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Mapkin wants to bring the personal touch back to map-making

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 18, 2013 08:05 AM

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Remember the days before navigation algorithms served up the perfect route to get you from Point A to Point B? When instead, a friend would scrawl a map on the back of an envelope, making a note about her favorite place to stop for pancakes and the cheapest ski rental shop?

A Cambridge startup called Mapkin wants to revive that personalized approach to cartography, with an iPhone app that promises to "make GPS fun." Mapkin has raised $200,000 in seed funding so far, from angel investors like Avid Technology founder Bill Warner and former Brightcove exec Bob Mason, and is working on raising more now.

Mapkin founders Marc Regan and John Watson previously worked together at Nuance, the Burlington-based speech recognition company, developing some of its early voice-driven mobile apps like Dragon Go. (In the photo below, Regan is on the far right, Watson second from left.)

mapkinteam.jpg"GPS navigation does one thing extremely well, which is getting you to the destination as fast as possible," says Regan. "But what if you want to point out the great coffee shop on the way, or know about the most scenic route for a bike ride?" That's the kind of situation Mapkin was created for. The app lets you create and share your own routes, complete with written or spoken notes on points of interest.

Regan says he used a prototype version of the app last year for guests at his wedding. "We got married in Jackson, New Hampshire, and the route took people on the shortcuts we know, pointed out the ski condo we rent every year, and brought them right to the reception. It was a fun way to make the experience start when people walked out the door." It's also easy to imagine Mapkin being helpful when you throw a party, and want to highlight the best places to park near your apartment (or the best place to pick up a bottle of wine or a 12-pack on the way.)

Maps created with Mapkin can be shared on Twitter, Facebook, or via an e-mailed link, and the recipient doesn't need to have the mobile app to view them. The four-person team is based at the Intrepid Labs shared space in East Cambridge.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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