I’m in Wellington, New Zealand at WebStock.

It’s the first session – Jane McGonigal is talking about games, and I start thinking about the less-goal directed, more ambiguous world of play – my twin obsession with place.

I look up Brian Sutton-Smith, who wrote The Ambiguity of Play – probably my favourite book on the subject (which I think I was introduced to by Simon or Pat, or both…) and guess what…

He’s from Wellington.


Update: even crazier – he now lives in Sarasota, Florida – where I went last October…

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Warning – this is a collection of half-formed thoughts, perhaps even more than usual.

I’d been wanting to write something about Google Latitude, and other location-sharing services that we (Dopplr) often get lumped in with for a while. First of all, there was the PSFK Good Ideas Salon, where I was thinking about it (not very articulately) then shortly after that Google Latitude was announced, in a flurry of tweets.

At the time I myself blurted:


My attitude to most Location-Based Services (or LBS in the ancient three-letter-acronymicon of the Mobile Industry) has been hardened by sitting through umpty-nine presentations by the white-men-in-chinos who maintain a fortune can be made by the first company to reliably send a passer-by a voucher for a cheap coffee as they drift past *bucks.

It’s also been greatly informed by working and talking with my esteemed erstwhile colleague Christopher Heathcote who gave a great presentation at Etech (5 years ago!!! Argh!) called “35 ways to find your location“, and has both at Orange and Nokia been in many of the same be-chino’d presentations.

me_home_work1Often, he’s pointed out quite rightly, that location is a matter of routine. We’re in work, college, at home, at our corner shop, at our favourite pub. These patterns are worn into our personal maps of the city, and usually it’s the exceptions to it that we record, or share – a special excursion, or perhaps a unexpected diversion – pleasant or otherwise that we want to broadcast for companionship, or assistance.

Also, most of the time – if I broadcast my location to trusted parties such as my friends, they may have limited opportunity to take advantage of that information – they after all are probably absorbed in their own routines, and by the time we rendevous, it would be too late.

Location-based services that have worked with this have had limited success – Dodgeball was perhaps situated software after all, thriving in a walkable bar-hopping subculture like that of Manhattan or Brooklyn, but probably not going to meet with the same results worldwide.

This attitude carried through to late 2006/early 2007 and the initial thinking for Dopplr – that by focussing on (a) nothing more granular than cities-as-place and days-as-time and (b) broadcasting future intention, we could find a valuable location-based service for a certain audience – surfacing coincidence for frequent travellers.

Point (a): taking cities and days as the grain of your service, we thought was the sweet-spot. Once that ‘bit’ of information about the coincidence has been highlighted and injected into whichever networks you’re using, you can use those networks or other established communications methods to act on it: facebook, twitter, email, SMS or even, voice…

“Cities-and-days” also gave a fuzziness that allowed for flexibility and, perhaps plausible deniablity – ameliorating some of the awkwardness that social networks can unitentionally create (we bent over backwards to try and avoid that in our design decisions, with perhaps partial success)

In the latest issue of Wired, there’s a great example of the awkward situations broadcasting your current exact location could create:

“I explained that I wasn’t actually begging for company; I was just telling people where I was. But it’s an understandable misperception. This is new territory, and there’s no established etiquette or protocol.

This issue came up again while having dinner with a friend at Greens (37.806679 °N, 122.432131 °W), an upscale vegetarian restaurant. Of course, I thought nothing of broadcasting my location. But moments after we were seated, two other friends—Randy and Cameron—showed up, obviously expecting to join us. Randy squatted at the end of the table. Cameron stood. After a while, it became apparent that no more chairs would be coming, so they left awkwardly. I felt bad, but I hadn’t really invited them. Or had I?”

