By the most brutal logic, maps exist to get you from point A to point B. Navigation tools like Google Maps prioritize efficiency, generating routes that cater to a presumed preference for speed.
In a sense, they’re not wrong; time is a diminishing commodity. But by sticking only to the fastest paths through a city, you miss the very things about it that might incite you to slow down and notice what’s around you.
Which is exactly what the Likeways app, launched last month, wants users to do. Developed by Martin Traunmueller, a Ph.D. candidate at University College London’s Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities, Likeways reclaims urban walking from the realm of necessary drudgery and frames it as an enjoyable activity in and of itself. Traunmueller’s work has taken him from his home in Austria to all over the world; whenever he arrives in a new place, he explores. His aimless wandering through London led him to what is now his favorite coffee shop; in much the same way, he discovered a secret garden in the backyard of an old factory building in London’s tech hub of Shoreditch.
Likeways is an ode to the side street. It forgoes typical directions, which Traunmueller says are “often generated via large, noisy, and boring main roads,” and leads users off the beaten path, where they might stumble upon a café or a gallery hiding out in an alley, just a minute away from the hectic swarm of the purely practical route.
Urban gems, Traunmueller says, are sourced through Facebook Places; the number of likes for any given spot will determine the role it plays in generating the final route. Traunmueller developed this “Space Recommender System” for his masters’ thesis in adaptive architecture and computation. After shopping the technology around at various workshops, he adapted it for the app.