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Personal Maps Emerge as Visual Mix Tapes

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Personal Maps Emerge as Visual Mix Tapes

Digital Life

Personal Maps Emerge as Visual Mix Tapes

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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File this next story under interesting things on the Internet. A few months ago on this program we told you about Google maps mash ups. People are putting their own information on top of Google's maps. Now there's a Web site called, which has taken the concept in a new direction. The site lets people mark and annotate places that are important to them. Visitors to the site have made maps of everything from where they've gotten their hearts broken to good birding spots.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.


Diane Eisner and Jason Wilson came up with the idea for Platial while they were recently living in Amsterdam and had a lot of friends come visit. They found themselves constantly drawing maps for them, to the bus, or their favorite restaurants.

Mr. JASON WILSON (Creator We started this collection, but the maps would disappear, so we started dreaming and talking about how do we make a permenant collection of all this data, sort of squished together and in one place?

BLAIR: They figured it out by using Google maps. This free service from Google is programmed in a way that lets computer savvy folks manipulate the maps. Eisner and Wilson made it easy for people to use the maps to document places that were special to them. Eisner says so far the maps people create for themselves most often are very personal so they come up with the term autobiogeographies.

Ms. DIANE EISNER (Creator Where they were born, where they fell in love, where they went to college, and it's basically my life on a map.

BLAIR: Some people have made maps of specific moments. There's one called Bars We've Been Thrown Out Of. One visitor made a map of the hometowns of his favorite musicians. Virginia Hamilton is an enthusiastic Platial contributor based in Sacramento. She uses the site almost like a diary.

Ms. VIRGINIA HAMILTON ( contributor): The map is a very interesting medium for kind of revealing who you are and telling stories and invoking memories, it's quite unexpected.

BLAIR: The community aspect of could be one of its biggest assets. Sites like Wikipedia, which let a lot of people contribute tiny bits of information, have grown and prospered. On Platial, there are maps of all kinds of restaurants, farmers' markets and good places to skateboard. That's partly because co-founders, Jason Wilson and Jake Olsen are longtime skaters.

Mr. WILSON: And we used to get these city maps of Portland and try to mark all of the great little banks and slippery curbs and handrails and kind of shared around, but you know, like, a paper map doesn't share very easily. It gets lost, it gets torn, so now, it's just really come to the level where it can work.

BLAIR: Now, of course, there are already lots of hobby-specific web sites that let users share information, including maps, but Wilson and Diane Eisner say the difference with Platial is that it lets them store lots of different maps in one place for easy retrieval. Last year, Eisner pitched the idea for the site to a handful of adventure capitalists. Two signed on, including Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay.

Through their small investment, Eisner was able to hire nine fulltime staff members to work on the site. They hope Platial's income will come from local advertising revenue. Jeff Jarvis of says what's happening with Platial is a paradigm shift for both the internet and for venture capitalism.

Mr. JEFF JARVIS ( In the old days, the bubble days, you'd throw $10 million in something and hope that it would pay off huge, but now, along comes a company like this, and they can use free Google maps, put work on top of it, and, suddenly, they got a company. This is now a cumulative effect of intelligence on the internet, and that's a really good economic trend, I think.

BLAIR: Diana Eisner doesn't know if Platial will start any economic trends, but she does hope it will change the way people see the world.

Ms. EISNER: The traditional ways that we see maps, it's often from a mainstream media source or a commercial source or through national sources, and we thought, wouldn't it be great if we could have this picture that was post-geopolitical, it didn't have to do with any of those ties, but was purely driven by the people who live in those areas and that it would kind of open up the world in a certain way.

BLAIR: Before that can happen, the founders of Platial admit they need to get a few kinks out of the system. For one thing, digital maps for some of the far-off places people would like to chart aren't yet available.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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