It also seemed like a layer in a stack of software enhancing the social use and construction of place and space – which we hoped would ‘handover’ to other more appropriate tools and agents in other scales of the stack. This hope became reinforced when we saw a few people taking to prefacing twitters broadcasting where they were about to go in the city as ‘microdopplr‘. We were also pleased to see the birth of more granular intention-broadcasting services such as Mixin and Zipiko, also from Finland

This is also a reason that we were keen to connect with FireEagle (aside from the fact that Tom Coates is a good friend of both myself and Matt B.) in that it has the potential to act as a broker between elements in the stack, and in fact help, weave the stack in the first place. At the moment, it’s a bit like being a hi-fi nerd connecting hi-specification separates with expensive cabling (for instance, this example…), but hopefully an open and simple way to control the sharing of your whereabouts for useful purposes will emerge from the FE ecosystem or something similar.

Point (b) though, still has me thinking that sharing your precise whereabouts – where you are right now, has limited value.

lightcone_slideThis is a slide I’ve used a lot when giving presentations about Dopplr (for instance, this one last year at IxDA)

It’s a representation of an observer moving through space and time, with the future represented by the ‘lightcone’ at the top, and the past by the one at the bottom.

I’ve generally used it to emphasise that Dopplr is about two things – primarily optimising the future via the coincidences surfaced by people sharing their intended future location with people they trust, and secondly, increasingly – allowing you to reflect on your past travels with visualisations, tips, statistics and other tools, for instance the Personal Annual Reports we generated for everyone.

It also points out that the broadcasting of intention is something that necessarily involves human input – it can’t be automated (yet)- more on which later.

By concentrating on the future lightcone, sharing one’s intentions and surfacing the potential coincidences, you have enough information to make the most of them – perhaps changing plans slightly in order to maximise your overlap with a friend or colleague. It’s about wiggling that top lightcone around based on information you wouldn’t normally have in order to make the most of your time – at the grain of spacetime Dopplr operates at.

Google Latitude, Brightkite and to an extent FireEagle have made mee think a lot about the grain of spacetime in such services, and how best to work with it in different contexts. Also, I’ve been thinking about cities a lot, in preparation for my talk at Webstock this week – and inspired by Adam‘s new book, Dan’s ongoing mission to informationally refactor the city and the street, Anne Galloway and Rob Shield’s excellent “Space and culture” blog and the work of many others, including neogeographers-par-excellance Stamen.

I’m still convinced that hereish-and-soonish/thereish-and-thenish are the grain we need to be exploring rather than just connecting a network of the pulsing ‘blue-dot’.

Tom Taylor gave voice to this recently:

“The problem with these geolocative services is that they assume you’re a precise, rational human, behaving as economists expect. No latitude for the unexpected; they’re determined to replace every unnecessary human interaction with the helpful guide in your pocket.

Red dot fever enforces a precision into your design that the rest must meet to feel coherent. There’s no room for the hereish, nowish, thenish and soonish. The ‘good enough’.

I’m vaguely tempted to shutdown iamnear, to be reborn as iamnearish. The Blue Posts is north of you, about five minutes walk away. Have a wander around, or ask someone. You’ll find it.”

My antipathy to the here/now fixation in LBS lead me to remix the lightcone diagram and post it to flickr, ahead of writing this ramble.

The results of doing so delighted and surprised me.

Making the most of hereish and nowish

In retrospect, it wasn’t the most nuanced representation of what I was trying to convey – but it got some great responses.

There was a lot of discussion around whether the cones themselves were the right way to visualise spacetime/informational futures-and-pasts, including my favourite from the ever-awesome Ben Cerveny:

“I think I’d render the past as a set of stalactites dripping off the entire hypersurface, recording the people and objects with state history leaving traces into the viewers knowledgestream, information getting progressively less rich as it is dropped from the ‘buffers of near-now”

Read the entire thread at Flickr – it gets crazier.

But, interwoven in the discussion of the Possibility Jellyfish, came comments about the relative value of place-based information over time.

Chris Heathcote pointed out that sometimes that pulsing blue dot is exactly what’s needed to collapse all the ifs-and-buts-and-wheres-and-whens of planning to meet up in the city.

Blaine pointed out that

“we haven’t had enough experience with the instantaneous forms of social communication to know if/how they’re useful.”

but also (I think?) supported my view about the grain of spacetime that feels valuable:

“Precise location data is past its best-by date about 5-10 minutes after publishing for moving subjects. City level location data is valuable until about two hours before you need to start the “exit city” procedures.”

