The technology industry is full of instances where a well-timed new product or service can give rise to a new niche industry sector. Facebook and the iPhone, for instance, gave birth to whole new application developer communities, and Twitter has begun to spawn a new slew of messaging-related services.
(Credit: Social Horizon)
One innovation that has not had the same prominence is mapping — although anyone who has used the combination of Google Maps on the iPhone will know what a genuinely useful tie-up that is.
Generally, one of the problems with maps is that the length of the URLs that accompany them make them difficult to work with. For example, pasting a map URL into Twitter in its native format is next to impossible without overstepping the 140-character limit, and while you can use services such as bit.ly and TinyURL, this requires an extra step, and doesn't tell the user that what they are clicking on is actually a map.
So the team at Brisbane-based Social Horizon came up with aMAP.to, which they believe is the world's first service that shortens Google Maps URLs down to something manageable. Users go to the service's homepage and create their map, then click to create a link that is expressed as something like this — ready to be cut and pasted anywhere you want. The site also has Twitter and email functions built-in so the new links can be shared immediately.
aMAP.to is the brainchild of Huw Griffiths Scollay Petry and Jack Gonzalez, the founders of Social Horizon, who have previously created the gay travel site Qguide.com. The service makes a small amount of money by referring visitors to a hotel site, but Griffiths knows that Social Horizon will never make a fortune from aMAP.to. Nor is he too concerned that someone else might come along with a similar application. But then that's not the plan.
Griffiths says aMAP.to is just an idea spun out of the company's longer term plan to create niche social communities around travel. aMAP.to makes it easier for community members to share maps of their favourite travel places, and as word spreads, hopefully so too will interest in the company's other projects.
And it is starting to catch on, with businesses starting to use it to help promote themselves, such as this one.
The so-called "Free-mium" business model of giving away basic applications in the hope of hooking users into paying for something better later is a common, if much derided, way of getting a company going these days. However, in terms of having a simple idea that should be able to deliver traffic back to the main business, Social Horizon could be on to a winner with aMAP.to.