← You're reading a post on Code for America's Blog Archive. Head back to our main site.

Ryan Branciforte – Why I’m Coding for America

Trailhead Labs is part of the 2014 Accelerator Class at Code for America. Founded by Jereme Monteau and Ryan Branciforte, Trailhead Labs provides innovative technology that helps the public connect and engage with the outdoors. Their flagship product, OuterSpatial, is an open data platform that enables outdoor organizations to standardize, manage, and publish their recreation information and build beautiful digital maps and applications.

Leap and the Net Will Appear

It was back in January of this year that Alan Williams reached out to me to talk about OpenTrails, a new open data standard initiative led by Code for America. Just one month earlier, I had left my job at the Open Space Council, a coalition of 65 park agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area. That initial conversation with Alan was one of those moments when I realized things were falling into place, just the way I knew (or hoped!) they would when I took a leap of faith.

For the previous six years, my co-founder Jereme Monteau and I had partnered with many park agencies in the Bay Area to build Transit & Trails, an application that helps people take outdoor adventures without a car. While we were aggregating trail data, building the app, and working to keep it up to date, we learned why it is so dang hard to build a good outdoor application.

It turns out, nearly all government-managed recreation information is locked up in static maps or kept in different formats that are stored in internal and inaccessible systems. As a result, many apps are built primarily using crowdsourced information that is often out of date and unreliable.

So, after years of learning about, and enduring the pain that governments and developers feel, when it comes to using parks data, we were compelled to commit our energy to creating a better way. We took that leap and started Trailhead Labs in early 2014. A few weeks later, we had a meeting with Alan and the “net” started to appear.

Why I Am Coding for America

That meeting with Alan has led to a partnership with Code for America and a broad community of public agencies, NGOs, and companies that are working together to develop and launch OpenTrails, a data standard focused exclusively on applications that help visitors navigate parks and trails. Within the first few months of the release of OpenTrails, we held a 3-week course that helped 12 park agencies to adopt the standard. Now we are gearing up for the second course, starting November 5.

Open data is great, but the value and fun is in what you can unlock with a standard. OuterSpatial, platform created by Trailhead Labs, enables park agencies to manage and publish their recreation data, which means they can easily create digital park maps for their websites and launch their own applications for park visitors.

As more agencies adopt OpenTrails and use OuterSpatial, the community is building better tools to take advantage of the standard. As a result, apps like Transit & Trails become significantly easier to build and maintain. New apps are coming as well— stay tuned for OpenTrails Mobile, a free app launching soon that agencies can easily publish to.

Setting aside our greatest places and making them open and accessible to everyone has to be one of our government’s greatest innovations! We want to make sure that governments can benefit from the latest technology and allow everyone access to amazing apps and maps that enable them to have the best outdoor experiences. That is why I am Coding for America.