I’m seeing more and more references to the importance of a sense of place. Phrases like “a place-based approach” keep cropping up in stuff I’m reading, and it’s central to one of the projects I’m working on.

Now one of the coolest Google Maps applications I’ve seen yet has launched. Placeopedia does one tiny, simple thing: it lets anyone link a Wikipedia article to a particular place. (There’s a confirm-by-e-mail step that should weed out some of the more casual maliciousness that can crop up with this kind of thing.)

Okay, I lied. It does one tiny, simple thing and then allows people to do one big, potentially quite powerful thing: browse the results. You can go anywhere covered by Google Maps and see the clusters of little pushpins representing Wikipedia articles. Zoom in and out, and a text list on the right contracts or swells with the latest additions covering the area you’re looking at.

Still not cool enough for you? You can generate your own RSS feed to capture any link falling within any rectangle you care to define on the planet. Or you can link to a feed that will stream incoming links to your copy of Google Earth. (Say, when is that coming to the Mac, dammit?)

The Wikipedia — a completely open, community-maintained encyclopedia of everything — is one of the leading success stories of online collaboration. (It’s even being profiled in Esquire.) For countless people, it’s the one place where their writing makes a tangible difference, even if it’s an incremental one, and an opportunity to take part in building something bigger than ourselves. Placeopedia opens up one more avenue to make that kind of contribution.

Meanwhile, Google Maps is turning out to be far more than just a nifty new feature. It’s turning out to be the host of a giant ongoing innovation party, and everyone’s invited. Which makes me wonder whether they’re part of the reason I’m seeing that growing emphasis on sense of place…

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