Tom Coates, similarly:

“Using the now to plan for ten minutes / half an hour / a day in the future is useful, as is plotting and reflecting on where you’ve been a few moments ago. But on the other hand, being alerts when someone directly passes your house, or using geography to *trigger* things immediately around you (like for example actions in a gaming environment, or tool-tips in an augmented reality tool, or home automation stuff) requires that immediacy.”

He also pointed out my prejudice towards human-to-human sharing in this scenario:

“Essentially then, humans often don’t need to know where you are immediately, but hardware / software might benefit from it — if only because they don’t find the incoming pings distracting and can therefore give it their full and undivided attention..”

Some great little current examples of software acting on exact real-time location (other than the rather banal and mainstream satnav car navigation) are Locale for Android – a little app that changes the settings of your phone based on your location, or iNap, that attempts to wake you up at your rail or tube stop if you’ve fallen asleep on the commute home.

But to return to Mr. Coates.

Tom’s been thinking and building in this area for a long time – from UpMyStreet Conversations to FireEagle, and his talk at KiwiFoo on building products from the affordances of real-time data really made me think hard about here-and-now vs hereish-and-nowish.

Tom at Kiwifoo

Tom presented some of the thinking behind FireEagle, specifically about the nature of dealing with real-time data in products an services.

In the discussion, a few themes appeared for me – one was that of the relative-value of different types of data waxing and waning over time, and that examining these patterns can give rise to product and service ideas.

Secondly, it occured to me that we often find value in the second-order combination of real-time data, especially when visualised.

Need to think more about this certainly, but for example, a service such as Paul Mison’s “Above London” astronomical event alerts would become much more valuable if combined with live weather data for where I am.

Thirdly, bumping the visualisation up-or-down a scale. In the discussion at KiwiFoo I cited Citysense as an example of this – which Adam Greenfield turned me onto –  where the aggregate real-time location of individuals within the city gives a live heatmap of which areas are hot-or-not at least in the eyes of those who participate in the service.

From the recent project I worked on at The Royal College of Art, Hiromi Ozaki’s Tribal Search Engine also plays in this area – but almost from the opposite perspective: creating a swarming simulation based on parameters you and your friends control to suggest a location to meet.

I really want to spend more time thinking about bumping things up-and-down the scale: it reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen:


And one of my favourite diagrams:


It seems to me that a lot of the data being thrown off by personal location-based services are in the ‘fashion’ strata of Stewart Brand’s stack. What if we combined it with information from the lower levels, and represented it back to ourselves?

Let’s try putting jumper wires across the strata – circuit-bending spacetime to create new opportunities.

Finally, I said I’d come back to the claim that you can’t automate the future – yet.

twitter-_-matt-jones_-kiwifoo-plasticbaguk_sIn the Kiwifoo discussion, the group referenced the burgeoning ability of LBS systems to aggregating patterns of our movements.

One thing that LBS could do is serve to create predictive models of our past daily and weekly routines – as has been investigated by Nathan Eagle et al in the MIT Reality Mining project.

I’ve steered clear of the privacy implications of all of this, as it’s such a third-rail issue, but as I somewhat bluntly put it in my lightcone diagram the aggregation of real-time location information is currently of great interest to spammers, scammers and spooks – but hopefully those developing in this space will follow the principles of privacy, agency and control of such information expounded by Coates in the development of FireEagle and referenced in our joint talk “Polite, pertinent and pretty” last year.

The downsides are being discussed extensively, and they are there to be sure: both those imagined, unimagined, intended and unintended.

But, I can’t help but wonder – what could we do if we are given the ability to export our past into our future…?

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Sir Ken Adam in conversation with Sir Christopher Frayling, V&A

I saw Sir Ken Adam, production designer of numerous Bonds, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang and Dr. Strangelove amongst other movies, interviewed by Christopher Frayling at the V&A last Friday, as part of their current Cold War Modern exhibit.

As a result, Frayling concentrated the conversation on those iconic Cold War images of the war room in Dr. Strangelove, and the numerous lairs for Bond Villains he had designed.

