SXSW 2006 Panel: Cyberplace

Sunday, March 12, 2006

SXSW Page about this panel

Row: Chief community developer for Skidoo. The idea of the panel came up from a personal need: I’m a real local history geek. I walk around a lot. I have the web in my pocket, but I’m frustrated about how much I can learna bout where I am right now. I don’t want to go home and Google it. We’re getting closer to the place where the data we have in our pocket is the same data that we have in physical space. Rather than think about it myself, I thought I’d get four of the smartest people I know in projects like this to come and talk about it. […] I wanted to start with Molly talking about how the idea I’ve had is not a new idea. one example: Matteo Richie[?] and the memory palace.

Steenson: When I came to look at the web after looking at other communities, it came to me that the best way to look at interactions was to look at our space. one of the things I’ve discovered: Things that seemed like they are more futuristic actually have roots that are older than thing. I’m talking about buildings that have interfaces. [Shows a picture of Archigram from the 1960s.] Architects in GB in the 60s. Found themselves without jobs, so they started doing paper architecture and wanted to see thew ways tech could be manifested in architecture. Plug-in city. You could plug in replace parts for the city when they fall apart. Always rebuilding itself, using tech for the good of the city. You could also look at Centre Pompidou in Paris. You’re probably familiar with it. The services are on the outside of the building. What I think is interesting is this: The facade of the building has messages going across it. Their idea was that if you lost your friend you could use the big message board. But this is 1972 to 1976. These days we get kind of excited by things like this: A Building in Berlin, part of Realities Unlimited, with moving, interactive facades. [Shows a clip.] And even this idea isn’t new. It began around 2000 in Berlin with Blinkenlights. You could play pong on a building with a mobile phone. 2001. You could call in with the mobile phone and play pong and show SMS messages over Alexanderplatz in Berlin. So some of these ideas we have have some pretty strong roots in modern and contemporary architecture. So maybe there are some other things we should be looking back on. And maybe some of our ideas will be realized in space and are already changing how we interact with spaces.

Row: A friend and I were trying to find one another using IM in a room. I still haven’t found Jeff. It’s interesting. I was psyched about Dodgeball when it came out because of its ability to find friends within a realtime context. But it makes me sad because usually I’m at home and all of my friends are living these fascinating social lives that I wasn’t aware of. Has it changed what parts of the city you go to and how you spend your time?

Crowley: Definitely newer venues. The idea came from having multiple groups of friends and wanting to hang out with those friends over the course of an evening. What it’s turned into, though, is taking those groups of eight people and turning them into one big group of 25 people. Introduced friends back together. Really you’re going out without any major plans.

Row: Can you track any of that swarming?

Crowley: We don’t track it in real-time, but we are keeping logs as to where people are checking in. And some users find this really compelling. And you can track the paths of where your friends have been,. as well. And see what they’ve been recommending. Passively.

Sharon: Socialite has changes my appreciation of spaces. What I mean: You can open up your phone and it scans the area looking for messages placed there by people. So I was demoing it one time. And a friend who likes making alt-histories and scavenger hunts over the city, the one that he had was “a woman was murdered here.” He has the ability to annotate the space and communicate it in a way that really changes the interaction of the space, shifts your reality.

Heiferman: I do love that idea — imagine what it’s going to be like when all the pictures you’re taking, how you’re going to create this history of every inch of earth. Isn’t that fascinating?

Sharon: It’s like these things that used to be called mapamundi in the 15th century — maps of the mapmaker’s knowledge of the world at the time. For example, Jerusalem may be the center fo the map. It’s away to get a cultural reflection. It’s almost where we can create these personal maps for ourselves, whether we’re blogging or sending photos to Flickr or whatever. Everything we do happens somewhere. So now thanks to Google Maps and such we’re able to display that and show it. It’s powerful.

Heiferman: Imagine your home and being able to see the history from the past 100 years of what was in that apartment unit. It’s going to happen. The first early implementation — — by Diane Eisner.

Crowley: A lot of the content has been created — it just needs to be tagged.

Heiferman: And in shoeboxes, photos already exist of your plot of land form the past 100 years.

Row: New York Songlines. The idea is that in using text they’ve mapped the grid of Manhattan geographically and historically. It’s not very portable, but you can print it out. And I have. I’d like to see more of this stuff on my phone. Another key example:, a great real estate site. Type it your physical address and it gives you all sorts of awesome info about the building. Back into the nature of space, though. About Meetup. It seems to me that the kinds of places choose to meet up might change. Is that true?

