On May 15th, I gave a presentation on Urban Tapestries and conducted a Bodystorming at the PsyGeo Conflux in New York City -- fun!! (see thumbnails below). The conference was an interesting contrast to the recent spate of European gatherings that seemed to present "locative media" as some kind of spinoff/sibling/offshoot of new media. Maybe due to the context of being in the middle of the Lower East Side art scene, there was much more "psychogeography" than cutting-edge high-tech.
Thus there was a human chess game on the streets of Williamsburg, a 24-hour road trip throughout the 5 New York boroughs, musings on the history of dérive and the flâneur, and a great talk by Peter Lamborn Wilson on his methodology in exploring the forgotten sacred backwaters of North America.
Don't get me wrong -- digital goodies were still alive and well at the Conflux! An outstanding example was the One Block Radius project presented by conference organizers Christina Ray and Dave Mandl. Over the course of several months, they obsessively documented one square block that will be the new site of the New Museum of Contemporary Art.
Their project made me realize that we really have to tackle the hard problems of filtering and scaling if we're going to build a functional, urban-wide annotation system. They show ONE block annotated by TWO people -- what happens when you open up the annotations to all comers? And then what happens when you scale up from one block to one city?? Mindboggling possibilities! Check it out.
(photos by Christina Ray - Click to enlarge)
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.