How do we discover new cities to visit? How do we remember where we've been? With all the tools at our fingertips, I'd still argue it's actually not all that easy. Hi, which just opened to the public today, is a beautifully designed way to find, share, and tell stories about places.
What Hi is, exactly, is kind of hard to explain so I tried to come up with some shorthand ways to describe it: Literary Yelp, Instagram Longreads, Foursquare for Cities, a crowdsourced New York Times Travel section.
But I also like the simple way Hi talks about itself on its homepage: "A community of writers, journalists, journalers, illustrators, photographers, travellers, poets, and musicians exploring the world, and sharing those explorations through images and text."
From the outset, Hi works like Twitter or Instagram. You start by posting a "sketch" — a photo and a caption — which gets geo-tagged and published to your stream. You can leave the sketch the way it is, if you'd like, and never add anything more, but this is where the community part comes in, and what makes contributing to Hi way more interesting than, say, checking in to a place on Facebook. The community can nudge you to expand upon your sketch by tapping the "Tell me more" button. Now you can expand your photo and caption into a story, or "moment," which can be a paragraph or thousands of words. Instead of likes or thumbs up or hearts, you can simply thank a person with a one-line note.
It's the "tell me more" and "thanks" that turn Hi into something different, a place to go deeper, one of its founders, Craig Mod, tells Gizmodo. So it's not surprising that Mod and his teammates founded Hi as a place to workshop a new kind of collaborative journalism.
"Hi is just us open-sourcing — by example — our thinking about how a writing, publishing, and editorial system like this could function," he says. "If Hi ends up being a place for this kind of journalism to happen, great. If someone is inspired by Hi and builds off our ideas, that's great, too."
As of this morning, Hi claims to have gathered "688,715 words in 1,823 cities." A click over to the Active Places page reveals a map with digital pins studded around the world. The fact that the site became so globally diverse, so quickly, is something of a testament to the founders and their own communities. In fact, that's one of the reasons that Hi remains a web site, not an app, says Mod, so it can remain accessible to those who don't have access to a certain type of smartphone.
I've been using Hi since it launched in private beta, and while at first I thought of it as somewhere between a photo community and a travel blog, I realised recently that what I'm sharing here are places. I can drop a snippet of text and a photo with my first impressions of a new city. I can tell a quick story about a secret spot in my neighbourhood. And if I wanted to come back to it later and change it or make it longer, I could. It's an ongoing, totally editable travelogue of my life. I'm sticking my own digital pins in a map.
The publishing tools are lovely but it's the discovery tools that I find myself using even more. I like browsing the Editor's Picks, which is like thumbing through people's vacation photos. I can click on a random photo from my computer and learn about street art in Accra or graffiti in Reykjavik. I also use it while I'm travelling: Hitting the Las Vegas tag while I was visiting there revealed things I didn't know about, just a few blocks from my room.
And that's why Hi could be the most perfect travel tool ever. Check out the way Mod used Hi while hiking the Kumano Kodo trail in Japan last October. He filed dozens of moments, which could easily be used by anyone else who planned to explore the trail. But they're also so beautifully organised and efficiently presented that they're just as interesting to the armchair explorer. They're completely functional as a kind of gorgeous city guide, but it also makes me want to get out there and catalogue new places, too.
Hi has an understanding that it's not only the interplay between images and words that brings a location alive; it's also seeing someone else's very personal connection that draws us somewhere. There are so many ways you could try to describe it, but, at its heart, Hi is just a cool new way to tell great stories about places we love. [Hi]