Thanks to all our translators!

October 27, 2010

Hey all,

As you know, a month ago we asked Whereoscope users around the world if they could help us out with translations, in exchange for tshirts.

We were blown away by the response, and are proud to announce that as of version 1.5 we have Whereoscope in 7 languages! Download it now at:

Download Whereoscope

Our sincere thanks go to:

  • Kanako from California for the Japanese translation
  • Zhiqiu from Duke University for the Chinese (Simplified) translation – check out his blog
  • Eduardo Martin Pailos from Spain for the Spanish translation – check out his awesome web coach company
  • Rafal from Poland for the Polish translation
  • Vini from Australia for the Portuguese (Brazilian) translation
  • Fon from Australia for the Thai translation
  • Jonas Huckestein from California for the German translation – check out his launchpad of awesomeness
  • Burak from Turkey for the Turkish translation (since version 2.0) – check out his home page
  • Rios Tam from Hong Kong for the Chinese (Traditional) translation (since version 2.0) – check out his home page

Where possible, we’ve also localized the App Store description, although not all languages are supported in the App Store.

We’d also like to thank Chelsea, who’s been working super-hard replying to all our Japanese users on Twitter and email.

James & I are really thankful for all the feedback we get!!



Version 1.5 is out!

October 26, 2010

Hi all,

Version 1.5 is finally finally out! Get it now at the iPhone AppStore.

Download Whereoscope

New features in this version include:

  • Faster to startup when re-opening the application
  • Much more reliable background updating. It should update at least every 10 minutes or so, even when stationary
  • On the various map screens you can see a circle indicating the accuracy of the location data. If associated with a ‘Place’, you’ll see another circle for that place.
  • On the “Everyone” map, tapping on a particular person jumps to their screen so you can zoom in on where they are.

Thanks for being patient!! I’ll be publishing another blog post soon thanking all our translators for this version!


Innovate!2010 Pitch Slam in Silicon Valley

October 11, 2010

We’ve been selected as one of 12 semi-finalists to pitch at the upcoming Silicon Valley Pitch Slam this Wednesday. You can read more about Innovate!2010 at:

The Pitch Slam is run by Guidewire Group and I’m pretty excited about it! If you can make it, please come along and support!


The location arrow on iOS

September 29, 2010

Hi all,

I wanted to take some time to talk about the location indicator on the iPhone, as there’s quite a bit of confusion about what it means. Let me start by talking about the 3 main[1] types of location information available on the iPhone.

  1. GPS. Most accurate (5m) when outside, with an extremely high battery impact.
  2. WiFi. Most accurate (10m) when inside, with a high battery impact
  3. Cell tower. Rarely accurate (around 500 to 2000m), with very little battery impact

It’s also important to know about the 2 main[2] types of location services available in the background on iOS 4.0 and above

  1. Core Location. This allows you to receive location updates of a desired accuracy or better, ad infinitum. To utilize Core Location in the background you must specify the application as requiring the location background mode. This then informs the user that the application will likely have a high battery impact. This mode is designed for applications such as turn-by-turn directions.
  2. Significant Location updates. This allows the application to be notified whenever the device changes cell towers. At that point the application can ask the operating system for a limited time (typically up to 10 minutes) to do any processing. This may include Core Location updates as shown above.

Now, with all that knowledge, let’s look at how things changed from iOS 4.0 to iOS 4.1

iOS 4.0: Show the arrow only when Core Location is running i.e. high battery impact

This really allows user to know when an application is going to significantly impact their battery life, allowing them to turn off such applications. Most application using Core Location will turn it on in such a way that it ends up activating the WiFi or GPS radios.

iOS 4.1: Show the arrow when either Core Location or Significant Location services are running i.e. privacy impact

This educates the user more about privacy – they can know whether any application currently has access to their location. But just because the arrow is there doesn’t mean the phone is actually processing anything, it may be entirely dormant.


Many people got used to the idea that the little location arrow would only appear when the GPS was running. As of iOS 4.1 this is no longer the case.

Any application that is currently registered Significant Location updates will have the arrow visible at all times, even if the phone is stationary and dormant.

