Soft Cities is a San Francisco-based company that sells blankets and napkins. Sounds pretty standard.
But actually, there's something quite cool about these blankets and napkins. You can custom-print them to feature a street map of your favorite location, like a college campus, hometown, or far-away city. Working with Stamen Design, an award-winning tech-and-map design firm in the Bay area, it uses open-source software to access a kind of "world-wide Wikipedia for maps" and turns it into custom textiles of any neighborhood you want.
"This kind of business model, where open data projects run by volunteers both support and see benefit from their involvement with commercial entities, is super interesting, and I think we're going to see a lot more of this kind of thing in the future," Stamen told me in an email.
"We're also working on two open source projects of our own--ModestMaps and CityTracking--that make it easier for designers and the public to tell stories with data. What's exciting about these is that they also make it easier for us at Stamen to tell stories with data; since they're open source, we can use them in our commercial projects as well as exhibitions for galleries and museums."
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The Best Ideas Series
Stamen Design: Napkins and Blankets Made From Open-Source Maps
Samsung: A Refrigerator With Apps
Facebook: A Social Solution to Password Security
MasterCard: The Post-Plastic Credit Card
Under Armour: The World's Smartest Shirt
Genentech: Chemotherapy Without Side-Effects
Andreessen Horowitz: A Camera That Focuses After You Click
Duke University: A Cancer Flashlight