43 Places is a new service from The Robot Co-Op (the makers of 43 Things). I received an inital invitation from Josh around the beginning of June and I immediately began playing with it. My first instinct was to blog about this new service, however they mentioned in their invitation, expressly, not to:
At this point, we’d appreciate if you’d help us keep our project “secret”. We want to finish off some of the last bugs and get a bit more feedback about the site before we are ready to talk about it to the whole world.
I found this phrase to be really interesting, it’s essentially saying “You’re in a private alpha and we don’t want you leaking our secrets – but we’re not going to make you sign an NDA, because we’re not lame like that.” I think that this is something that other web application developers can learn from. The software (at that time) was still rather buggy, but as the days progressed, bugs dissapeared and new features sprang up in their place.
The basic premise for this site (which will come as no surprise to users of 43 Things) is that you can take a location and mark it as being Visited, or that you Want to Visit It. In addition to this, you can blog about your travels, tag locations, find other people how’ve visited similar places, coordinate travel plans, encourage people to visit places, and even provide travel recommendations. Just about everything mentioned was also a feature (albeit, renamed) in 43 Things, so it was a pretty smooth transition. So, if you’re curious as to what this service ‘feels like’ and have never used 43 Things, I recommend that you do so now – that’s about as close as you’re going to get, until they open the beta more.
Now, in 43 Things, if you wanted to find a goal to complete, you’d have to search for it –
this goes the same for 43 Places and locations. Now, because you’re going to be using the search feature of the site so frequently, it’s essential that it performs well – and it does. The ‘search’ is broken down into two different aspects.
The first method of search, and the one everyone will notice once visiting the site, is a representation of the earth, done in Flash. You can click this little widget to navigate into the map, gaining more detail (such as States, Provinces, etc.). Once you click a State/Province/Country you are taking to the corresponding page – where you are presented with a number of Flickr pictures and any blog posts that people have made. From here you can mark this place as having been visited, or that you want to visit it.
The second method of search is through the physical search text field at the top of the page – and it’s surprisingly good. Typing in ‘Rochester’, for example, brings up two locations:
1. United States > New York > Rochester 2. United Kingdom > England > Kent > Rochester upon Medway
and typing ‘New’ brings up quite a few more:
1. Australia/Oceania > New Zealand 2. United States > New York > New York 3. United States > New York/ NY ... 16. United States > Connecticut > New Haven
This particular search has many more results, but if you look at results 2 and 3, it definitely becomes confusing. My interpretation is that 2 represents New York City and 3 represents New York, the state. However, for number 3, the use of New York/NY doesn’t help to ease the confusion.
One of the aspects that worried/confused me at first (and still does, a little bit) is the fact that someone can say (for example) “I’ve been to Italy”, where someone else says “I’ve been to Rome” or even “I’ve been to the Vatican”. Now, at first this bothered me because a person who has been to Rome has also been to Italy, albeit not all of Italy (so that distinction can be made). But then I got to using it more, and saw what other people were doing – they were adding specific tourist attractions, mueseums, restaurants, venues, etc. I am really intrigued by this use of the service.
Now, I’ll be honest, I simply don’t care for travelling as much as some people – which discouraged me from using 43 Places, at first. BUT one thing that I do enjoy is eating at really nice restaurants. A lot. So, one thing that I’ve started to do is mark down all the restaurants that I’ve been to – and possibly even write a mini-review using their blogging system. Their service is almost completely capable of running a food column web site (And with a good API, which I assume will be trivial to port over from 43 Things, this could happen with very little effort). The one downfall is that you can specify a specific location, but there’s no area to enter an address or GPS coordinates – which could be rather important.
Additionally, something that the Robot Co-Op should consider is tying together the Venues from Upcoming.org such that you can mark them as having been visited (that could provide the users with some non-political locations for them to visit). Upcoming events are already listed in the Metros (which is a smart move, and borrowed from 43 Things).
This service is very sharp and has improved nicely over the course of the past month. I’m looking forward to its full release and seeing people really start to take over. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when I get some invites, which should be soon. In the meantime, feel free to look at some of the screenshots that I’ve taken.