The Internet has fallen in love with place. From wildly popular Instagrammers like the photographer behind Humans of New York, to globe-trotters leaving digital travel notes on the story-sharing site Findery, to cloud-based services that help brands pitch themselves through location-based storytelling, the digital masses have discovered the thrill of writing about where they're at.
With social media apps that let us share real-time stories about places we love, live or linger in, users are adding a new layer of intimacy to their online experience while tapping into their inner raconteur.
"Our increased sense of isolation that technology has helped create is making the physical reality of place that much more important," said Silicon Valley author Andy Smith, who has written about using social media to create good in the world. "This trend of telling and sharing stories from real places is like a counterbalance to the placelessness of our online world."
The irony is rich: While we increasingly inhabit an online world that seems to be both everywhere and nowhere, we're using the same technology to celebrate actually being somewhere.
"There's a new appreciation for the here and now," said Caterina Fake, the co-founder of Flickr whose new startup, San Francisco-based Findery, links people around the world by letting them share "notes," or mini-dispatches, from wherever they are. "What's more and more important to people is the place they're actually standing in right now. What is it about this place, versus some other, that's special? That's what people are telling stories about."
Tapping into a basic human instinct to share location-based experiences, whether it's a meal at a taco joint in San Jose or a Buddhist ceremony at a shrine in Sri Lanka, entrepreneurs have unleashed a steady stream of websites, in-the-cloud mapping services, and mobile apps we can use anywhere we go.
Many are commerce-driven, as retailers and other businesses use crowd-sourced storytelling as a marketing tool to sell us Colombia-grown coffee beans and Colorado ski resorts. Others are products of someone's passion, like Placing Literature, a crowd-sourced website that maps out scenes from novels in real locations. Zoom in on the map of North Oakland, click on a little black book icon, and read about a scene from Michael Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue," where "Archy is seeing Elsabet Getachwe, daughter of the proprietor, and is later confronted by his wife while he is sitting in a booth talking to Elsabet." The scene's location is, as the contributor's note points out, "the real location of Asmara restaurant." (continued...)
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