As promised folks, today we are interviewing Phil Sorrell, the man behind Social Hiking. Last week saw us look at Viewranger, and how their buddy beacon let’s you track friends and vice versa. Social hiking is a tool that lets you share your progress on a route by using the buddy beacon. You can then embed your tweets, photos, videos, audio and other media as you wander along. So yesterday just after Phil’s get up time of 10:30 (the life of a developer eh?), I caught up with him on Skype for a quick natter.
Webtogs: Hey Phil thanks for joining us!
Webtogs: How did Social Hiking come about?
Phil: About 2 years ago I decided to walk Offa’s Dyke in aid of the MS Society which I completed last year. I was already using twitter, and thought wouldn’t it be brilliant if people could keep track of us to follow what we were doing, rather than come back and go “da da”, we have done it. I looked at a few solutions, Viewranger with their buddy beacon and Google Lattitude. It wasn’t possible using these on their own as they were, so I asked Viewranger if they would release an API for me to use (techy explanation of API – let’s computers to talk to one another!). After initially asking them, they came back after a couple of months and asked me “well this API, what do you want it to do?” I had the beginning of the site up in a week after Viewranger helped me, and my route was then posted live as I walked. Phil Turner then spotted what I had done on the web with my walk and persuaded me to release it to the world, so we went from there.
Webtogs: Does Social Hiking have any plans to work with any other mapping technologies?
Phil: Well the site already works with Instamapper which is a no frills location pinging app, we also support SPOT GPS Satellite units, which have much better battery life, and are not reliant on signal as it communicates directly with the satellites. Jilly is using it to cycle to China and Phil Turner used it for his recent TGO challenge. We are also having a chat with Yellow Brick who rent GPS units to large expeditions and charity events. Viewranger is however the only mapping app that is suitable for day to day hiking with their buddy beacon.
Webtogs: What additional features have you got planned for social hiking?
Phil: Support for more social media sites in the first instance as new services are released. Functionality wise, I really want to improve how people can browse walks that have previously been done. It’s less user friendly, and the experience in switching between all the media that people have shared is not as good as it could be. It would also be great to have a tab that would let you filter and browse through all the photos for that route, or tweets for that route for example.
Webtogs: What’s your favourite route that’s been showcased on Social Hiking?
Phil: My fav route has to be Jilly’s epic cycle to China for several reasons. Firstly it’s an awesome adventure, our tag line is share the adventure, and she’s really good at Tweeting and uploading photos. Secondly, although the name is social hiking, it’s not just about hiking, so it’s great to have a journey which is on two wheels. Thirdly, the sheer scale of what she is doing is incredible. If you look at her map now, she’s on 1680 beacons and as a result she’s forced me to improve map load times as she has so many, so everyone has benefited from her trip.
Webtogs: You did Offa’s dyke in aid of the MS Society, which is something you have. How much of an impact has your illness had in developing Social Hiking?
Phil: Social Hiking worked so well during Offa’s Dyke, because we interacted with people whilst we were doing it, and it definitely did help raise extra money. For me, it also helps inspire people to complete their challenge. On one day, we met a lady walking her dog who we then recognised as a friend of the person I was walking with. She had tracked us down using Social Hiking and walked with us for the rest of the day! It’s always at the forefront of my mind to have features for people doing Charity challenges.
Webtogs: What’s your favourite piece of outdoor kit?
Phil: I’ve got two? can I have two? (Webtogs : Yes laughs) First up has to be the Mountain Equipment Touchstone jacket. It’s not something I wear hiking or camping as it’s mainly a cold weather piece. I bought it as a thermal fleece camping in the North Down in february but I can’t take it off! I wear it around the house, whilst working, walking the dog. My most outdoorsy piece though has to be the Icebreaker Oasis baselayer, I wear base layers all day every day whether I am walking or not, and they are the most comfortable and practical pieces I own.