New Sites Put Your Life on the Map

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA -- No Web site knows your favorite haunts as well as you do. But now there are five new online services looking to tap into that information. These new sites invite you to share your knowledge and memories of your most beloved locales with the rest of the world, whether those spots are in your hometown or on the other side of the planet.

The five, Wayfaring.com, Platial.com, 43places.com, Plazes.com, and Flagr.com, all had coming-out parties this week during at the Where 2.0 conference here, which is presented by O'Reilly Media.

Create Custom Pushpins

Despite their different appearance, all five sites let you add pushpins to online maps that link to your personal descriptions of the locations, and to peruse the contributions of others. Looking for the best street art in New York City? Or perhaps you prefer to follow in the virtual footsteps of Jack Bauer, the lead character in the television show 24. You'll find directions to both at Wayfaring.com.

As with the other four personal-mapping sites, Wayfaring.com allows anyone to view the maps created by other site visitors but, to make your own map notes, you need to register. Don't worry about having to crack out the credit card, though: All five sites are free, requiring only that you register with a valid e-mail address.

While the sites usually offer a light-hearted look at the locations they describe, there are some dark tales told at Platial.com, such as those showing the locations of recent shark-attack victims.

The site, which calls itself "The People's Atlas," recently added a feature that ties its maps to RSS feeds, which gives Platial.com a timeliness missing in the other services. This site also lets you add images and videos to your map annotations (several of the other mapping sites support image uploads along with your posts).

Travelers' Wish Lists

Anyone who has used Yahoo's popular Flickr photo-sharing service is familiar with the concept of tags, which assigns keywords to help sites categorize images. The same approach is taken by 43places.com, which--despite its name--describes thousands of locales around the world. But along with the usual place names, you'll find tags such as "Hogwarts" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," illustrating that travel is sometimes a state of mind.

The site goes so far as to assign a wanderlust rating to each mapped location, although it's difficult to find any spot with a rating under 80 percent, even in Cleveland.

A mapping site with a definite European slant is Plazes.com, which invites you to track your daily activities for your own use, or to share with others. After you download the service's Plazer software, it automatically locates you via a wired or wireless network. You can use the service without the downloaded app, in which case you enter the city you're in manually. However, since adding locations to the service's database requires the Plazer program, you can't make full use of the site without it.

A Question of Privacy

All of these sites have built-in privacy risks. While all of them let you decide who can view your contributions, you are posting personal information on a Web server--and once you do that, the genie is out of the bottle. As shown by the government's recent subpoenas of Web search data, you shouldn't post any data on these or any other site that you wouldn't feel comfortable writing on a postcard sent via U.S. mail.

The site that feels the least developed of the five is Flagr.com, which bills itself as "Sharewhere" and asks you to "Bookmark the Real World." Unfortunately, there are fewer locations highlighted on this service at present, and the descriptions lack detail. However, as with all social networks, the fate of this and the other personal-mapping sites depends on their ability to attract a critical mass of participants.

Only time will tell if any or all of these ambitious services will be the mapping equivalent of MySpace or YouTube, but if I were a betting man, my money would be on Platial, which seems to have more stickiness than its competitors.

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