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Monday, August 20, 2007

Mapping Out a Pathway to Success
By Farnoosh Torabi

Bob Wolf's major at Berkeley -- geography -- admittedly wasn't his first choice.

"It became a default major because it turned out I didn't have enough credits to do biology," said the 34-year-old. "But geography ended up interesting me a lot more anyway. I didn't really know what it would lead to," he said.

Indeed, for more than 10 years following graduation, his career had almost nothing to do with maps or mapping.

From 1995 to 1997, Wolf worked in the Peace Corps in Mongolia. He also spent five years working for The Real Deal, a local real estate newspaper. Finally, last year, Wolf returned back to his academic roots, launching MondoMap.com, a free, mapped guide of several small neighborhoods and districts in New York, including Koreatown, Curry Hill and the Chelsea Art Gallery District.

"It's showing the neighborhood in a two dimensional diagram that's really clear," says Wolf. "It's another way to disseminate already existing content."

His favorite neighborhood to map so far has been Alphabet city.

"It's the biggest map with 700 businesses. I just like the feel. It's got a quiet, cool, artsy, and now business-like kind of feel."

The year-old Web site, which Wolf runs from his laptop in his East Village apartment, also links users to Citysearch.com and Yelp.com, where they can grab reviews of many of the featured shops, restaurants and sites.

MondoMap.com can also create customized maps for local businesses, business improvement districts and agencies which then place the maps on their web sites.

"It really has a strong interest in local communities and business development," said Wolf.

For example, the South Street Seaport Cultural Association will soon have a detailed map of their neighborhood on their home page powered by MondoMap. Wolf also works with business clients in Francisco, Florida and Europe.

How does it differentiate from the highly-trafficked Mapquest or Google Maps?

"We don't even try to compete," said Wolf. For example, MondoMap doesn't include directions like other map sites.

Instead, it focuses on offering a scaled down diagram of various locales and giving users a sense of the ground layout.

"We're putting a lot of love and care for specific neighborhoods. We're trying to give you the feel when you walk down the street," said Wolf.

The challenge, of course, for Wolf is that he's dealing with the constantly evolving New York City. "We see a lot of change in the neighborhoods we profile," said Wolf.

"Chinatown was a very interesting experience. You often have to walk in back alleys or downstairs to see what something is or what it is. I can't imagine any other city that's like that."

am New York