for National Geographic News
Need to know where to find a mountaintop castle in Japan? How about the best fried cheese sticks along U.S. Route 66?
Now, thanks to a unique mashup of cartography and blogs, you can find what you need to know just by looking at a map.
Online maps such as those offered by software firms Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft have become ubiquitous tools for finding directions from Point A to Point B.
But creative travelers around the world are now embracing the "pushpin" features of such maps to post information, from the location of hidden tourist gems to the city spot where they shared their first kiss.
"It is as if we shipped a map to someone and they stuck pushpins in it," said Bret Taylor, product manager for Google. "We provide the map, and other people put in the pushpins."
The trend has been dubbed neogeography, and some enthusiasts predict it could spur a revolution in electronic cartography.
Last year Google opened its mapping service to the public so at-home programmers could use the maps on their own Web pages.
Taylor says the codes for the maps are simple enough for even beginner programmers to use.
Tokyo-based librarian Eric Obershaw used the Google service to add an interactive map to his Guide to Japanese Castles Web site.
The map pinpoints 63 sites around the island nation featuring surviving or ruined castles (related photos: Japan's Imperial Palace). Users can click on a pushpin to read more about the structures, including Obershaw's own musings.
Dublin, Ireland, resident David McNamara created a map that shows where the city's commuter trains are at any given moment.
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