Tell your own stories with a mix of social software and cartography.
We've all found ourselves climbing through hillside brambles on a hot sunny day thinking, "That's the last time I trust that trailhead pamphlet." Or worse, wanting to show a friend a special place you found on a hike a few months ago but now can't quite place.
If you're a hiker, mountain biker, rock climber, weekend warrior, amateur geologist, scout troop leader, endorphin junkie, equestrian, pedestrian, rock climber, birder, or simple romantic, then have we got a hack for you! The site, which lives at http://BayAreaHikingTrails.ning.com, looks like Figure 4-17.
Bay Area Hiking Trails (BAHT), written by Saumi Mehta and May Woo, allows you to capture and publish your trail maps with comments, GPS tracklogs, and photos. Even better, you can easily overlay your GPS tracklogs on Google Maps via the API and provide a visual representation of your hike, bike, or ride alongside all these other goodies. But that's only the start. You can also offer these annotated trail maps to friends or strangers for rating and reviewing. You can even look for new hiking friends and fellow enthusiasts. How's that for social?
Figure 4-17. Bay Area Hiking Trails
All right, so that may not be enough. Let's take it one step further. No single social map can cover all scenarios of what you might want to do with it. With just a little bit of PHP knowledge, BAHT enables you to easily change or extend the user input forms so that you can record your own specialized data: birds seen, bikers met, geocaches planted, or geocaches found. You can also go further and change the HTML layout, add new features, or introduce new kinds of objects for your users to edit. Perhaps you are employed by a local parks service to identify invasive plant species and want a new kind of form input to describe those. Or you're a mountain biker who wants to have a slightly specialized social mapping application to document the rockiness, steepness, or exposure of certain trails.
BAHT is extensible for such uses because it is built on the Ning Playground, which is a free online system that enables you to clone, mix, and run fullblown social web apps like BAHT without worrying about a bunch of pesky details. The Ning Playground handles user account management, system administration, hosting, and bandwidth nightmares, not to mention the tedium of performance and scalability issues.
If you don't know PHP, you can still do a lot with BAHT or any social application running on Ning. If you want to copy BAHT to create Malibu Hiking Trails, Bay Area Rock Climbs, Yosemite Mountaineering Routes, or Sonoma Bike Rides, just select the application and choose Clone It on the righthand sidebar to instantly create your own running version of the application, with an exact copy of the code behind the copied application, ready to be customized. You just change the title to apply the app to the place, interest, or activity you want. Now you're all set to start adding your own relevant trails, rocks, mountains, rides, or romantic spots, and invite your friends and neighbors to do the same.
If you know PHP, then it gets even better. You can go under the hood of the app by clicking on "view source," and, with those PHP skills, change the user input forms, add or delete features, or make the app anything you want.
BAHT combines the benefits of gadgets, data, and the real world experience of you and others to help you find and share the perfect place. You can compare your trips against your friends' tripsor blend different trips together to get a composite view of some new trip you've never thought of before.
BAHT helps you return to your favorite places over and over and easily find new favorites. It dissolves boundaries between the professional and the amateur by letting you create your own maps and your own mapping services. Ultimately, perhaps its most powerful role is that it helps you and your friends more easily share something valuable and important: this hugely complex and beautiful natural world we live in. I look forward to seeing what kinds of new projects you invent based on this starting point.