New Map App Calls Users to Tell Stories

Even for technology-skeptics it is hard to argue against the usefulness of map-based applications. Plenty of times, I’ve navigated my way out of hairy situations with Google Maps or checked the traffic layer to avoid gridlocked areas. Friends of mine started, which flags buildings according to their wheelchair accessibility – great idea – and I’ve also heard about crowdsourced crisis maps, used as tools to coordinate help in disaster areas.

Jakarta’s Mapping Startup

As a self-proclaimed map-fan, I was excited to find out about a fairly new map-based startup here in Jakarta:

With Mapiary, one can create a simple, handsome map and pin points of interest to it, together with an image and a short description. As the name suggests, Mapiary works best in context of a diary function; a chronology. Contrary to a normal map, where you would choose any point of interest and zoom to it, Mapiary leads you along a set of points step by step, according to a chronology determined by the map creator.

The diary-mapping principle works beautifully for travel tips such as “36 Hours in Menteng”. From a starting point, the map will take you to places along a choreographed excursion. In this case, from Taman Suropati to the General Nasution Museum and Paleis Kunstkring during the day; to Jalan Sabang and Nip&Dram at night while starting out fresh with a stroll along Jalan Surabaya the next day, and so on.

However, the chronology-effect can be distracting on maps which do not follow an obvious storyline. For instance, while the map “World’s 50 Best Surfspots” may be useful, it’s unclear why they appear in this particular order and its confusing to jump from Mexico to Taiwan with one click.

Clearly, Mapiary relies on the storytelling ability of its map creators. Done well, Mapiaries with interesting history tours across the globe are imaginable, as are individual travel logs or food and shopping tips.

Talking To the Founders

Mapiary was created by J.P. Ellis, Agatha Simanjuntak-Ellis and Ty Kroll, who are no strangers to Jakarta’s startup scene. In 2012, they launched Harpoen, a location-based mobile application which allows users to leave notes “attached” to specific geo-locations and sends them to other users who enter the area. If another user enters the area, a push notification with that note is delivered. In 2013, Harpoen emerged a winner at the World Summit Award Mobile in Abu Dhabi, bringing international recognition to Indonesia’s mobile startup scene.

J.P., who I met in Jakarta with his wife and co-founder Agatha, called the app a spin-off to Harpoen.

“With Harpoen we were asking ourselves the question: How can walls tell a story? The thesis with Mapiary is less dogmatic,” he said, also adding that he sees potential for Mapiary to cooperate with brands and media groups.

“We realized nobody advertises on top of maps. Many brands and media groups have stories to tell and Harpoen was getting there, but couldn’t fully tell it. With Mapiary, this becomes possible.”

So far, Mapiary is available in beta, and the founders are deliberately taking it slow.

“We started developing some 6 to 8 months ago. Then we decelerated. I don’t want to put myself in that position where you have to take something you’re really passionate about and think about it in a solely commercial framework. When you raise external money, from venture capitalists and others, things get serious very quickly. We will flip that switch when we are ready, but for the time being we want to keep Mapiary going in a way that still allows us to experiment, instead of, for example, going ahead putting banner ads up on every page,” J.P. said.

The team has already been able to attract big international names to supply content for maps, and it also works together with local initiatives like youth voters movement

“Getting media partners on board was hard work. We have experimented with a lot of different content providers. Definitely if you’re dealing with distributed geo-data, Mapiary is less effective than if you’re dealing with a neighborhood, a particular city – something that leads you conceptually from point to point. We are now starting to work with a lot of bloggers who have relevant stories to tell which work on maps. Mapiary maps can also be embedded on websites, just like a Youtube video. Our aim is to be a decentralized system. So if you are a blogger it is not about directing your traffic to our site, but rather having an interactive mapping system that sits right there, adding value to your site.”

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