PSFK chats with Atlas Obscura co-founder Dylan Thuras to hear how the site helps its members explore their cities with a new pair of eyes.
Atlas Obscura bills itself as the definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders. The site’s editors curate content from an active community of explores to unearth unusual and overlooked places that aren’t found in your average guidebook. For the third year in a row, the site has organized Obscura Day, a day of local expeditions, back room tours, and hidden treasures, taking place all over the world on Saturday, April 28th.
In the run up to the exciting day, PSFK caught up with one of Atlas Obscura’s co-founders, Dylan Thuras, to find out how the site has evolved and what we can expect out of Obscura Day.
What was the inspiration behind starting Atlas Obscura? What kind of content can visitors find on the site?
The inspiration came from a personal desire of Josh [the site's other co-founder] and I to create a resource for our own use. We had both done a fair amount of travel and one thing we both found strange is how people will travel around the world to all go to the same five places they have already seen on TV. The hope was to provide a resource that might help people find, and help ourselves find, some of the wonders that lay hidden just around the corner. Even more than the places, we hope that the Atlas can inspire curiosity and a new kind of looking. The realization that when you ask the right questions, when you walk through a new door, you can find a whole new world, right under your nose is powerful. Proust once wrote that “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” I like to think of the Atlas as helping us all find a new set of eyes.
In terms of content, it spans the extent of what people find wondrous around them. We curate, fact check and do edits on everything before we push it live.
How has the site evolved since 2009 and has your role changed from creator to curator?
The site and user community has grown tremendously. One area we are particularly proud of is our events. Thanks to the work of Atlas team member Annetta Black we have been extending the idea of the Atlas into actual real life events for over three years now. To me that is one of the most exciting ways we have evolved.
I would say we are collaborators within the community. Josh and I, everyone we work with, and all the users and contributors, form one community with everyone participating at different levels. We do curate, but we also create. I think part of what draws everyone to the project is a sense of shared creation. I never want to be in a role where at least part of my day doesn’t include making. For me making and creating are as important as the ideas themselves.
Given the reliance on your audience to help you crowdsource new content, how do you engage and grow your community?
It’s a pretty natural process. We meet people on whatever level they want to be involved at. Some people we engage with very casually, through social media for example, but often we end with more meaningful interactions with people out of those casual interactions. We might make an announcement for an event on Facebook, people show up and, we get to know them, and then they end up as writers or editors for the site. A big part of it is we are really upfront about the whole thing. This is a labor of love, and we aren’t trying to game people. The community is there because they all care about this idea as much as we do and want to see it grow.
Tell us a little more about Obscura Day. What type of events can we expect? Any favorites our readers should be aware of?
Obscura Day is something we are really proud of. Helping thousands of people to explore the world around them, all over the world, all on one day is a really good feeling. It’s not always about weird or unusual in the classic sense. We are doing a ton of science events this year which we are thrilled about. Particle colliders, nuclear reactors, observatories, etc. Sometimes seeing something unusual is just about stepping outside of your daily routine and looking into someone else’s, particularly if they operate a 4.5 million volt tandem accelerator on a daily basis!
I am really excited about all the events. I like the mix, and the fact that we can sell out tickets to events that range from an Occult Tour of Manhattan or a Zoological collection to a Pinball museum and a Medical museum, which is wonderful. The people who get excited and come to these events are people we enjoy meeting and who enjoy meeting each other!
What are your plans for Atlas Obscura in the future? Any exciting changes or new projects in the works?
More than we can handle! We are working on a book, the site is relaunching in about a month and we have some apps in the works, as well as a few projects I am not yet able to talk about. Most of all I am really excited to keep making the site an even greater resource for curious travelers, while continuing to expand our events to more places around the world. We really hope to keep helping people find wonder, and to see the world around them with new eyes.
Watch the promo video for Obscura Day below and sign up for last minute tours in your area here.