Here, 30-50 hours after it stopped being topical, are some maps of the USA’s fast-spreading feral hog infestation

Awwwww. Image: Getty.

If I used the phrase “30-50 feral hogs” to you in a social situation, you would almost certainly have one of two reactions. Either it will bring back warm memories of laughing quietly to yourself some time on Tuesday night, and we will be able to share a joke, before maybe admitting that it’s worn a bit thin now and, frankly, it’s too late to be writing about it; or you won’t have the faintest clue what I’m talking about. From your reaction, I will be able to tell whether the social media platform Twitter is a big part of your life – whether you are, to use the jargon all the cool kids are using, “very online”.

I am very online – unusually so, for a man of my years – and feral hog Twitter is one of the best things to have happened on that benighted hellsite in what feels like a generation. In the middle of another depressing, repetitive argument about gun control laws in the US, this happened:

The incongruity of that tweet – the vast number of hogs in play, the difficulty of pinning them down to an exact figure, the specificity of the time period it takes them to get to the yard – all make for something that is, accidentally one assumes, incredibly funny. (I say “one assumes”: William McNabb, who sent it, now has a hog as his avatar, so who knows.) At any rate, on Monday night on Twitter you couldn’t move for parodies of it:

 

All this happened three days ago, which is about four hundred years in meme time. But CityMetric likes to stay at least 36 hours behind the news cycle at all times, just to ensure we have a properly discerning audience, and my colleague George just found a map, so let’s do this.

William McNabb, his profile says, lives in El Dorado, Arkansas, a city near the state’s southern border with Louisiana. Here’s a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) map of the country’ feral swine population. I’ve marked El Dorado with a red dot.

So – there really are feral swine rioting in much of the southern US, very possibly in close proximity to small children.

That map, you will notice, is from 1982. A lot of species are dying out because humanity is terrific, so perhaps in the intervening lifetime the problem will have got better, yes? No. Here’s the same map for 2004:

And again, for 2018:

The hogs, it seems, are taking over. Oh, yeah, and the reason they don’t seem bothered by the growth of industrial human civilisation is because it was humans that bought them to North America in the first place. From the USDA’s Animal & Planet Health Inspection Service:

Feral swine are not native to the Americas. They were first brought to the United States in the 1500s by early explorers and settlers as a source of food. Free-range livestock management practices and escapes from enclosures led to the first establishment of feral swine populations within the United States.

In the 1900s, the Eurasian or Russian wild boar was introduced into parts of the United States for the purpose of sport hunting. Today, feral swine are a combination of escaped domestic pigs, Eurasian wild boars, and hybrids of the two.

Or to put it another way, it’s all our fault.

Feral swine have been reported in at least 35 states. Their population is estimated at over 6 million and is rapidly expanding. Range expansion over the last few decades is due to a variety of factors including their adaptability to a variety of climates and conditions, translocation by humans, and a lack of natural predators.

At any rate: 30-50 feral hogs in your yard in Arkansas? Less unlikely than it sounds.


Stay tuned for CityMetric’s take on this hot new trend for really big cows that everyone was talking about some time last year.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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What Citymapper’s business plan tells us about the future of Smart Cities

Some buses. Image: David Howard/Wikimedia Commons.

In late September, transport planning app Citymapper announced that it had accumulated £22m in losses, nearly doubling its total loss since the start of 2019. 

Like Uber and Lyft, Citymapper survives on investment funding rounds, hoping to stay around long enough to secure a monopoly. Since the start of 2019, the firm’s main tool for establishing that monopoly has been the “Citymapper Pass”, an attempt to undercut Transport for London’s Oyster Card. 

The Pass was teased early in the year and then rolled out in the spring, promising unlimited travel in zones 1-2 for £31 a week – cheaper than the TfL rate of £35.10. In effect, that means Citymapper itself is paying the difference for users to ride in zones 1-2. The firm is basically subsidising its customers’ travel on TfL in the hopes of getting people hooked on its app. 

