This work explores the visual link between information and physical things, specifically around the emerging use of the mobile phone to interact with RFID or NFC. It was a presentation and poster at Design Engaged, Berlin on the 11th November 2005.
As mobile phones are increasingly able to read and write to RFID tags embedded in the physical world, I am wondering how we will appropriate this for personal and social uses.
I’m interested in the visual link between information and physical things. How do we represent an object that has digital function, information or history beyond it’s physical form? What are the visual clues for this interaction? We shouldn’t rely on a kind of mystery meat navigation (the scourge of the web-design world) where we have to touch everything to find out it’s meaning.
This work doesn’t attempt to be a definitive system for marking physical things, it is an exploratory process to find out how digital/physical interactions might work. It uncovers interesting directions while the technology is still largely out of the hands of everyday users.
h3. Reference to existing work
p(caption). Click for larger version.
The inspiration for this is in the marking of public space and existing iconography for interactions with objects: push buttons on pedestrian crossings, contactless cards, signage and instructional diagrams.
This draws heavily on the substantial body of images of visual marking in public space. One of the key findings of this research was that visibility and placement of stickers in public space is an essential part of their use. Current research in ubicomp and ‘locative media’ is not addressing these visibility issues.
There is also a growing collection of existing iconography in contactless payment systems, with a number of interesting graphic treatments in a technology-led, vernacular form. In Japan there are also instances of touch-based interactions being represented by characters, colours and iconography that are abstracted from the action itself.
Sketching and development revealed five initial directions: circles, wireless, card-based, mobile-based and arrows (see the poster for more details). The icons range from being generic (abstracted circles or arrows to indicate function) to specific (mobile phones or cards touching tags).
Arrows might be suitable for specific functions or actions in combinations with other illustrative material. Icons with mobile phones or cards might be helpful in situations where basic usability for a wide range of users is required. Although the ‘wireless’ icons are often found in current card readers, they do not successfully indicate the touch-based interactions inherent in the technology, and may be confused with WiFi or Bluetooth. The circular icons work at the highest level, and might be most suitable for generic labelling.
For further investigation I have selected a simple circle, surrounded by an ‘aura’ described by a dashed line. I think this successfully communicates the near field nature of the technology, while describing that the physical object contains something beyond its physical form.
In most current NFC implementations, such as the 3220 from Nokia and many iMode phones, the RFID reader is in the bottom of the phone. This means that the area of ‘activation’ is obscured in many cases by the phone and hand. The circular iconography allows for a space to be marked as ‘active’ by the size of the circle, and we might see it used to mark areas rather than points. Usability may improve when these icons are around the same size as the phone, rather than being a specific point to touch.
h3. Work in progress
This is early days for this technology, and this is work-in-progress. There is more to be done in looking at specific applications, finding suitable uses and extending the language to cover other functions and content.
Until now I have been concerned with generic iconography for a digitally augmented object. But this should develop into a richer language, as the applications for this type of interaction become more specific, and related to the types of objects and information being used. For example it would be interesting to find a graphic treatment that could be applied to a Pokemon sticker offering power-ups as well as a bus stop offering timetable downloads.
I’m also interested in the physical placement of these icons. How large or visible should they be? Are there places that should not be ‘active’? And how will this fit with the natural, centres of gravity of the mobile phone in public and private space.
I’ll expand on these things in a few upcoming projects that explore touch-based interactions in personal spaces.
Feel free to use and modify the icons, I would be very interested to see how they can be applied and extended.
h3. Visual references
Oyster Card, Transport for London.
eNFC, Inside Contactless.
ExpressPay, American Express.
MiFare, various vendors.
Suica, JR, East Japan Railway Company.
RFID Field Force Solutions, Nokia.
NFC shell for 3220, Nokia.
ERG Transit Systems payment, Dubai.
Various generic contactless vendors.
Contactless payment symbol, Mastercard.
