put out the raw data is essentially trapped in a PDF somewhere. Or sometimes it’s in an Excel sheet or random database on a server under the scientist’s desk. To make things worse there are literally millions of people out there taking pictures of whales, dolphins, seals, polar bears, and others and yet that data does not get used.

The data gathered can inform public policy, corporate decision-making (e.g. oil companies and drilling), scientific research, and of course help enthusiasts have a bigger hand in ocean health and marine mammal well-being.

The solution: my brother Dave has extensive experience in gathering marine mammal data with his software Mysticetus. When he mentioned there was no central clearing house, no “big data” warehouse in the cloud (maybe we didn’t use all these buzzwords from 2015) we asked ourselves why not? The amount of data being collected isn’t huge in a modern sense. We know how to build scaleable storage in the cloud. It wouldn’t be hard to add APIs and data feeds based on this information. And lastly getting the enthusiasts, the people flocking to whale watching boats, the people on their kayaks, or the people spotting stranded whales and reporting them to NOAA to put their data and photos somewhere useful is just an app away.

This is how Whalesight started.

What does “finish” mean?

If done properly we see Whalesight as something that should go on indefinitely. We are not 100% sure what “monetization” looks like but we know this isn’t a unicorn, it probably isn’t a startup even. There might be grant money, this might provide some ROI for marine mammal scientists, and we might need to crowd-fund at some point. But we think we can get this up and running in a viable way and then enlist others. To that end:

  1. Front-end web site to collect names from interested people, showcase what we are building, and track progress. This is 25% done but needs more work. Check out www.whalesight.com. Any interested WordPress devs / designers out there please let me know.
  2. Back-end data collection in the cloud. This will be my focus in the next few months. If we can scale to 100 users (scientists and enthusiasts) and get the schema right, the rest can be revised later.
  3. iPhone app. This is Dave’s project. We have the design sketched out, now we need to implement it and get this into the hands of a few hundred beta testers (interested in being a beta tester? Sign up on whalesight.com).

That will get us to a point I can say “done” and perhaps move on to a new side project. I’d love to hear from any tech / design folks out there who might want to pitch in and help. If you know someone at Amazon Web Services, Microsoft BizSpark (Azure), or a similar cloud storage engine we could leverage let me know.

What do you do after Whalesight is finished?

I always have a list of side projects. My book is at 22,000 words, my screenplay is stalled, I still cannot play more than rudimentary chords on the guitar, what little French I spoke has evaporated and hey… I just might need to get a job in 2016 as my gap year enters the second 6 months.


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