Last week, Steven Johnson published his excellent new book The Ghost Map, a scientific thriller about an 1854 cholera outbreak on London's Broad Street in Soho. Through the story of the two Soho residents who solved the mystery of how cholera is transmitted, The Ghost Map celebrates cartography in the context of neighborhood knowledge, the wisdom about a place that can only come from living there. Now Steven has brought that same theme alive in today's world of Google mash-ups and location-enhanced computing. Launching today, outside.in is a tool for participating in the online conversations taking place about your community within your community. After you locate yourself on a map, real-time blog posts, reviews, and news relevant to that area appear. Drag the map and the content changes. The system draws from a wide variety of placeblogs, user-contributed links, and tagged neighborhood data. All of that hyperlocal information is then aggregated together and linked to the physical places where the news matters most.
From the outside.in core principles:
1. The natives know best. Part of our inspiration at outside.in was the amazing rise of hyperlocal bloggers — sometimes called placebloggers — writing about their own communities. (Brooklyn, where we all happen to live, may well be the placeblogger capital of the world.) And so we've seeded outside.in with a list of about 500 placebloggers from the top 25 metro areas in the US.
2. The post's location is more important than the blogger's location. People have been creating maps of blogger locations for years now. (The NYC subway blogger map is one of our favorites.) But from our perspective, we're less interested in the location of the blogger than we are the location of what the blogger is writing about. So in our system, each item (a blogger post, or a link submitted by a user) can be associated with its own specific point in space.
3. Neighborhoods are more important that maps. We love the neo-geo movement as much as anyone, and continue to marvel at the amazing work being done with Google map mash-ups. But maps can often overwhelm with too much specificity. Most of the time when you're thinking about local issues, you don't actually need specific geo-coordinates or street addresses. You just want to know roughly what's happening around you. That's why we've made the navigational unit for outside.in the neighborhood. And if the neighborhood is too specific, you can always zoom out on the navigational map and see a broader view.
4. Geo-tags are only the beginning. Neighborhood content needs to be location-aware for it to be useful, but that can't be the whole story. It's just as important to know when something is happening, as it is to know where it's happening. So we've creating a simple tagging architecture for all our posts: what/where/when. This lets you create powerful filters for viewing all of outside.in's data: you can see recent crime reports within two miles of your neighborhood, real estate openings in your zip code coming up this weekend, poetry readings city-wide.
5. Local news often has a long-shelf life. One thing both blogs and traditional newspapers share is that they are organized around time, with the latest news given priority. But a lot of neighborhood information is news that stays news: a parent's comment about the science program at a local school is just as relevant six months after it was posted; a guide to gay-friendly bars could be useful for years. That's why outside.in is designed not just as a "latest headlines" service; it's also an evolving neighborhood encyclopedia, capturing all the things that have been said about specific places.