In The Field

Emerging tech: Location, location, location

“I’m really low-tech,” laughs Kathleen Weldon nervously in front of the MIT audience at the EmTech meeting. She’s here to explain how she launched, a website connecting customers interested in local, fresh produce with New England farmers. “And the farmers are even more low-tech than me!”

Kathleen used software provided by Platial – described by its founder Di-Ann Eisnor as ‘the people’s atlas’ – to map hundreds of farms. The site allows farmers to update their lists of fresh produce online and reach more customers then they would by sending out print newsletters. Kathleen also provides news, links and recipe ideas, and with the help of another Palatial user she just met – Pauric O’Callaghan – she is adding month-by-month views, so users can understand how farm produce changes with the seasons.

Platial is about 18 months old and piggybacks on Google Maps to provide ordinary users the tools to create whatever map-based content they want. Eisnor says they have some 5 million unique users and the software is now being used on some 60,000 sites and blogs. Most users are into travel stories, local history and community groups.

For instance, Pauric is using Platial to map local craft stores and connect hobbyists listed by Make magazine. Students of Dan Gillmor, a ‘citizen journalist’ advocate at UC Berkeley, are helping to build a site tracking New Orleans redevelopment by mapping houses in the Gentilly region of the city affected by hurricane Katrina.

These content-creation tools are on the rise, and there seems to be as many business models as there are products. is a subscription-based service allowing users to instantly broadcast their video content over the web. During an earlier panel discussion on virtual worlds at the EmTech meeting it was used to broadcast the session to some 150 online viewers in Second Life – who also posted questions for the panel.

Like most social media sites Platial has an advertising supported model, but ScrapBlog, a photo scrapbook site, is still figuring it out. Carlos Garcia, CEO of ScrapBlog, explained to the MIT audience that their site attracts creative people and they don’t want to ‘pollute’ the user experience with advertising. But he says they do have requests from users who want to turn their online content into a physical photobook. Now that would be something – an old media business strategy for a new media company.


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