Frayling described these lairs with a lovely turn of phrase, paraphrasing Corbusier’s “houses are machines for living in” – that they were “Machines for being a meglomaniac in”.

Adam responded that his intention was to make the Bond Villain a contemporary creature. They should embedded in the material culture of the times – albeit with the resources of a meglomaniac millionaire or billionaire – and also able to reach a little bit beyond into a near-future as those resources allow.

Although rather than maintaining a purely high-modernist aesthetic, Adam’s villains were ostentatious, status-seeking magpies, with their old masters from a daring heist, siberian tiger rugs and priceless antiques on display next to their Eames recliners and Open-plan freestanding fireplaces.

“Gantries and Baroque” might be the best name for the look though, as this finery was, of course, all inside the ‘sanctum-sanctorum’ of their lair – generally they would have maintained such a well-appointed apartment somewhere within a more massive and industrial death-dealing facility staffed by uniformed private armies.

Frayling pointed out this repeating formula in the 60s and 70s Bond movies to the audience. A hidden fortress, that had to be discovered, infiltrated and destroyed with a girl/goddess as guide – but not to be destroyed before we could take in some of the fine lifestyle touches that supervillainy gave as rewards.

But then in an almost throw-away aside to Adam, he reflected that the modern Bond villain (and he might have added, villains in pop culture in general) is placeless, ubiquitous, mobile.

His hidden fortress is in the network, represented only by a briefcase, or perhaps even just a mobile phone.

Where’s the fun in that for a production designer?

Maybe it’s in the objects. It’s not the pictures that got small, but the places our villains draw they powers from.

Perhaps the architypical transformation from gigantic static lair to mobile, compact “UbiLair” is in the film Spartan, where Val Kilmer’s anti-heroic ronin carries everything he needs in his “go-bag” – including a padded shooting mat that unfolds from it to turn any place into a place where he holds the advantage.

Move beyond film and I immediately think of my favourite supervillain of the year, Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Stane from Matt Fraction‘s masterful run on the comicbook Invincible Iron Man.

As Fraction puts it:

Zeke is a post-national business man and kind of an open source ideological terrorist, he has absolutely no loyalty to any sort of law, creed, or credo. He doesn’t want to beat Tony Stark, he wants to make him obsolete. Windows wants to be on every computer desktop in the world, but Linux and Stane want to destroy the desktop. He’s the open source to Stark’s closed source oppressiveness. He has no headquarters, no base, and no bank account. He’s a true ghost in the machine; completely off the grid, flexible, and mobile. That absolutely flies in the face of Tony’s received business wisdom and in the way business is done. There are banks and lawyers and you have facilities and testing. Stane is a much more different animal. He’s a much smarter, more mobile and much quicker to respond and evolve futurist.

Zeke has no need for specialised infrastructure beyond commodity gear than he can improvise and customise. He doesn’t need HeliCarriers or giant military-industrial infrastructure like Tony Stark. He just needs his brain and his hate. As Fraction says in an interview:

I was trying to figure out what a new Iron Man would look like, and I figured, well, there wouldn’t be a suit anymore. The user would be the suit. I just started to riff on that, on cybernetics and riffing on weaponized bodymod culture stuff. Tony’s old money, old world, old school and old model manufacture. So where would Stane, a guy that had no manufacturing base and no assembly facilities, get his tech? Everything would need power sources, so how would that work? Where would the surgeries be performed? How would he pay for it? What’s his ideology? I started reading up on 4G war and warfare. And on and on until I understood Stane’s reality, and how Stane would wage war on Stark Industries and Tony both.

So – for a “4th generation warfare” supervillain there aren’t even objects for the production designer to create and imbue with personality. The effects and the consequences can be illustrated by the storytelling, but the network and the intent can’t be foreshadowed by environments and objects in the impressionist way that Adam employed to support character and storytelling.

But – what about materialising, visualising these invisible networks in order to do so?

Dan Hill just published a spectacular study of his – into the ‘architecture’ of wifi in a public space. They make visible the invisible flows of the network around tangible architecture, and the effect that has on how people inhabit that tangible space.

Interesting, deeply-interesting stuff.

Me, I just think that’s what’s fluxing and flexing around the 4th Gen Bond Villain.