Open Here, Paul Mijksenaar, Piet Westendorp, Thames and Hudson, 1999.
Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud, Harper, 1994
h3. Intro by Andrew Otwell
Restorative feeling of getting together.
The architecture of participation.
Experience design is participation design.
h3. Adam Greenfield
Ethical and social implications of ubicomp
Has been reading far afield “Out of gas” “Dark age ahead” “Collapse
Growth and decline
Models of growth:
1. Health of economy is based on growth
2. Continuous growth: technological singularity: going off the charts
Decline: cyclical decline, populations, rise and fall of the nile
But sometime it’s not cyclical: the global production of oil.
Growth and terminal decline: global oil production. Industrial civilisation becomes very hard to maintain.
There is a contingency that designers probably ought to be thinking about.
An implication: things get intensely local
Power sources, reclamation, working and forging
Textiles dyes colorings
Methods practices and standards: knowledge: resident in the minds and things around us.
Deployment of finished items
Value: ie copper may be worth more locally as a metal to be worked, than as wiring in an inert grid.
A new suite of design gestures
Our near-instantaneous google+wikipedia
Flexibility and unquestioned connectivity (the social, fluid, soft meeting space)
digital visualization and rapid prototyping
Petrochemical or dependent derived material properties
Low material costs
The global community
Will become important
Sense of possibility and play
Reclamation of old industrialisation
Re-densification: new urban centres
Urban core may be untenable: bulding higher than 6 floors may be difficult
KH Kunstler: the long emergency
h3. Matt Ward
Has design lost its way.
Design is always ideological, influenced by specific world views, responds to cultural context, design is a product (of the society it originates from).
It’s also world shaping, future oriented, not yet, soon to be, one day, wouldn’t it be cool if. Imagination and production. Cannot claim autonomy from social change.
Utopia, Outopia: no place. Eutopia: good place
The desire to be somewhere different, not about this place not now, free of the problems of this world.
No problem to link utopianism with the act of designing.
Many see design as a key to changing the world. Corbusier.
Design is also linked to control and power.
Archigram: a move away from conservatism. Anti-utopianism, learning from the mistakes of their forefathers.
Inbetween the space of freedom and control: metamorphosis
Utopia of difference: terroristic meta-narratives (Tom Moylan)
Superstudio: allows for different uses and actions to define the architecture of the studio. A critique of the modernists.
Critical utopia: asks questions: asks towards change, towards critical design.
Problem with critical design: forgets to question the position that the designer has
Locative media: a lot of technology removes us from everyday life, we need to remember the dogshit and the chewing gum.
Malcolm: the avant garde is now 2 minutes.
Digital design: change in space and place: information acts within the production of space.
h3. Joshua Kaufman
Book: The Whale and the Reactor (A search for limits in an age of high technology)
Social consequences of design from a historical perspective
Artefacts have political properties: invention, design or arrangement of artifact becomes a way of settling an issue in the affaris of a community. Some articles are inherently political (weaponry)
Political design can be found in architecture and urban planning
Robert Moses low overpasses: discouraged lower-class travel
Barron Haussmann’s thoroughfares: large roads and parks.
Concrete buildings and plazas at universities, to discourage demonstrations
Cyrus McCorrmick II’s molding machines
How design choices affect the relative distribution of power.
Fabio: Relationship between artefact and culture is complex. You can put the baby out into the world, but can’t take responsibility for all it’s actions.
h3. Anne Galloway
Design and the parliament of things
Making the work of a social scientist applicable
Philosophy of science
The difference between an assemblage and an assembly
“To assemble is one thing; to represent to the eyes and ears of those assembled what is at stake is another” Bruno Latour, How to Make Things Public.
The different between objects and things
In design, things are objects: stable and neutral. Even users are objects.
Things: an assembly: to come together
A coming together precicely because we have differences.
From Realpolitics to Thingpolitics.
