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High-Tech Goes Back to the Land

Platial builds a personal, local Internet.
September 27, 2007

The purpose of New England Grown is local, personal, and low-tech: it’s a website that directs New England residents to places where they can buy locally grown produce. Low-tech though its purpose may be, it leverages the high technology of Web 2.0’s social-media phenomenon, particularly that of a platform known as Platial, the “people’s atlas.”

People can use Platial to build and annotate maps for purposes ranging from displaying the best coffee shops in town to cataloging the locations of tragic events. CEO Di-Ann Eisnor says that users build “map-umentaries” that tell narrative stories about the places that matter to them.

Kathleen Weldon, editor of New England Grown, appeared with Eisnor today at the Emerging Technologies Conference. Weldon, who proclaimed herself the most low-tech person in the room, says that she was attracted to the platform because of its visual nature. The platform is also good for local farmers, she says, who can ride the coattails of her efforts by posting bits of information about their farms through her maps with a minimum of effort, instead of having to build their own websites. “Many of them are farmers because they don’t like sitting in front of a computer,” Weldon says. This platform is especially needed, she says, because out of more than 6,000 farms in New England, only a small fraction have a presence on the Web. Weldon is working to add functions that would help people identify seasonal crops through maps that change over time.

Eisnor discussed several other examples of how people can leverage her company’s platform to transmit personal information of local interest to people who want it. Among the projects she mentioned were a map made by a Palo Alto teacher that catalogs historic sites in Palo Alto, and a map by University of California, Berkeley, professor Dan Gillmor that tracks the progress of restoration in New Orleans.

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