With such "mashups" - hybrid software that combines content from more than one source - digital maps are quickly becoming a centralized tool for countless uses ranging from local shopping and traffic reports to online dating and community organizing, all in real time and right down to specific addresses.

Online mapping is evolving into a historic nexus of disparate technologies and communities that is changing the fundamental use of the Internet, as well as redefining the concept of maps in our culture. Along the way, map mashups are providing perhaps the clearest idea yet of commercial applications for the generation of so-called social technologies they represent.

They are, in a very real sense, bridging the gap between the virtual and physical worlds.

"This information has been on the Web for years," said Mike Pegg, a Canadian programmer who runs a site called Google Maps Mania. "The map is all of a sudden bringing this information to life for us. I think it has inspired a lot of people."

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