iPod subway map maker tells his story

Westlake Village (CA) - The mass-transit systems of the world, with dozens or even hundreds of different destinations, can be confusing to tourists and locals alike. Last month, William Bright, a design director for Nerve.com, started providing free, downloadable maps that could be displayed on the LCD screens of the iPod players. The website, appropriately named www.ipodsubwaymaps.com, was an instant hit, but it also attracted the attention of lawyers from the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), who sent cease and desist letters to Bright.

Bright has crafted subway/mass transit maps for 22 cities around the world. Since the iPod cannot pan across large images, he had to cut larger maps into smaller sections to fit on the small two inch LCD screen of the iPods. The multiple images for each transit system are uploaded into the iPod and the user simply scrolls through each section. Bright has also been resizing some of the maps to fit on the recently released iPod Nano screens, which are 176 by 132 pixels wide.

In the last two months, Bright says that he has probably spent 40 hours in making the maps and designing the website. Some of the larger maps, such as New York, have taken several hours to complete. So far, all the costs have been out of his own pocket and he has started accepting donations via Paypal. "My custom NYC map that I'm working on has already given me twenty hours of work. I pay about a hundred dollars a year for web hosting and another 35 for domain name registration per year. I'm not in this to get rich. I've got a day job for that," says Bright.

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An iPod map created byWilliam Bright

Bright said he was inspired to make the website after reading an article on Lifehacker.com. In the article, a guy planned a road trip via Google Maps and then cut up the route images into small pieces for his iPod. Bright wasn't going to take a trip across the U.S., but he did adapt the technique for subways. "I thought it was a novel idea, but wholly unpractical for a city dweller such as myself, however the subway maps here in New York would be rather handy on my iPod," says Bright. After that moment of inspiration, www.ipodsubwaymaps.com was born.

Bright believes that his maps will make subways easier to understand and navigate. Since millions of people already own an iPod, it makes sense to leverage the iPod and use it for something other than just listening to music. According to Bright, on a crowded train the iPod is easier to use than the traditional paper map. "It's small and compact whereas you see some people with the full map out on the train, trying to wrestle with its folds all the while trying to make sense of the map. It's silly," says Bright.

As the site become more popular, San Francisco and New York sent cease and desist notices to Bright, asking him to take down the maps. Bright complied immediately by removing the maps and then spent a few dozen hours drawing up new versions. Bright sympathizes with copyright holders trying to protect their intellectual property, saying, "I think anyone who has intellectual property has a legitimate concern to protect that property. If I didn't think that I wouldn't have complied with their cease and desist," says Bright. He also turned the tables on San Francisco by copyrighting the new version of his map.

Bright thinks that the two cities mistakenly believe that he is making money from the maps. Most cities give paper maps for free and almost all have websites where users can download maps. According to Bright, cities give permission for non-commercial and personal usage. "Though I was offering them to others I wasn't making any money from the maps, aside from about a dollar a day of Google AdSense and the random PayPal donation," says Bright.

For the future, Bright says there is a possibility of making the maps for other PDAs, but he admits that he doesn't have much free time. "Well, I do own the domain name PDAsubwaymaps.com. My current site is done exclusively in my spare time and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't exhausting me just a little bit," says Bright.

Representatives for the New York MTA and San Francisco BART were not available for comment.