After working with information science students here in Paris, now with the spring semester at an glorious end, this week I found time to reach out to a fellow Parisian Hugo (pictured) to find out how an algorithm that Hugo’s been working on will affect the market for the printed paper map, but also our personalized experience of exploring the city.
As Spotted by Locals city apps are totally digital, but essentially UGoMap is a printed wall map (measuring approximately 1.4 metres x 1 metre) what does he think the map platform offer city lovers?
Friends telling you about places is a reliable and instinctive way of sharing the city you know well, and we met up at La Cordonnerie café which is one of Hugo’s preferred places to meet friends for beers. He says “the map is for friends to easily share the places they know when people visit their home.”
For Hugo “Paris is a rich city and you might not know all of the iconic places of Paris, so you can personalise the map with your memories of locations visited. But also there will be people who just map lovers; or who simply adore the notion of Paris, and these days we especially like collecting names. Then map also gives an idea of your spacial awareness within the city.”
He feels like withe UGoMap you are building something like your own city; almost sharing your vision of the city, sharing the sites on the map with people who come to your place, and that’s something he really is encouraging people to do.
And what about the paper map as an out-moded medium? Given that neighborhoods in Paris forever evolve too, how are you ensuring the paper version of UGoMap keeps updated?
This comes down to the agile way I programmed the legend or ‘key’. We’ve got the perennial iconic places people always visit like to visit including shopping arcades, cemetaries and musems which are pretty much fixed locations.
Then where you’ve added your own favorite locations, you simply open the UGoMap App and zap the hand-written sticky note someone put there, then by parsing this hand-written text through Google Visions OCR (optical character recognition) API, the word gets recognized, and runs through a database and voila, you’ve the location ready to go popping-up as a digital pin on the digital App.
Where the magic comes in is that you can continually add new locations using a blend of digital syncronisation and handwritten location markers. The more markers you add, the UGoMap App simply reads the text and updates your list of preferred locations to visit.
In a similar way our Spotted by Locals city Apps are equally updated with new places which we want to share each time a ‘spotter’ thinks there’s a place which merits mentioning.
But while UGoMap renders only a location’s vitals, ie opening times, adressess and itinararies; the Spotted by Locals city App steps-up to include a hive of short stories, usually around 150 words, written by locals about the places we’ve been to, but maybe also about the peculiar nooks and crannies we’ve spotted in our neighbourhoods.
It’s just the UGoMap Paris right now, which unlike Spotted by Locals city apps which cover neighborhoods in lots more cities. Can it be adapted to other cities?
As a Spotter I think we’ll continue to rely on maps for localizing ourselves in neighborhood and more broadly efficiently getting between two destinations with ease; so I do think the divide between digital and printed matter is going to lessen as city mayors get smarter in responding to the needs of city lovers.
In terms of the projects viability, it’s the supporters on Hugo’s crowdfunding page on Ulule – which so far shows the campaign hitting 245%, more than double the 3,000€ set as the original financing objective; so isn’t this sufficient enough to show a solid proof-of-concept?
The main profile of supporters so far has been from French living in Paris. Interestingly he’s seen a 60/40 percentage split in support: pleased that 60% has come from supporters external to his friends network. And he’s seeing that number increase with a week left until the campaign deadline.
As for adapting UGoMap to other cities? Right now the target market is Paris expats but also Paris Erasmus students, saying maybe they want a keep-sake of their time in Paris. A long shot too could be an abroad market for people planning their dream Paris trip. So they might use the map to set-up their favourite locations before hitting the Parisien terra firma.
A third stop maybe in attracting the likes of Airbnb and youth hostels, each of the maps could be augmented with QR codes unique to a place where the map hangs, the QR code making it an easy upload to the UGoMap App.
So why decide to invest your time and money to design what is essentially a paper-based city map?
The UGoMap concept stems from an idea to make a haptic or hybrid fusion of digital alongside map reading. To get this far Hugo took a risk by leaving his 12 months secure job working as a management consultant in strategy and has been working flat-out on it for a year now.
He said “I just needed a digital shift in my career.” And even though he was a student of an generalist engineering school ENSTA he confesses that, astonishingly, he’s a self-taught coder.
So far his project expenses have been in employing a graphic designer for illustrations; as for the rest, he designed the map himself using a SIG cartographic tool, learning how to pair it with geographic data, on the fly.
Also, although there’s no big business model in mind, you’ve already read how far Hugo’s strategic thinking has moved the project towards being a probable commercial success.
Working from a free coworking space in Paris’s publicly-funded digital media Gaite Lyrique means his only other overheads are living expenses, and he’s now in the beta-testing phase of securing the code and the Apps data anticipating go-live this September and October 2018.
During that wait time, for your summer vacation, me and my colleagues at Spotted by Locals are bringing you more places and tips about our neighbourhoods spots bringing you the best parts of the city, wherever you’re going.