That’s what could telegraph to us, the audience their bad intentions. That’s what communicates their preference, and their potency. Could it do it as effectively, immediately, seductively as Sir Ken could with Cor-Ten and Cashmere?

Probably not. Yet.

The visualisations he’s made Dan freely admits make more than a nod to Cedric Price‘s Aviary at London Zoo. Price himself being no stranger to creating intangible, mobile, flexible architectures – I bet he would have been bursting with ideas for 4th Gen Bond Villain UbiLairs…

In the mean-time, in the real world of all-controlling superpowers, we seem to be coming full circle, architecture professor Jeffrey Huang has been investigating the all-too-tangible architecture of what we rather-wishfully call the cloud: server farms.

These hydropowered, energy-guzzelling megastructures seem to have all the ‘Gantry’ but not a lot of ‘Baroque’ panache to qualify as good old-fashioned Bond Villain SuperLairs.

But, perhaps Larry and Sergei are working on it…

This summer, Google put a patent on floating data centers cooled and powered by the ocean.

Sir Ken was always ahead of his time.

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Many have commented on Google’s new version of Google Mobile Maps, and specifically it’s “My Location” feature.

Carlo Longino homes in on the fact that it provides, finally, a somewhat humane and useful basis for a lot of the location-based services use-cases that mobile service providers and product marketers have salivated over for around a decade.

“I know my own zip code, but I don’t know its boundaries, nor do I know any others here in Vegas. So if I’m out looking for something, I’ve got little idea where to start. That’s the big problem with local search – we tend to spend a lot of our time in the same places, and we get to know them. We’re most likely to use search when we’re in an unfamiliar area – but often our unfamiliarity with the area precludes us from even being able to divine a starting point for our search. You don’t necessarily need GPS to get a starting point, as this new feature highlights.”

GMMv2.0 is sufficiently-advanced technology, not because of the concept behind it (location via cell network is pretty known) but the sheer, apparent quality of execution, simplicity and joy injected into the thing. This is something till now missing from most if not all mobile software, especially Symbian software.

Janne once said to me: “no-one codes symbian apps for fun”, and it shows. It’s enough to get the things working for most developers, and as they’re mostly doing it for a salary rather than fun, they walk away before the joy gets injected, or don’t argue when it gets de-scoped.

GMMv2.0 has some of the lovely touches that we’ve seen from the iPhone implementation carried over – like the location pins dropping into place with a little restitutional bounce. Just. So. It seems quicker and more focussed that v1.0, with location search features working to give the bare-bones info right there on the map rather than breaking-frame to a dialog.

The main, huge, thing though is MyLocation.

Chris gave a talk a few years ago at Etech 2004 called “35 ways to find your location”
, which argued against relying on GPS and ‘satnav’ metaphors for location services.

I don’t know if they downloaded his presentation in Mountain View, but GMMv2.0 delivers on Chris’s vision by not only using cellular location fiding, but how it interprets and displays it. By ditching the assumption that all location tasks are about a -> b in a car, and presenting a fuzzy, more-humane interpretation of your location – it gives a wonderful foundation for wayfinding, particularly while walking, which hopefully they’ll build on.

In other possible advantages that “Do not use while driving” gives you is it become a resource you can use indoors, where I’d guess 90% discussions about where to go and what to do actually happen, and where 90% of GPS’s won’t ever work.

Other contenders in the mobile wayfinding world seem to be pursuing interfaces built on the metaphors and assumptions of the car-bound “satnav” world e.g. Nokia Maps. Probably as a side-effect of most of their senior management driving to work in suburban technology parks everyday!

Actually, Nokia Maps (at least the last version I used, I switched to GMM and haven’t returned) does something even more bizarre when it starts up and shows you a view of the entire earth’s globe from orbit! I cannot think of a less user-centred, task-appropriate entry point into an application!

Very silly.

The Google mobile team are to be congratulated not only for technical innovation in GMMv2.0, but also having the user-experience savvy to step beyond established cliche in a hot area and think in a context-sensitive, user-centred way about the problem.