“Walking is controlled falling” Laurie Andersen.
Representative democracy: body-politic: unifying difference, stabilising and reducing difference.
From representation to re-presentation: all the constituent parts
Re-presenting design: invention and capitalism, speed and mobilisation.
Going from an assemblage of different parts to an assembly.
Speed and competition, focusing on the novel: ideas and materials and practices are being mobilised, getting rid of the obstacles that will slow it down.
This doesn”t help us ‘assemble’. A constant space of speed, not encouraged to slow down and think things through. We don’t have an assembly.
We can’t afford to keep ignoring each other.
“Your concerns are not relevant to our task at hand, you are not enabling my efficiency, etc.”
What is it going to take to design in this parliament of things?
We can start by slowing down.
“That’s where slowing down comes in ? you can create new habits only by slowing down, because new habits also mean new feelings, new interests, new possibilities” ??Isabelle Stengers
Matt: voting is a last resort, consensus is reached in different ways.
Anne: not interested in consensus, interested in convergence.
Malcolm: taking into account, not accounting the bottom line: Latour
Matt: strategies and tactics in moving towards slowness? A: get outside, get into the ground.
h3. Michelle Chang
Public by design
Interested in the issue of privacy
Privacy / Publicness
How the library became a microcosm of the city: a number of services and interfaces to the city
What technologies are public goods? Electricity, wireless, etc.
Which technologies must be individually wrought? Laptops, mobiles.
“A public institution must bear the burden of public demands”
Anne: a public space or a commons? A convergence
Use of the internet problematic: an increasing use of “adult terminals” versus “children’s terminals”.
The library becomes a sort of pitstop: getting out of the rain or using the toilet.
h3. Thomas Vander Wal
Clouds, space and black boxes
Information is found and created, but there is little distinction between the two.
Personal info cloud, local infocloud, global infocloud
A clearing house of filters from the flood of information that flows down.
Filtering based on trust and value: aggregation
A ‘firewall’ that filters what information we give to people
A ‘smart’ black box
Some people keep all different bits of their personal data stored underneath different usernames: so as to not keep all data aggregated in one place.
h3. Louise Klinker
Using environmental issues. Using P2P software
Linking music download to criminal activity, but also tracking music downloads according to the amount of money owed to industry and artists.
h3. Malcolm McCullough
Taking into account the notion of civic space: architecture.
Closed laptop, notebook…
h3. Fabio Sergio
The skin of objects
No definitions of interaction design!
Where is the material of interaction design?
Joy Mountfort: “We are designing the skin of objects” reacted strongly against this.
Industrial design: from Olivetti cash register to Apple G5.
Ben: models are the substance of interaction design. The act of creating constraints and systemic understandings.
The visualisation of complexity: making new materials from the mass of information.
Conceptual models affecting the physical models.
Liz: what are models? Fundamentals of interaction design are stories.
h3. Stefan Smagula
Open source media
Project Lightspeed: AT&T, Yahoo and Microsoft.
Big players: Apple, IPTV, Yahoo, Google
Bootstrappers: Open Media Network, DTV (Bittorrent & RSS), Open Source Radio
RSS provides metadata and triggers downloads
Matt Jones: Jerry Cornelius: an open source character: giving away plots and stories.
h3. Chris Heathcote
Panasonic gets personalisation.
Barcodes on skins.
Websites for cover creation.
Harajuku store for expensive personal covers.
Korea: metal depicting war scenes, cloth.
A spectrum of engagement, consume, buy, customise, accessorize, alter, make, design.
Find out how, make stuff, sell stuff. cyworld (half population of Korea?), habbo, myspace, neopets.
Peer production: flips traditional production economics.
physical peer production: toolmakers, manufacturer, designer, aggregator, printer, user.
Internet fabrication: electronic, materials
Home fabrication: 3d scanners, milling and printing, 2d printing and cutting
Local fabrication: access to machine shops, equipment
Is physical better than digital?