Heiferman: Right. So. Um. We made a lot of mistakes. But there are no big categorical shifts where you go from massive strangers voting for the location of their breast cancer meetup or whether they’ve shifted. Except for the introduction of more homes. There’s a comfort level that can be brought into it. What’s interesting is that all the meetups people’ve organized, they’ve added about 100,000 locations to the database of where they have their meetups. And afterwards people rate these. So we can analyze that. I think there’s going to be a lot more of the app-specific databases that have to do with locations. It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of different uses of space will be categorized.

Steenson: There’s what’s freely available and what’s difficult to find. The mapping is powerful, but it’s difficult to make the data useful. If you can’t put them to use then how much use are they?

Heiferman: The point is, if you want to organize a Ruby on Rails meeting, looking at the Meetup database is relevant.

Sharon: It’s also about finding the richest source of data and information. And that’s usually from people’s heads. They know what the place is and isn’t good for. Allowing people to generate that content themselves. [Note: For a bit I attributed quotes to the first letter of the panelists’ last names. So. Some Steenson and Sharon quotes may be misattributed. Doh!]

Crowley: You’ve seen more people having meetups at private locations?

Heiferman: It’s been increasing as the meetup groups have become increasingly comfortable. […]

Sharon: Do you worry that people will get to the stage where people won’t need the service?

Heiferman: No. the reason why people use meetup is because that’s where other people are looking for the meetups — they want to be there for the people who want to find them.

Crowley: How about Socialite?

Sharon: It’s interesting the kinds of things people do. The first thing a lot of people do is, “I live here!” People really like to claim territory, even if it’s virtual territory. There’s this guy Nate Hitchcock who wanted to catalogue his entire life. So he gathered up old photos and commented them and it’s fascinating to be able to trace his development from college to a spot where he crashed his car into a tree. The ability to overlay that data into real space has never existed before, and that’s interesting.

Row: Question time.

?: I got into online tools because I wanted to help people who met face to face stay connected after they met. At retreat centers and workshops. Where are the apps that actually help us link together people and work for normal human beings? And not so I have to have ten profiles on ten different systems. Let’s get visionary here!

Steenson: If you look at mobile app dev, you get tools that speak more to that. Someone say you can have 150 people in your address book but only communicate with 2-5. So if you look at these sorts of tools, then you see tools that help people stay in touch. These tools are useful for that reason, to stay in touch with your friends.

Crowley: Dodgeball is a very specific-to-us tool. So the challlenge is, what do you do when it’s not just people who are hopping from venue to venue. We just need a couple more years and a bit more experimentation.

?: I wanted to mention I saw a website that was based on collecting community feedback as to where to best stand on Toronto subway trains as to be closest to the exit when you get off. It goes ot the point of, how do you feed back info that’s universally useful?

?: Could you comment on metro broadband. In Austin we have commnuity mesh nets starting this spring. How would that impact your apps?

Sharon: We’re really excited. To really use location info you have to be able to use it no matter what platform you’re on. So we’ve partnered with people who can sniff that location information.

Crowley: There are already apps experimenting with that. Like meetro. Here are my buddies and other people nearby.

Sharon: And place[something]. Acoffeeshop has a special router that makes a hypersocial network for that place. Any way you can get where that person is, if you can get it and deliver relevant info. Well, that’s the way.

?: Could you help us with the data versus the reality. Do people show up when they agree to come? I use the 50% rule. Do you have a rule of thumb?

Heiferman: We know. Because after a meetup everyone gets an e-mail asking who came. It’s about 80%. And it’s a lot of tag-alongs make for no-shows.

Sharon: That’s an interesting social dynamic. It’s almost a self-seelcted thing.

?: Curious for advice about universities that are in some ways diluting their own brands in the physical space by these online meetups.

Sharon: Explain more.

?: Difference between using learning mgmt systems for class meetups. Making that transition from the online class… You went through school when this stuff was vey early. Going and meeting face-to-face used to be the draw. No universities are reaching out with online classes that are muhc easier and cheaper.

Heiferman: The reason I wanted to be on this panel was the general notion, flipping the bird at the notion that location doesn’t matter anymore, that we can live online all over the world. there’s a reason why this event is better this way and not on an online chatroom. I don’t really know what it is, so… Yeah!

Steenson: It’s simply that the internet, if anything, reinforced our pathways. We don’t shop online. In SF we have to get out of the house to do work or we’ll go insane.

Heiferman: It’s killing me sitting front of a screen too much. We’re living in front of screens. The places are changing, but we’re living on screens. Get away form the screen! Who’s with me?!

Steenson: More and more oue devices get smaller and blend into our clothing. If you believe in three years you’ll be using a little PDA device, you’re wrong. It may be something more ambient that happens around you.

