A lot of people who know about these things tell us that the future of the internet is SoLoMo. That is: Social, Local and Mobile. Personally, this somewhat irritating buzzword always reminds me of this late-period Beach Boys hit, but never mind.
A new platform which combines all three of those qualities is Pinwheel. Currently in private beta, it allows users to post notes about anything and everything at specific locations on the site’s map, along with a short bit of text and a photo. It’s got elements of the location check-ins of Foursquare, the treasure hunting of Geocaching, the crowdsourced knowledge of Wikipedia, and the photo-sharing of Flickr. The last of those is hardly surprising, given that Pinwheel has been founded by Caterina Fake of Flickr and Hunch fame. She’s written a blogpost explaining more about Pinwheel here (see also a brief interview with Forbes here).
So far, so shiny. But is it any good? Well, I got an invitation to Pinwheel a couple of weeks ago and have thoroughly enjoyed playing with it so far. The process of leaving notes is very easy and smooth, and there’s a mobile app on the way which should make things even better. You can tag your notes and organise them into sets on a particular theme, and follow other users or sets in the now-familiar manner. Although the best discoveries are probably to be made by simply searching the map for a particular place or postcode and seeing what’s there.
I’ve generally been posting pictures of my local area and old holidays, and writing little anecdotes giving a bit of history, or folklore, or some other relevant details. I think this sort of crowdsourced information from personal perspectives could offer a valuable addition to our knowledge, without the ‘Citation Needed’ pressure of doing a Wikipedia entry.
There’s already a wide range of notes appearing here and there, from deeply personal memories to tips on where’s good for lunch. I suspect the latter may prove to be the function of Pinwheel that most people find useful, and the site plans to make money by allowing sponsored notes for businesses.
At the moment there are very few Pinwheel users, and the quality of many of the posts is high. After all, these notes are potentially going to be there forever, so if you’re writing one you may as well make it something that someone is going to find interesting.
But I wonder what will happen when Pinwheel opens to the general public, and mostly useless notes (“it’s sunny today, yay!”) start appearing all over the place. Filtering those out and finding a way of prioritising the better ones, perhaps ranking them according to the number of times they have been favourited, might be a crucial way of helping the platform become really useful.