As Carlo says:

“I continue to be slightly amazed at the speed with which Google gets these apps and services out, and the overall quality of them, though I guess it’s a testament to the amount of resources they’re throwing at mobile these days.”

Can’t wait to see what’s next.

“‘The lists in this book,’ I ventured to a Kylie momentarily caught precisely midway between a cynical world and a romantic one, ‘locate us somewhere, I hope beautifully, midway between the slight and the complete, between the incomplete and the deep.’

Kylie fainted. I think my audacity had penetrated the barrier of fame that separated her from everyday speculation, and had caused a couple of vital wires to snap. She had a way of fainting in slow motion that was both alarming and alluring. I had to explain that, yes, the list often just a nice way of passing the time, of showing of the hipness of your choices, a sketchy part of a self-portrait, a way of wallowing in a bubbly nostalgia that returns you to a simpler, sweeter time, of trying to contain sheer chaos in little patches of consoling order, of making plans for a future that seems so blank and featureless you have to impose shape on it by transferring things in easily wrapped packages. Lists help you believe that there will be a future – by reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future where things will happen that can then be listed and taken forward to remind us of a past where stuff was generated that made us believe there is a present and so, ultimately a future.”

Words and Music, Paul Morley

Which is the best preamble I can think of to my obligatory rolling yearly top 20 (sort-of) chart of albums:

1 Tunng – This is… Tunng: Mothers Daughter and other Tales
2 Sigur Rós – Agaetis Byrjun
3 Jim Noir – Tower Of Love
4 808 State – 808:88:98
5 Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene
5 Richard Hawley – Coles Corner
7 Hot Chip – The Warning
8 Television – Marquee Moon
8 Sébastien Tellier – Sebastien Tellier Sessions
10 Viva Voce – The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
10 Gorillaz – Demon Days
12 Grandaddy – Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla
13 Various Artists – Lost in Translation
13 Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (Deluxe Edition) (disc 2)
13 Gary Jules – Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets
13 The Auteurs – New Wave
13 The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike
13 The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers
19 Brian Eno – Before and After Science
19 Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
19 Wilco – A Ghost Is Born
19 Mull Historical Society – Us
19 Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans
19 Charlotte Hatherley – Grey Will Fade
19 We Are Scientists – With Love and Squalor

And top ten tracks

1 Television – Marquee Moon
2 Justice Vs Simian – We Are Your Friends (Radio Edit)
3 Nick Drake – One of These Things First
3 The Automatic – Monster
3 Sébastien Tellier – La Ritournelle
6 Sigur Rós – Intro
6 Jim Noir – Key of C
6 Sébastien Tellier – Fantino
6 Arctic Monkeys – When the Sun Goes Down
6 Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog

By comparing both of them, it’s clear that my usage is a reflection of where my music is – i.e. I listen to a lot at work, where I have very little music stored on my hard-drive(s).

There’s a smattering of iTms purchases which tend to be earworms I need to purchase and listen to immediately, DRM-be-damned. In this category I would place Justice Vs Simian’s ‘We are your friends’, ‘Monster’ by The Automatic and ‘Key of C’ by Jim Noir.

Sidenote: it is extremely gratifying for the reader of Paul Morley’s ‘Words and Music’ to find while referencing the wikipedia definition of ‘earworm’ that it’s first example of an earworm in popular culture is ‘I can’t get you out of my head’ by Kylie Minogue.

There are also things revealing of deeper needs, flaws and habits here – but again related to place. I often have a overwhelming need to play Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’ loudly on my speakers when everyone else have left my little bit of the office – which is well represented here.

It’s also clear that aside from these ‘hits’ that I placed on heavy-rotation I spent most of my listening year in my own long-tail, as it were. Heh – I think I might be disappearing up my own buzzword there. Ahem.

Revealing, in review, in terms of’s character: it’s radio-station metaphor seems to have a powerful hold on me. I walk away from it, I leave it running, I come back to it.

There’s an implicit ‘passivity’ pitch: ‘just enjoy the music, it’ll be exactly what you want’ which belies the activity you have to invest in it: rating, banning, skipping.