Row: Please don’t blog any of this.

?: How do you feel this does diminish the actual experience of being in Paris if you’re always looking at your screen?

Crowley: It’s supposed to enhance the way you experience the physical world.

Steenson: The dystopian factor is the spam factor. I’m from New Haven. There’s no Dodgeball in New Haven. And I sometimes turn off my computer for the day when I’m reading. So I turned on my phone and got 15 messages. And I turned off my phone because I didn’t want to hear about some random keg party I won’t go to. So when you tag your space, is there a time when you can’t get lost anymore? TWhat’s a world without serendipity? I think we’ll pay for better filters.

?: So this deals with tagging your space and adding collateral data to your location. I think of confessionals and speed dating. What about services that compel us to tag each other? So I can tell if you’re a good roommate or a good kisser.

Row: There are a couple of comapneis that make badges that like up depending on info you’ve keyed into them.

Random guy: Nokia scanner does it.

?: I’m a creator of Murmur, a oral storytelling location-based app from Vancouver. It’s all about experimentation, as you guys have said. We need to make these things work in the real world. It’s different from the wreb world, teh phyical world. And a limitation is the lack of data. Is your data something you’d consider opening and making available? There are other interesting ideas, but this info is being held in closed database.

Crowley: It’s tough to open up the locationds of where people are.

?: Like, “this venue is suitable for this sort of thing.” Or prefs or tagging.

Crowley: We borrowed a lot fo that data from people. It was kind of a community effort because we were unable to find that sort of data.

Sharon: A lot of what Dennis and I are trying to do is getting people together in the real world. It’s a different usage model from IMing on your screen. You use your location to navigate and browse. You don’t have to stare at the screen all of the time. And that’s where the interesting experimentation is going to happen. And that’s what you’re looking for: something that cahnges people’s experience of the place.

?: What about predicting where someone would be based on their patterns? It seems like you’d be able to do that [Dodgeball].

Sharon: One of the interesting thing is to overlay your check=oins with your friends check-ins. And there’s a definite pattern.

?: Is the history of a building something you can use to guess the history of a neighborhood.

Crowley: We could probably do that a bit in the LES where I live. What are the new bars and restaurants in an area. We try to spit the info back to the user in as many ways as possible.

?: is there a quality of information problem with Socialite?

Heiferman: I would love to hear your version of what’s the latest and greatest, why your things are cool.

Sharon: Yes, at the moment we have a basic rating system adn comments. But we think the way to do this is with filters to send less to your phone, not more. From that perspective, we’re looking for spam and looking for the data to see how people are handling the data. The first few weeks we had guys putting up real estate listings. We’re looking for material to filter.

Crowley: What’s the level of granular that you go down to? A bloc? 50 feet?

Sharon: A few things. In socialite the area is called a “sticky shadow.” But people weren’t really using it, so we turned it off. So that kind of thing is more applicable to commercial entities and not people. We thought it made the experience lighter with that aspect taken away. We had spam issues to with people who were too far away to get to.

?: I met the guys from Palatial. They’re dealing with a timeline issues — as you go down the timeline, the data gets weaker. Any thoughts?

Sharon: I’m not sure about that. Sometimes the data gets stronger if you’re talking about historical data. You wnat to creat this sort of time series aniamtion of what happened at a place over one yaer, ten years. We haven’t solved that yet. I haven’t seen a lot of other people to to solve it. But we’re thinking about it a lot.

?: You were talking about Second Life and the virtual spaces. More and more virtual spaces are becoming models of physical spaces. Where do you see that going? Will these viurtual spaces become a playground for exploring the potential of real spaces?

Steenson: Absolutely. There’s a woman at Harvard working. I play World of Warcraft — I get excetied about this stuff. She’s working on her dissertation about Everquest. I think these virtual spaces — virtual and real are not adichotmoy. These game spaces are other platforms for experimentation. You see virtual things becoming tangible in various ways.

Crowley: A lot of the interesting stuff is putting virtual space on top of physical space. Interacting with som evirtual world. That space is really interesting and will be much more interesting a year from now.

Row: Now, announcements.

Heiferman: Yesterday eBay bought a minority stake in Meetup!

Row: With World of Warcraft gold?

Crowley: We have some Dodgeball t-shirts.

Row: Thanks!

[ITP references: 2. Dodgeball. Socialite.]


Posted Sun, March 12, 2006, 6:58pm EST by Andrew Dupont

Hey, man... haven't heard from Molly yet, and now the Bonjour network is down again, so I can't find you on iChat. But I'm sure we'll get together later in the week. I'll keep in touch.