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Social Hiking - a great web app!

Posted on by Clive Walker in Personal Website Review

I wrote this post a while back. The content can still be relevant but the information I've linked to may not be available.

I use quite a few web applications and increasingly I am tying them into my non-web activities away from the office. In that vein, over the last year or so, I’ve been using Social Hiking which is a web application developed by Phil Sorrell (@daylightgambler). I’ve not blogged about this before (except indirectly in ViewRanger GPS for Cycling) but I think it’s a great app. Here’s my description and experiences with it so far.

What does Social Hiking do?

Social Hiking is a web application that enables you to share your outdoor hiking (most users) and cycling (that’s me) activities with the web by posting live updates using your mobile phone. It enables you to post, for example, photos, videos, audio, and tweets about your outdoor activity and display these on a map of your route. The map and route is updated live when you are on a hike/cycle ride.

Photos, tweets and other media that are posted from your phone during your hike/ride appear on the map as icons that are clickable, with pop-up bubbles containing the tweet, photo, video etc. The maps are either Google maps and/or (for the UK) Ordnance Survey mapping. Essentially, this means that you can share any hike/ride with your friends (and the whole world)!

Just to illustrate it, here’s an example of a cycle ride where I used Social Hiking last year.

Tell me more! How does it work?

You’ll need a GPS-enabled mobile phone, a Twitter account, and a GPS location sending app like ViewRanger or Instamapper on your phone. You’ll also need to sign up with web services like TwitPic, Posterous, iPadio etc if you want to post photos or other media.

During your hike or cycle ride, the GPS app sends a location ‘beacon’ to ViewRanger or Instamapper servers. Social Hiking reads these from the ViewRanger or Instamapper systems in order to plot your route on the map.

Similarly, any tweets, photos, videos etc are collated from the other web services like Twitter, TwitPic, Qik etc and their timestamps compared with the GPS beacons. This allows photos, for example, to be assigned to the nearest beacon and tagged with an icon on the map. Essentially, Social Hiking is a mashup of data from different APIs and this is plotted on a map (either Google or Ordnance Survey map).

Twitter and Social Hiking

Twitter integration with Social Hiking allows your tweets to be posted on the map during your walk/hike/ride and map icon pop-ups also show tweet replies. This means that anyone can follow the Twitter conversation on the live map of your route as it happens. This was particularly evident during one of the first uses of the app, an epic hike along Offa’s Dyke by Phil Sorrell (@daylightgambler) and Alex South (@winkysmileyface) in 2010.

For Offa’s Dyke – Social Hiking was a huge success. We found 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 most amazing of all had a surprise visit from a friend who tracked us down using the map on her iPhone. Social Hiking

My experiences with Social Hiking

I’ve been using Social Hiking on cycle rides but it’s probably more suited to hiking where you have more time to tweet and take photos etc. Nevertheless, I still enjoy posting my routes and a few tweets and photos to the website. I will probably try and do a few more leisurely rides (to the pub!) this year and I hope to post more tweets/photos if I can.

For the Social Hiking website, I’ve found it very easy to use and although there are quite a few items that you need to set-up at first (linked accounts, ViewRanger settings etc), these are all explained with little pop-up help messages. I sometimes wish more sites paid more attention to this.

It’s easy to edit your routes by adding titles and descriptions and even remove some GPS beacons (if inaccurate). The website provides options for displaying your maps/routes in Ordnance Survey (UK only) and Google formats and provides the HTML code if you want to embed the map in your own website.

Even though Social Hiking has only been active for a year or so, the functionality is increasing all the time and there have been regular blog posts describing the latest features. So, it’s been easy to keep up with developments. The app is under constant development and any bugs have been squashed very quickly!

In summary

I’ve really enjoyed using Social Hiking on cycle rides. Since I was lucky enough to be one of the early users I have been forced encouraged out on my bike in order to test it – and it’s even got me out on a few short walks near here. You never know, I might actually do a proper hike with it over the South Downs in the summer! If you want to share your outdoor walking and cycling via the web, give Social Hiking a try!

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