So what's the company’s gameplan? After a painful, two-year long attempt at a joint minibus and taxi service – known variously as Smartbus, SmartRide, and Ride – Citymapper killed off its plans at a bus fleet in July. Instead of brick and mortar, it’s taken a gamble on their mobile mapping service with Pass. It operates as a subscription-based prepaid mobile wallet, which is used in the app (or as a contactless card) and operates as a financial service through MasterCard. Crucially, the service offers fully integrated, unlimited travel, which gives the company vital information about how people are actually moving and travelling in the city.

“What Citymapper is doing is offering a door-to-door view of commuter journeys,” says King’s College London lecturer Jonathan Reades, who researches smart cities and the Oyster card. 

TfL can only glean so much data from your taps in and out, a fact which has been frustrating for smart city researchers studying transit data, as well as companies trying to make use of that data. “Neither Uber nor TfL know what you do once you leave their system. But Citymapper does, because it’s not tied to any one system and – because of geolocation and your search – it knows your real origin and destination.” 

In other words, linking ticketing directly with a mapping service means the company can get data not only about where riders hop on and off the tube, but also how they're planning their route, whether they follow that plan, and what their final destination is. The app is paying to discount users’ fares in order to gain more data.

Door-to-door destinations gives a lot more detailed information about a rider’s profile as well: “Citymapper can see that you’re also looking at high-profile restaurant as destinations, live in an address on a swanky street in Hammersmith, and regularly travel to the City.” Citymapper can gain insights into what kind of people are travelling, where they hang out, and how they cluster in transit systems. 

And on top of finding out data about how users move in a city, Citymapper is also gaining financial data about users through ticketing, which reflects a wider trend of tech companies entering into the financial services market – like Apple’s recent foray into the credit card business with Apple Card. Citymapper is willing to take a massive hit because the data related to how people actually travel, and how they spend their money, can do a lot more for them than help the company run a minibus service: by financialising its mapping service, it’s getting actual ticketing data that Google Maps doesn’t have, while simultaneously helping to build a routing platform that users never really have to leave


The integrated transit app, complete with ticket data, lets Citymapper get a sense of flows and transit corridors. As the Guardian points out, this gives Citymapper a lot of leverage to negotiate with smaller transit providers – scooter services, for example – who want to partner with it down the line. 

“You can start to look at ‘up-sell’ and ‘cross-sell’ opportunities,” explain Reades. “If they see that a particular journey or modal mix is attractive then they are in a position to act on that with their various mobility offerings or to sell that knowledge to others. 

“They might sell locational insights to retailers or network operators,” he goes on. “If you put a scooter bay here then we think that will be well-used since our data indicates X; or if you put a store here then you’ll be capturing more of that desirable scooter demographic.” With the rise of electric rideables, Citymapper can position itself as a platform operator that holds the key to user data – acting a lot like TfL, but for startup scooter companies and car-sharing companies.

The app’s origins tell us a lot about the direction of its monetisation strategy. Originally conceived as “Busmapper”, the app used publicly available transit data as the base for its own datasets, privileging transit data over Google Maps’ focus on walking and driving.  From there it was able to hone in on user data and extract that information to build a more efficient picture of the transit system. By collecting more data, it has better grounds for selling that for urban planning purposes, whether to government or elsewhere.

This kind of data-centred planning is what makes smart cities possible. It’s only become appealing to civic governments, Reades explains, since civic government has become more constrained by funding. “The reason its gaining traction with policy-makers is because the constraints of austerity mean that they’re trying to do more with less. They use data to measure more efficient services.”  

The question now is whether Citymapper’s plan to lure riders away from the Oyster card will be successful in the long term. Consolidated routing and ticketing data is likely only the first step. It may be too early to tell how it will affect public agencies like TfL – but right now Citymapper is establishing itself as a ticketing service - gaining valuable urban data, financialising its app, and running up those losses in the process.

When approached for comment, Citymapper claimed that Pass is not losing money but that it is a “growth startup which is developing its revenue streams”. The company stated that they have never sold data, but “regularly engage with transport authorities around the world to help improve open data and their systems”

Josh Gabert-Doyon tweets as @JoshGD.