May 18, 2004

UT & Social Software

As we are about to begin a field trial of the Symbian smartphone prototype, I've been thinking about UT and the issues of social software and situated software that Nick brought up in our panel at the Life of Mobile Data conference. I recently came across Stewart Butterfield's 5 devices of social software (via Matt Webb)and thought it might be interesting to sketch my current thoughts on the project and prototype according to these criteria. Perhaps the results of the 4 week trial (with around 50 participants) will surprise us through some new insights into public authoring and social knowledge, new forms of creative misuse etc... It also leaves me wondering to what extent is UT either situated or social software..?

Urban Tapestries is about anonymous and asynchronous interactions between people that revolve around specific places and the relationships we make to them. Users create their own 'threads' and 'pockets' of content along them which record and display their username which may or may not bear a relationship to their given name. There is no reason why anyone shouldn't create multiple identities to reflect different interests or aspects of their personality, or why a group shouldn't share a single identity.

As the map of the city becomes more thickly layered with threads, presence can be determined from the density of interconnecting threads and the kinds of content and theme they contain. As time goes on, it should be possible for people to design their own ways of filtering and interpreting these densities to map the space in new ways and draw new conclusions about the presence of others within the city.

Urban Tapestries aims to bring people together. Through the sharing of personal experiences it may be possible for people to make direct connections with each other's experiences without necessarily having to meet face to face.

Urban Tapestries isn't intended as a messaging system (although at the very beginning we used to describe it to people as 'place-based messaging'), yet it has the ability to enable asynchronous conversations or experiences to be layered on top of one another and 'stitched' together. In future iterations we will enable this stitching together of pockets and threads, as well as the ability to share authoring and editing of pockets and threads.

Our research has shown that sharing of social knowledge and storytelling are primarily group and social activities. Urban Tapestries aims to augment existing ways in which people communicate in groups and as communities (whether they be geographic, interest or ad hoc). It may be that Urban Tapestries is not itself a group activity, but it may be a crucial catalyst for groups to form and interact around place and the sharing of knowledge.

There is currently no mechanism for assigning ratings or reputation points in Urban Tapestries. Whilst this may be a flaw, it may also allow us to questions the validity and utility of existing models of reputation and trustworthyness, which may not suit different communities, or kinds of social interaction, being based on certain sets of cultural assumptions about value.

Urban Tapestries is fundamentally about sharing whether it is ideas, information, resources, pictures, sounds or links to other places. It is about sharing the everyday, social knowledges which we acquire and discard almost without being aware of it. By exchanging them in mundane human interactions, these tidbits of experience become part of the social glue that binds our cities and the people who inhabit them.

Posted by Giles Lane at May 18, 2004 10:46 PM

I just stumbled across the web site and as a PhD candidate and researcher in the GroupLens lab at the University of Minnesota, I was wondering about the following:

1. What was the composition of the subject population from your December, 2003 beta test? From reading their comments on their blogs, many sounded quite tech savvy (e.g. commenting on things such as Java vs. Flash) and in general, highly educated. Was this the case?

2. Is your code currently available via open source?


Posted by: Pam Ludford at May 27, 2004 11:44 PM

Hi Pam,

1. It was a public trial, therefore open to all members of the public. There was definitely a tech-savvy crowd who were aware of the project and quickly signed up, but we also had people drop in off the street (we were based in an empty store front). Local people also took part. We didn't seek any particular 'user' group, nor have we 'analysed' the participants to try to assign them demographic profiles in any way. Our aim was to elicit experiential responses rather than go for a traditional 'user' feedback model... as the aim of the trial was more to explore the basic idea of 'public authoring' than to test a piece of software.

2. Not yet. We have plans to explore open source models of development in the future and will release details later in the year.

Posted by: Giles Lane at May 28, 2004 12:06 AM

Hi from copenhagen- excellent idea/project ... however ...

Problem: The value of 'opinion' is determined by, inter alia, the age, the experience and educational standard of the giver.


if I look at a statue and I 'pick-up' a review, what is the value of that review? It might be posted by someone possibly aesthetically 'dead' and/or 13 years of age visiting their first museum.

if I go to a restaurant and I 'pick up' a review, what is the value of that review if it is posted by the proprietors brother or his competitor down the street?

However, a positive scenario

Non-opinion 'telepostIt' (copyright ME!)

If I considered that statue to be relevant to something else I might be tempted to leave a telepostIt advising fellow viewers they might like to check out or a"a copy of this is in the Guggenheim etc.

Conclusion: being blattered by 'unidentifiable' opinions is of little interest. I say 'blattered' because if you hook on to say, the Mona Lisa can you imagine what would happen not to mention the quality of the telepostIts - the phone would suffer meltdown, not only physically but culturally! :-) Nptwithstanding, Travellers who can 'add information' to an exhibit etc (as suggested above) would be useful


iThink, ergo iMac

Posted by: ;-D...eScartes at July 8, 2004 07:53 AM