It's my pleasure to welcome Phil Sorrell the founder of Social Hiking which I have recently joined. Phil shares the history of Social Hiking and its functions.
I love being outdoors. As a reader of Martin's excellent blog, whether you are into hiking, backpacking, peak bagging, geocaching, rambling, mountain biking or running, you probably feel the same way. If you write about your outdoor trips or share your photos and routes, then you will also understand the enjoyment I get from sharing the outdoors online with others. This sharing works both ways - I do not get outdoors as much as I would like (again something most of you will probably relate to), so I find sharing in other peoples' adventures a great substitute.
Social Hiking is a free geo-blogging website that is all about sharing outdoor adventures online, big or small. Social Hiking merges location information with media like pictures, video, audio, and tweets to create a media rich interactive map which can be followed live or shared later. Do not be fooled by the name - the site caters for a range of outdoor activities (for example see Jilly's epic cycling journey from UK to China)
Social Hiking started life back in April 2010, when a friend and I set off to walk Offa's Dyke (a 177 mile long distance path from North Wales coast to Severn Estuary) in aid of MS Society. I wanted a way for family, friends and sponsors to share the experience with us. The response was brilliant: we had a regular group of people following our progress and interacting with us, which really helped us keep going, we were getting links to local information and history, met a friend of a follower who lived on the route, and had a surprise visit from another friend who tracked us down using the map on her iPhone. The concept was picked up by Phil Turner, Colin Ibbotson and Tim Cooper who encouraged me to create a version for general use, and Social Hiking was born.
Social Hiking is designed to be easy to use whilst you are outdoors - once setup, the site automatically collects your or your companions uploaded media. This can include:
- photos uploaded from your phone or camera via services like Twitpic, Flickr or Picasa
- tweets and your twitter mentions collated into conversations
- video and audio from supported services like Bambuser, Audioboo and ipadio
Your location data can be uploaded as a gpx format file, or collected live using ViewRanger or Instamapper mobile apps, a SPOT gps device or just via geo-tagged tweets. When location data is received a multimedia map is automatically created for you - your media does not need to be geotagged and the site always links each media item back to the original source. The site will even automatically 'bag' peaks for you, displaying the peak information on your map.
Sharing is an important part of Social Hiking - you can setup automatic tweets to notify your Twitter followers when you are sharing an adventure live, all maps can be embedded into your blog or website (we have tried to keep our branding to a minimum), sites like My Outdoors and Walk Highlands support Social Hiking maps and you can even send tweets via the site to auto append a link to that location on your map to give your tweets context as part of your adventure. The site also lets you share routes you plan on doing - these routes can be displayed as a layer on your live maps to show your planned route as well as your actual one. Of course you do not have to share - maps can be private so you can just use the site as a personal reminder of your adventures!
The site really comes alive when you are watching a map unfold live - the route updates live before your eyes as new location data is received, and photo and other media updates appear in the media viewer (next to each map) with a notification counter so you know when updates have been received. As a watcher, you can comment on maps (the site supports custom Disqus accounts, so the map owner can interact with their comments remotely via email) and reply to (or forward) tweets. It is a surprisingly addictive experience - I usually have a live map in a browser window whenever I am on my computer! I would recommend to anyone interested in using the site to watch a few live maps to experience it from a watchers perspective.
It is great to see a community of outdoor enthusiasts coming together to share their adventures via Social Hiking. Social Hiking is very much a community driven site - user suggestions have led to most of the improvements and new features since the site started, and we are continually rolling out updates to help users get what they want from the site (there are some great new features planned for 2012).
(thanks to Dean Read for use of the photo)
Thank you to Martin for inviting me to write this guest post. If you have any questions about Social Hiking you can get in touch on Twitter (@socialhiking), on Facebook, or on our Customer Support Community. Pilgrim Chris has done some great unofficial video tutorials about Social Hiking and how to use the site at http://social-hiking-tutorials.posterous.com/