Is this sustainable?
How do we design for casual craft?
Malcolm: biggest criticism of digital ground is the longevity of the tools, the tools are not consistent or stable enough.
Mike: people don’t like to do something they do for a living in their spare time: this might be a reaction away digital work environments.
John: scrapbooking industry is huge in the States: manifesting a collection of pieces: in Target is a whole section for scrapbooking.
Slowness is the point of craft. The process is key.
Anne: when you work in a sweatshop you don’t knit for relaxation.
Liz: … as long as it’s pink. Modern idea of design is strongly opposed to the Victorian ‘crafted’ fussy environments.
h3. Jyri Engstr?m & Ulla-maaria Mutanen
Social objects, invisible tail and free product codes.
A map of relationships, with nodes as individuals.
But look at interactions from an ethnographic pov, we see interaction through social objects.
Michael Tomasello: children learn about intentional affordances based on understanding the intentional relations to other people.
Online these things are links, photos, etc.
Developing novel kinds of interactions through objects.
Photos, bookmarks, blogs, products.
Tim O’Reilly: Amazon also introduced their own proprietary identifier: the ASIN: works for objects that don’t have ISBN. A basic necessity for anything to become a social object online.
UPC, EPC, ISBN, ASIN for artefacts of mass production.
What might be a last.fm for physical things?
History, present, makers, materials. Making those relations visible: indicating social value.
Using RFID as a personal tool.
??Free thing identifiers
??Available wireless access
??Simple terminal devices
h3. Matt Webb
Forms of address: how we talk to computers, and how we should.
URLs and point and click are bad.
Desktop search and recent items: help a lot
Global URLs: they are portable, excellent.
They let you see ideas within their structure, not other ideas.
Doug Engelbart: online system
Delicious encodes a certain type of behaviour with more persistence and history.
Recent call lists on mobile phone
Using the Ning database is more like a conversation than Spotlight, it makes assumptions around structured data.
Patterns of behaviour: ‘the things I’ve done in the last 30 seconds can be referenced as an object”.
Bookmarking a conversation.
“I’m only a first time user once”
Mike: Predictive shell.
h3. Nurri Kim
Tokyo Blues: The city as seen through one material
Blue tarpaulen: used in many different ways across different cities.
Most extensive use of blue tarps in Japan: anything that is passing into or out of existence.
Blue tarps with a modular system: model number is higher with durability
Most popular model number 3000, conforms to the tatami mat size.
Aerial photo: everything is being built, or rebuilt, historical renovation.
Used as shelter for homeless, mat for picnics, covers for temporary objects, street vendors, covering floors, spreading tarps to indicate zones: becomes an indoor space: taking off shoes to enter an ‘indoor zone’. Concealing / covering. Stack of things.
h3. Jack Schulze
Screen based button.
Working with manufacturing engineers
What we can get away with in domestic manufacture.
Phones: manufacture, style/form: self reinforcement
Manufacture: iterating this relationship towards cheaper, assume this is better.
Manufacture: Worskshops : craft, local, milling, rfp
Style: malice, opportunism, dissassembly, individual, cults, play, luxury
Metal: Lens 117, casting metal in wax.
Casting phones in metal.
h3. R?gine Debatty
Artists or designers using RFID technology.
RFID was initially frightening.
Some consumer focused uses
RFID sushi: underneath each plate is a tag, conveyer belt. RFID reader scans a stack of plates.
For tracking cows.
In toys: a doll that gets sick, each accessory is a tag, in the toy is a reader.
Zapped: a machine that lets you know about readers in the space. Gave a cockroach with RFIDs to every participant: release in the nearest walmart to taint the database.
How artists and designers are using it
A1 lounge: re-materialisation, prada store.
Digital wardrobe: making sure she uses things that people don’t see more than once.
RFID habitat: tables in two parts of the world, shows presence
RFID bootleg objects: mp3 player based on a vinyl turntable, using the old covers as interface to mp3s.
