Say Hi to beautiful location-based experiences

A moment from Nick K on

I like content presented on maps. And I’ve been a big fan of Hitotoki, developed by Craig Mod and the folks at Tokyo-based AQ, since a few years back. It was a great collection of geo-tagged stories, wrapped in the kind of beautiful design that great stories deserve. But looking back now, I think that this location-based content concept was a little ahead of its time.

I asked AQ’s Chris Palmieri about the state of Hitotoki a few months back, and I was pretty excited when he told me that it would be relaunching. After a bit of a wait, the new service is now online and is known simply as Hi, living on the web at [1]. Like Hitotoki, it asks you to ‘sketch’ a moment from where you are, comprised of a photo and some text. The process is optimized for smartphones, geotagging your moment as you add it. Chris notes that Hitotoki and Hi began with the same goal of a 500-word moment, but points out that “how each [one] makes that happen couldn’t be more different.”

I had a chance to take an early look at Hi, testing it out over the past few months. So far my contributions are few and far between – both in terms of time and distance – but there’s a reason for that. While Hi doesn’t ask you to be overly meticulous in composing your moments, for me, the incredible design of the site implicitly demands a certain level of reflection before publishing. It makes me want take a weekend train out of Tokyo, and not come back until I have snapped the perfect selfie with a buddist zen master, and a compose a clever photo caption – preferably in haiku form – to go along with it.

[We] made the sketching tool as enjoyable to use as possible, because we want people to use it over and over and over again.

But interestingly, the publishing flow imposes some reflection by design. After uploading a moment, other Hi users may (or may not) ask you to expand on that moment. This ’Tell me more" request is both a reward for a good contribution, and peer encouragement to take it further [2]. It’s like the applause that encourages a speaker to keep talking with confidence when he’s on stage.

It turns out that the time gap between your initial sketch and your follow up elaboration is conducive to a better published piece. Chris explains that the first step is called a ‘sketch’ for a reason:

We named the initial act of creating with Hi “sketching”, but made the sketching tool as enjoyable to use as possible, because we want people to use it over and over and over again.

But the subsequent steps in the process lets you digest, process, and maybe come up with something you didn’t think of while you were in your moment. By breaking up the process in this way, it doesn’t feel like a process at all. More like a brief instant message session, or a FourSquare check-in that others might actually care about.

Craig Mod explains that the high-quality feedback loops that exist within Hi (the ‘tell me more’ and ‘thanks’ functions) have been effective so far:

It sounds a bit complex but in practice it’s proven to be quite a fluid little interaction model and has already produced over 80,000 words of content — the order of many of those words quite excellent! — in a little over 10 days.


I tend to notice more remarkable things when I travel, and so I find I use Hi more while on the road. But because I like Hi, I find that it’s also prompting me to look for remarkable things in my own neighborhood, seeing it in a slightly different light.

But at the same time, my own privacy concerns keep me from adding moments that are too close to home – so that greatly limits my use, although I expect that may not be as big of a concern for most people. Despite that concern, I really love it a lot and will continue to use it.

It’s clear that Craig and Chris and company love Hi a lot too. As far as websites go, this one is pretty immaculately groomed, and they really believe in the content format. And even though this is a labor of love, there are also hopes that it can be a business as well. Craig says:

This needs to be, at some point, sustainable. For now we’re testing hypothesis around engagement; if the core creative ideas don’t work then it’s pointless to consider the business side of things.

Craig has himeself written a great introduction to Hi over on Medium if you’d like to dive deeper into what it’s all about. Or if you’d like to sign up for it yourself, I have some invitations here (thanks Craig!) if any of our readers would like to sign up.

Personally I really hope that Hi does well, in much the same way that I’m rooting for time-machine app Yesterscape, which archives moments of today for tomorrow. I’m still dreaming of a web service that will do a better job of archiving our stories and culture, letting us scrub through a rich timeline of any given location. I think there’s a huge need for services of this kind, and I really hope we can see more spring up in the future.

  1. The old Hitotoki still exists as Hitotoki classic if you ever want to browse those moments.  ↩

  2. If you don’t want to develop it further, that’s cool too. Just click ‘that’s all I’ve got’.  ↩