To quote Paul Morley again, the list is a way: ‘of showing of the hipness of your choices’ but a list is a mix of my choices, a machines choices and a multiplication of the two via the choices of others.

When I look at this list I see things that have a high rating that I would never actively ‘select’ e.g. Gary Jules (Gary Bloody Jules?! That’s putting a major dent in the ‘hipness of my choices’) but have probably played to no listener and multiplied their way up the list each time they have sung to no-one but the database.

So presenting a list of your year can feel an oddly-outsourced form of self-portraiture. A partly ghost-written musical memoire.

Yet – there are some gratifying things there – things which I discovered through and social-music-discovery-technology (clumsy!) – like Broken Social Scene, Tunng, Sufjan Stevens (late to the party on all three, another hole in the hipness of my choices…)

Richard Hawley ranks highly too – one of the albums which I think I always played as an album – a rare thing in this shuffle-culture, and also one that on a road-trip to West Wales I found that myself, my wife and my father all enjoyed. Again – rare!

So the list ends, 2006 ends – but keeps on cataloguing, “reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future..”

Happy new year!

Jason Kottke points to a remarkable post by Kevin Kelly entitled The Big Here, after the Eno-coined-counterpart to the Long Now – which shoots a diamond bullet through my thoughts for the last few months:

At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.

In the post it goes on to take you through a quiz which examines your knowledge of your immediate environs, and the linkages it has to the wider ecosystem.

Here are the first three questions:

30 questions to elevate your awareness (and literacy) of the greater place in which you live:

1) Point north.

2) What time is sunset today?

3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap.

Kelly prefaces this with a positioning of the quiz as one of his “cool tools”:

“The intent of this quiz is to inspire you to answer the questions you can’t initially. I’d like to collect and then post the best step-by-step suggestions about how to answer a particular question. These are not answers to the quiz, but recommended paths on how one might most efficiently answer the question locally. Helpful websites which can provide local answers are wanted. Because of the severe specificity of local answers, the methods provided should be as general as possible. The emerging list of answer-paths will thus become the Cool Tool.”

So far, so good.

Wonderful, even.

My immediate thought though, reading both Jason’s post and Kevin Kelly’s mission is why the hell is this not on a mobile?

So – I over the summer am going to try and knit something together to get it there.

  1. I imagine it will be pretty easy (i.e. within the reach of my terrifyingly-bad coding skills) just to port the text quiz to a mobile using S60 python as a standalone experience.
  2. It might be easy enough then to both launch web resources from the quiz on the mobile device, and perhaps post answers in some easily-aggregated format to back out to the web from whoever takes the quiz.
  3. however might be more tricky…

What I immediately imagined was the extension of this quiz into the fabric of the near-future mobile and it’s sensors – location (GPS, CellID), orientation (accelerometers or other tilt sensors), light (camera), heat (Nokia 5140’s have thermometers…), signal strength, local interactions with other devices (Bluetooth, uPnP, NFC/RFID) and of course, a connection to the net.

The near-future mobile could become a ‘tricorder’ for the Big Here – a daemon that challenges or channels your actions in accordance and harmony to the systems immediately around you and the ripples they raise at larger scales.

It could be possible (but probably with some help from my friends) to rapidly-prototype a Big Here Tricorder using s60 python, a bluetooth GPS module, some of these scripts, some judicious scraping of open GIS data and perhaps a map-service API or two.

One thought that springs to mind would be to simply geotag the results of a quiz (assuming the respondent takes the quiz in-situ!) and upload that to a geowiki, something like Place-O-Pedia.

It might be delightful to see the varying answers from valiant individuals clustered in a location and inspire some collaboration on getting to the ‘right’ answers about their collective bit of the big here or the issues raised by the route there more importantly perhaps.

One open question would be if this ‘Big Here Tricorder’ where realised, would it genuinely raise an individual or community’s awareness of their local ecosystem and it’s connections at other scales? “Every extension is also an amputation” etc.

Well – we won’t know unless we build it.

While we’ve had a couple of year’s noise about Where2.0, I reckon there’s a hell of a lot of mileage and some real good could come of focussing on Here2.0… which gives me a nice little summer project – thanks Kevin, Brian and Jason


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