Interesting side note

Turning off Location Services for a given app doesn’t completely turn it off.

For those who don’t know how, the standard way is to go to Settings->General->Location Services. You can either turn off location for all applications, or for an individual application. You’ll also see an arrow next to any application that has requested location data in the last 24 hours.

What it actually does is cause a callback to fire saying there was an error collecting location data every time location data is collected for another app. Let me illustrate.

1) You are running GoodApp and BadApp on your iPhone

2) You turn off Location Services for BadApp but leave it on for GoodApp

3) Every time GoodApp gets a location, BadApp is told “Sorry, no location for you”.

Of course, I would have expected BadApp just not to receive anything at all. In the current framework, BadApp is actually receiving some form of data: that another application is accessing location and the phone is likely to be moving.


[1]. Yes there are more complexities to interactions between these types, and some cell tower information is available even when no cell signal is available. However I considered that outside the scope of this article.

[2]. There are additional hacks to gaining background location using various other background modes, jailbreaking, or other techniques. The vast majority of iPhone location-based apps use one or both of the 2 mentioned.

Database Upgrades!

September 29, 2010

Over the last couple of days, we’ve been working hard to improve the reliability and performance of Whereoscope — on the Web, on the phone, everywhere. This is a big deal, because we know that if you can’t trust Whereoscope to be online, all the time, then you really can’t trust it at all.

The piece of the system that has been letting us down the most, as regular readers will know, is our database. There’s been a bunch of things go wrong with it, so we decided that enough is enough, and took fairly drastic steps to overhaul it. The technical explanation of what we’ve done is to implement “replica sets”. Without going too far into the details, the way we were operating previously was akin to driving a car and carrying a spare tire: if a tire goes flat, you can get back on the road, but you’ll need to pull over, swap the tire over, probably inflate it, curse and swear a lot and so on. It takes time. Replica sets are more like having 3 complete cars driving around with you (a bit like the President!): if one of them gets a flat, we leave it by the side of the road and jump into the next one. We then call up our local dealer (or Secret Service outpost) and ask them to have a new car waiting when we get there: that is to say, there is little to no delay in getting back up and running in the case of a flat tire. Importantly there is also no delay when any other kind of failure occurs. This is important because every time Whereoscope has gone down, it has been because of something we didn’t anticipate; relieving us of the responsibility to foresee failures is probably the single best thing we can do for reliability. Computers are much better at failing than we are at predicting how they’ll do it.

So Whereoscope now has 3 separate database servers, and every time we get data coming in, we’ll write that data out to all three of them. There’s definitely still ways things can go wrong, but the database was by far the most fragile. By having these “hot-spares” running all the time, we’re seriously limiting the impact a database failure can have on the system as a whole. The replication system also has automated failover, meaning that it will automatically shutdown the errant server and switch-over to one of the spares before we even notice anything is wrong.

There’s another side-benefit to come of this also: since we now have 3 servers where we used to have one, we’re able to use these extra database servers to speed things up (something the President’s motorcade can’t do). We’re being cautious in rolling this out, because there are some subtleties to it, but moving forward, we’re optimistic that this will just magically make everything go faster with no work for us (or you!)

Kudos to our admins on this migration: we managed to do the whole switch-over with only about 3 minutes of downtime, very late last night.

And just in case anyone was wondering, we also have an array of “hot-spare” webservers, and a load-balancer with automatic failover, so we’re safe if our webservers start misbehaving also.

Our goal is to get to a place where we don’t even have to think about the reliability of the system: to have it completely functional 100% of the time, whether or not we’re around to look after it (after all, we do occasionally sleep). To be clear, this is just one step on the road to that goal, but it’s a big one — the database server is simultaneously the most critical and fragile component of the system, so it’s great to have it replicated and safe. We’ll keep you posted on further improvements as they happen.

James Gregory
CTO & Co-Founder.

Version 1.4 is out!

September 23, 2010

Hey all,

Version 1.4 has finally been approved by Apple.

Download Whereoscope

We were planning to release 1.3 first, but the issues on OS 4.1 necessitated pulling that release and going with 1.4 instead. So there’s quite a bit in this release!

