Juha van’t Zelfde and Maurits De Bruijn: “A Port is Like a City”

12.03.2013, 12:31
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At the beginning of march students of studio (Re)charge Information had a 2-day workshop with Dutch data specialists Juha van’t Zelfde (cofounder of the VURB foundation) and Maurits De Bruijn. Students were building connections between databases and twitter messages to visualize the spatial opportunities of big data and civic media. Juha and Maurits also presented their Shippr project – a maritime datastore. One of the students, journalist Maria Romakina has talked to Juha and Maurits about the project and how ships will communicate through social networks in the nearest future.

— What’s the idea behind Shippr?

— Shippr will be a general-purpose maritime datastore. The project is a result of participating in the annual master-class of the Dutch Media Fund and the Sandberg Institute. Its objective was to build a new tool for investigative journalism. According to the International Maritime Organization, about 90% of all world trade is carried by sea, so shipping seemed like a promising subject to study. With our a shared history in Rotterdam and a mutual interest in supply chains, the port was a logical territorium to pick.

— So, what is Shippr about?

— The main framework will be a scalable datastore consisting of various maritime datasources, e.g. Marine Traffic, MyShip and shipping news channels, and social media like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. The datastore is inspired by and modeled after the great work Simon Rogers and his team at the Guardian have been doing with their datastore. It will have an API for journalists, researchers and the shipping community. We intend to fully open up the store for anyone to use, and to build applications on top through the Shippr app which will follow soon after. We will also develop a ‘Foursquare for ships’. And AIS transponders will allow to check-in ships automatically into locations like ports, locks, repair-docks, oil platforms and off-shore anchor places, and into events e.g. like bunkering, storm, sale, collision and piracy.

— Why should ships be able to share information between themselves?

— The whole idea of AIS transponders is to have a self-organizing automated system to prevent collisions. Furthermore ships share information because they have all kinds of relationships: oil platforms have a relation with tugs, high-speed crew ships, bulk carriers, supply ships, maintenance, etc. Those relationships need very precise management, and human failure is always around the corner. Having an automated backup system is not a luxury, but a necessity.

— Do you think of ships as of people?

— After all, a port is like a city. By looking at ships as individuals with their own timelines and using the logic of checking into locations and events, we hope to build a meaningful interface for exploring the hidden world of the seas.

— How many people are involved in the project at the moment?

— Shippr is currently a team of three. Maurits is responsible for technical direction, Juha – for creative direction. And our lead developer is artist and creative coder Jonas Lund. We are based in Rotterdam, which will be our first port to open up. After that we hope to slowly scale to other ports like Helsinki, Kokkola and St. Petersburg.