Monday, April 21, 2008

Google Maps Mashup Makes London an Open Book



Finally, a Google Maps mashup I can get into. Tracking new big box stores, U.S. lakes, and that old standby, celebrity maps? Beyond the first bits of noodling, well... meh.

But local history, geography, and especially reading -- now we're talking. Booktrust, a British organization devoted to encouraging reading, has cooked up a mashup that combines geography and literature. Get London Reading positions thumbnails of over 400 books related to or that take place in London over their relevant locations, right down to the relevant street corner. (It's like a significantly less creepy version of the cabbie's tour of the city in Eddie Campbell's From Hell, the source of the Johnny Depp movie.) Each thumbnail has a popup with a user-modifiable summary.

This is a classic win-win situation. Publishers get a boost from people who are curious about books written about where they live. The City of London gets a boost from tourists -- or even its own citizens -- having more reasons to explore and learn about the city. Avid readers get great suggestions for new reading material. (Considering my creaking shelves of as yet unread books, maybe that last one isn't a win.)

People respond to seeing their hometown represented in the media, especially when it's done right. My first thought after seeing Get London Reading was that I'd like to see something similar for here in Montreal, though it would probably be dominated by Kathy Reichs and Mordecai Richler. My second thought was that, given the amount of Hollywood films that are shot in this city, it would be kind of cool to show where different movies were shot -- though the warehouse that served as 300's set might be anticlimactic.

Going back to books, this also makes for a good educational tool. The constant lament of the student, especially in high school, is that they can't relate to what they learn. Putting dramatic literature and history in the context of their own neighbourhoods might do more to pique their interest than field trips to museums and forts.

What really struck me, however, was how something like this could -- no, should -- be an extension to cities' existing tourism strategy. It works well because it's maintained by its user base; do a good job with the initial tools and subsequent promotion and it can become almost self-sustaining. It's been 26 years since my last visit to London and I'm not sure when my next one will be, but I know I'll be taking some time out to do a little literary exploration the next time I'm there.

[Cross-posted from PC World; thanks to Shiny Shiny for the link.]

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