Navigation and wayfinding

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Played for the first time this evening with the Nokia Sports Tracker app on the N95. I placed it in the front pouch of my Brompton bag and set off for the station from the office.

The GPS usually acquires satellites painfully slowly, but it got a fix fairly quickly – helped by being in the middle of semi-rural Hampshire, with the tallest thing for miles being a squat 3-storey technology company HQ…

There’s an “autopause” feature on the app which seems to notice when you’ve been at rest for a while, which is a nice touch – but the best thing was once I’d got home and discovered the ease at which you can export it to something like Google Earth.

It was a three-click operation to save and send the file to my Macbook, where I just double clicked it and swooped in on my little bike ride from orbit.


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

dylans1Amazon’s A9 Yellow Pages search has been causing some buzz around the place, some of it from dear curmudgeonly friends suggesting it is nothing new and that there have been many projects like this over the last 6 or 7 years.

I would suggest the difference is not that A9 have not just made the bear dance, but made it tango.

The user-experience of this service is pretty fantastic compared to predecessors – easy-to-use and with plenty of opportunities for users to refine and feeback on the information.

Inviting users to feedback on which is the most useful picture of a business or landmark is particularly clever, and could generate some fascinating insights for students of Kevin Lynch and other academics of urban persuasion!

Also – the Amazon feature of inviting customers to contribute images could lead to a mappr-like photographic annotation of the United States…

dylans2I guess it goes without saying that thisĀ  would become a must-have service if it could be ported sucessfully to the mobile phone, especially if you were trying to find places of high digital repute with pretty anonymous physical presences.

p.s. Dylans in San Francisco that I’ve used to illustrate this post is to my knowledge the only Welsh-themed pub in a world overrun by theme pubs centred around our other celtic cousins, the Irish… I went there a couple of times when the SF Sapient office was around the corner, and they gave me free beer for being able to pronounce Llanfair P.G. in full, bless ’em.

A few new features at Flickr, including the highly-useful-but-not-immediately-obvious inline editing of picture titles (hover over the title of one of you pictures and click to rename, just like on your dekstop, very handy) but the one that caught my eye was the introduction of a task-oriented, mini sitemap on the bottom of every page.


This is something that I tried to get done while at the BBC, as an unobtrusive wayfinding strategy for the entire site. We (Gee-Kay, Byju and myself) got as far as paper-prototyping and user-testing the idea before hitting the wall of unavailability of resources and internal politics that often stops such things in such places.

The idea continued in a limited form in the iCan project, where we (Priya, Helen, Julie, Andy and myself) used the bottom-of-the-page reference design for a ‘cycling’ pattern of recent visited links and common tasks.

The bottom-of-the-page wayfinding idea was one that I first came across from Peter at PoorButHappy, and was struck by how simple and effective it was.

For what it’s worth, here’s a presentation that I used to try and sell the idea internally in the BBC, including user-test results.

» Download locatedness.ppt [2.3mb powerpoint]

I shared it with Stewart at the time (as we were arguing about spatial metaphors in navigation and wayfinding*) and he told me this week he remembered reading it while waiting for his car to get fixed in SF. Hopefully it contributed, and I’ll be receiving my Flickr options shortly… ;-p

The Ludicorp team continue to astound with their rate of innovation and invention. Well done all there!

Bonus link… while excavating BBJ for wayfinding links, found this reference to a Sylloge post from 2001… more evidence of Flickr’s RNA?

UPDATE: Peter’s entry on the same topic.

Not an update of the current nasty geopolitical situation, but something from The Google CityBlock Project [found via ChrisDodo’s]

This aims to produce a visual search of the urban environment. In one of their presentations they have an estimate of how long it would take to acquire images of the US’s entire commercial streetscape:

  • “~2.4 million miles of paved road in the U.S.
  • We estimate that about ~1% are commercial
  • With a high speed camera (~250 fps), we can capture driving at about 10 mph
  • It would take approximately 100 days worth of driving time to capture the entire commercial U.S.
  • Spread among 20 vehicles and allowing 6 hours of capture time per day, it would require approximately 20 days of acquisition”

So, very impressive in capturing images of the city; but what about the Image Of The City that we actually perceive? Schyuler and Rich’s excellent tutorial at EtCon made this distinction plain.

However I guess – as ever with Google – worth keeping a close eye on.

Abstract Dynamics:

“What happens to landmarks when every store is a chain? When we live life at 70 miles an hour we hand our navigation skills over to the government and place our trust in freeway signage. But what about when slow down to 35, stop and go, through the infinite “strip” feeds Americans and their cars?

The preferred navigation is landmark. Follow the river, keep the mountain on your left, turn right at the large oak, veer left at the rabbit rock. Walk towards the walls, through the iron gates, left at inn, right at the bank. Towards the capital, left at the Starbucks, right at the Jamba Juice, you’ll see it right before the B of A… All of a sudden our landmarks are multiplying. And make no mistake plenty of effort goes into making sure those marks are memorable. But anyone who turns at a Starbucks is going nowhere but in circles…”

Puts me in mind of the franchised-landscape spread by the DNA of the 3-ring binders as described in Snowcrash.