The Startup as Manifesto

A new app is an idea about mobile publishing, encoded for you to play with


Today, a new mobile app called hi launched. It lets you place content on a map, like Findery or Google Earth or (kinda) Instagram. They call it narrative mapping, and (as you may know) I expect this kind of geoblogging to become increasingly important in the smartphone world. So, go check out hi. You might like it. (Here's a post I made from the Berkeley City Club.) 

While most startups gesture at the notion that they are ideas made manifest, hi's founder, Craig Mod, has gone all in. hi is Mod's publishing manifesto, encoded for you to play with. Here's how he described it in a 3,000 word essay he put out about his thinking about the product.

Within you exists a general mapping of New York City that's different from my mapping of New York City. Your NYC street corners, storefronts, and river benches feel -- psychically, emotionally -- different than my street corners. Though physically, they're the same.

Hi helps us surface, layer, and share these narrative maps. Maps concerned with your corner in NYC or maps concerned with the protests after a trial or the energy in a city square after political upheaval.

This essay presents how we -- the folks who made Hi -- think these maps can be made. And how digital creative tools could and should function. Or, if you like, you can think of as a living version of this essay.

So, for example, mediamakers know that people do Internet stuff on their phones and they do Internet stuff on their computers. But most people don't actually have interesting theories on the relationships between these two platforms. The platform difference is baked into the core of hi's interface. When you're on the go, you're in "Sketch" mode, in which you can snap a photo and type up to 20 words. Then, later, probably from your desktop (though possibly from your phone), you can "extend" these moments with further reflections on the moment you sketched. 

"It's a system meant to strike balance between the spontaneous and the deliberate. Sketches embody spontaneity. Extensions are deliberations," Mod wrote in his essay. "In practice we've found this system to push us from seeing to noticing."

These two layers -- sketches and extensions -- also form a tiered publishing system. "That is -- the sketch tier is your quiet public stream. The extended tier is the more promotable top stream," Mod explained. "What's nice about tiers is that there is an implicit amount of high-quality signal-to-noise filtering built into them. If someone takes the time to extend something, then that's a good base indication of interestingness around that moment or place."

What I love about all this is that it's so explicit: this is a hypothesis about people's relationship to their phones and the places around them. Is it a good hypothesis? Do people want to sketch-and-extend, rather than Instagramming or what have you? I don't know. But I'm glad someone is trying to find out.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Technology

Just In