  • Background tracking works again on OS 4.1 devices
  • More than 4 people / family allowed – swipe to move between pages on the Home Screen
  • iPad support (but no background tracking until OS 4.2)
  • iPod Touch support (again, no background tracking)
  • You can tap on the Address button on the Place screen to jump straight into the Maps application
  • Easier to add Place notifications in the History feed
  • Family members always in the same positions on the Home Screen
  • Japanese localization
  • Other bug fixes

We have several people working on translations for version 1.5 – planning to get them all rolled in by the end of the week so if you can help please contact us. and get a free Whereoshirt!



Translators wanted!

September 20, 2010

Hi all,

We’ve been thrilled with the success of Whereoscope all over the world – when we hadn’t even built localized versions! One of our Spanish users contacted us and volunteered to do the Spanish translation so that they (and other users they know) could use it more effectively. Of course we thought this was a great idea!

We’ve now rolled that into version 1.5, and would really love to get a hand from anyone else who has some time to spare. In return we’d love to send you our thanks and brand-new Whereoshirts for you and your family.

It’s a pretty simple process – we send you a single text file with about 140 phrases and words e.g.

“School” = “School”;

This needs to be updated so the right-hand side has the translated version of that phrase. In Japanese this would be:

“School” = “学校”;

We have English, 日本語, and Español translations complete, and would love to get a hand on any others. The highest priority are:

  • Chinese – traditional or simplified
  • German
  • Dutch
  • French
  • Swedish
  • Korean
  • Turkish
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Thai
  • New Zealand

We know we could outsource this to professional services, and it’s not very expensive to do so. But  James and I would rather build Whereoscope collaboratively with the community.


PS. Just kidding about New Zealand….

XConomy: Do you know where your child is?

September 20, 2010

Wade Roush from Xconomy just published an article on Whereoscope – the latest in his series about YC startups. I like his focus: more on the human elements of our solution than the technical side.

One of my quotes from the article:

But we are not trying to solve the case where you can’t convince your kid to tell you where he is.

The more parents I talk to (and I talk to a lot!) the more evidence for this grows.

Sharing, trust, and collaboration are key. That’s what we believe and that’s what we built.

Email Problems

September 15, 2010

We’ve hit an issue with our system for sending out emails to everyone to help them get started with Whereoscope. This was a new system we introduced a couple of days ago, and we’ve had a few teething problems with it. Basically what would happen is that it would send an email out suggesting that you should try adding some places to be notified about, and then the system would promptly “forget” that it had done this, so it would do exactly the same thing the next day.

What this all means is that some of you will have received an email every day for the last 3 days with the subject line “Try adding n places”. I’m very sorry if you’ve been affected by this — it wasn’t our intention to blast you with email. We’ve now got a fix in place, and I’ll be watching the system very carefully over the next few days to ensure that nothing else goes wrong with it.

Sorry again, and thanks for your patience!

James Gregory,
CTO & Co-Founder.

Database Outage

September 7, 2010

We’re very sorry to report that we had a database outage over the weekend. We filled the disks on the database server, which meant that we were unable to store new location data as it came in.

The problem started at around 1PM Pacific time yesterday, and was resolved this morning at around 8:30AM. During that time we lost any location data that was sent to us. The database is the “life-blood” of Whereoscope — without it we can’t store new location data, can’t sign up new users, etc. Basically every aspect of the system was affected in some way.

To make matters worse, we didn’t find out about it for some time due to a problem with our monitoring.

So first of all, let me sincerely and personally apologize to everyone out there relying on Whereoscope. I dropped the ball on this, and it’s something we’re taking very seriously.

Secondly, let me assure you that we’re putting in place new measures to ensure that this never happens again. I have been working closely with our sysadmin team on this. We’ve got the system back on the air for now, and have scheduled a disk upgrade for tonight. We’ve also resolved that issue with our monitoring, so we should get notified about this before we fill the disks next time, so that we can take steps to avoid the problem. Because of the disk upgrade, there will be a short downtime this evening at 1AM Pacific time, lasting about half an hour.

Once again, we’re really sorry about this, and I thank you all for your patience while we work through these issues.

James Gregory,
CTO & Co-Founder.