Put Yourself On the Map, Build a Virtual House: Seven Projects to Stretch Your Digital Wings, Part Three

When I set out to write “Seven Projects to Stretch Your Digital Wings” two weeks ago, I really meant to put all seven projects into one column. But I’m famous around Xconomy for my inability to say anything briefly. If 800 words are good, then 1,600 words are even better—that’s my motto.

The point being that I only got through three projects in that first column—on art, writing, and photography—before I ran out of time and space. Last week, I finished two more, on audio self-publishing and computer animation. In today’s third and last installment, I want to suggest two final projects that will give you a chance to express yourself in digital media that may be a little less familiar: maps and 3-D virtual worlds.

6. Put Yourself on the Map with Platial

Mapmaking hasn’t traditionally been seen as a craft open to amateurs, or even one where self-expression is encouraged. A map, after all, is a public resource, and is supposed to be objective and accurate, right? Well, maybe in theory. In practice, the digital revolution is transforming the meaning of maps just as drastically as it’s changing the way we think about music and news and other forms of communication.

Platial is a website where average users can try a new form of storytelling that combines maps, photos, and writing. Once you’ve signed up for an account, you can create your own themed maps for other Platial visitors to browse. Each map consists of a set of locations that you designate on an underlying Google map; for each location, you can add a title, a written description, photos, and Web links.

My Platial Map of Vertigo LocationsOne way to use Platial would be as a kind of personal photo-travelogue, uploading pictures from your trips across the country or around the world. But a lot of people seem to employ Platial to document personal interests or obsessions. For example, a user named “Barnaclebarnes” has created a map of famous film locations, like the house in suburban Tujunga, CA, where Steven Spielberg filmed E.T. And I’m working on my own Platial map showing locations around San Francisco used in one specific film, Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

You can designate a map on Platial as closed—meaning it’s for your own personal doodling—or open, meaning anyone can contribute to it. One cool open map is “Where I Was When I Heard Obama Won,” where you can join the more than 15,000 people who have marked the spots where they learned of President Obama’s historic election. For people on the go, the folks at Platial have also built an iPhone app called Nearby that figures out where you are and shows you nearby Platial locations created by other users. The app also lets you create and document new locations directly from your phone.

To me, the intriguing thing about Platial is the way it melds the personal and the public—allowing users to anchor their inner visions and insights by attaching them to maps representing our shared landscape. And Platial is just one example of a worldwide explosion of Web-mediated geographical expression and exploration. The phenomenon goes by fancy names like “neogeography” and “locative media,” but it boils down to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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4 responses to “Put Yourself On the Map, Build a Virtual House: Seven Projects to Stretch Your Digital Wings, Part Three”

  1. big3news says:

    We’ve been using Platial for over a year and really love it’s usefulness for displaying our viewers all over the world.

    However, the site has been down for several days now and our Platial map embedded on our website no long displays.


    Any idea what’s going on? I hope it didn’t go bye-bye…it would be a real pain to have to start a replacement map service as we had nearly 100 people pinned on our map collected over a period of a year!


  2. Wade Roush says:

    @big3news: I’ve noticed that Platial is down too. I will try to find out what’s happening and report back.

  3. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @big3news: Platial is back up now. I checked with Platial founder Di-Ann Eisnor over the weekend, and she said the company was having an issue with its server colocation company.