The fledgling Likeways app takes a different approach to navigating on foot between point A and point B.
It uses the same map layer as Apple’s Maps application and, when a destination is entered, Likeways will plot the quickest way to get there, just like the Maps app would. This is shown as a grey track…appropriately enough. The real magic comes in the form of a more circuitous blue route and a forest of red push pins clustered along the way. This is the walker’s path of discovery. It’s an opportunity to avoid the drudgery of walking the straight-line, expedient route and, instead, slowing down to explore things of interest along the way.
The iOS-only app is available through iTunes. It was developed by Martin Traunmueller, who is an architect and “digital urbanist” working on his PhD through the Intel Collaborative Research Institute on Sustainable Connected Cities at University College London.
Traunmueller sources his alternative blue routes using Facebook Places. The more “likes” a place has helps determine the chosen path. The anonymous red pins along the route add to the mystery and sense of discovery. By design, they are dumb pins that can’t be clicked and have no labels. There is no way of telling what they represent. A pin could denote a restaurant, a cultural point of interest or a cluster of interesting things. It is up to the walker to go there and find out.
I took the app for a test walk, to see how it works.
The first task is to select what I want to see along my way from a menu located in the app’s sidebar. The choices are: restaurants, pubs, shops, museums and art galleries. Only one of these options can be selected although there is an additional button at the bottom of the panel, “Show points of interest”.
For my journey, I choose to see shops and points of interest. That done, I can now enter a destination. A starting point can’t be selected, it is wherever you are sitting or standing. Home in my case.
I tried a few possible destinations. The blue routes selected by the app can be quite straggly with some discontinuous portions or other dead-end paths. Red pins do not necessarily fall on the blue route lines. It was hard to figure out where exactly I was intended to go. It took a while to realize that the app was offering me broad directional guidelines as opposed to a prescriptive route.
My frustration may also be that Winnipeg is far less dense than London or the author’s home town of Vienna. Or. that there are fewer “likes” for Winnipeg places on Facebook. Or, that the places we tend to like most are chain stores and restaurants.
In the end, I elected the Health Sciences Centre as my destination. I have walked there many times on a more direct route while working on public art projects for the hospital. It was an easy 45-minute walk criss-crossing a dense residential landscape.
There are no more project meetings to attend. Today, I am a man of leisure and looking forward to a delightful ramble courtesy of the Likeways app. As expected, the blue path wanders wildly on its way to the hospital. There is the unconnected offshoot to Polo Park Shopping Centre. I ignore it. And there are lots of red pins well off the blue path. I’ll have to decide, en route, what detours to take.
In the end, the route takes me down Portage Avenue, backtracks through the St. James commercial area and then reverses direction once more before taking me to my destination. Along the way, I can’t help but think Traunmueller was not contemplating the typical North American strip malls and big box developments – set in a landscape of parking – that I was encountering in the St. James area. Or the carcass of a former Target store. Nor do the Philippine market or the corner convenience store warrant a Facebook-liked pin.
But they are all notable and, occasionally, delightful finds along the way, courtesy of the Likeways app.
A conjured map of my Likeways walkabout.