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.