Deal me in: cards for poker: blackjack mat that plugs into the computer: seeing and printing pictures using playing cards, a traditional interface.
With hidden numbers: traditional fashion objects, by passing these objects through a reader you can play music and play samples
Junkie helper: medicine linked to a chatroom: where people in a chatroom can see your action.
Go-dance: projecting videos in nightclubs, but can DJ using embodied interactions, with RFIDs connected to clothing
Peripheral needs: Velcro is used to turn appliances in the home on and off. The paper tags can be used to keep track of what’s going on in the home.
The living room: Telling stories with rfid
h3. Liz Goodman
Dance Dance revolution incorporating fitness into gaming.
The ‘Pay per play’ model
Arcades are designed to be really fun.
h3. Eric Rodenbeck, Michal Migurski, Stamen
Vito Acconci: our work has to sound exciting over the phone
Dumb: easy explanations: eg. Flickr
Meet the audience more than halfway
Dumb is difficult
Map of the market: martin wattenburg
Wordcount.org, babyname voyager, visualising the way we use language
Acconci studio: website based on tags: can build dynamic presentations on the fly.
Cabspotting: live taxi visualisation
Molly: data fetishism: what types of things can be done with this as a tool?
Thomas: difficulty with time on the web, nothing that deals with it well: everything stuck on a calendar.
David Gelertner: lifestreams
How can we make this more ugly: graphic ugliness is equated with truth, if anything is to be taken seriously.
Malcolm: too much visualisation as wallpaper
h3. Molly Steenson
With re-unification, an entire class of everyday markers was wiped out.
h3. John Poisson
Seeking nirvana in design for the tiny
Four mobile truths
The mobile world is in a mess: earliest days of the PC.
Intense and competing constraints.
How to design for a form factor that is so limited.
Implementation is so limited by standards. Onerous restrictions and suffering with dealing with carriers. Onerous business models.
But it’s a tremendous opportunity, billions of potential users.
To assuage anxieties over all this: constraints can lead to a level of purity. A mobile app is a bit like a haiku.
A zen approach to the design and implementation of these things.
Refinement towards a very specific set of constraints.
h3. Ben Cerveny
Ideas put forward around the possibilites of dystopian futures.
Structure and architecture loom large in our minds (even though our titles are not that enymore)
Information structures are starting to play out in the spaces we inhabit: in the construction of the community.
In the process of game design: commodification of play, play creates interfaces in a richer interface than the traditional process of interface design. (through play finding the boundaries of the self and the other).
Use of symbolic systems and projection of language onto the world.
Game vs play: game is projecting a model into play. Language formalises meaning, games formalise play.
Hopskotch has no real ingredients, apart from a method of making marks and a space (plus an agreement to play the game)
This agreement is where the power is.
Consensual modelling capabilities: emergent social properties.
People have a growing literacy of what is possible.
Chess: a sculpture of behaviour of the pieces.
Aware of the tools to make this kind of models.
Goal directed learning: role-playing is more like improvisation: the roles involved are not defined in silos, but interwoven. Multiplications of capabilities. Certain tasks can only be achieved through a sequence of collaborative actions. Cumulative actions.
The techniques of role-play have made it into the workplace.
Neverendingness: a distributed conversation about the building of ‘what can happen’. Submitting ideas into a collaborative space.
The hopskotch that we are playing, is a directed but temporary structure.
The smooth space that we are standing on, that we demarcate with some markings.
Building models that have a linkable state.
The game we are playing is re-projectable onto different circumstances. (in case of dire future possibilities).
Games gone native: in specific environments.
Temporary autonomous games (tag). Chalk on sidewalk, but chalk is washed away. Temporary collaborative structures of meaning: playing out actions in that space, the product is meaningful. Focus taxonomy onto a specific process, that has traction, but can then discard the rule-set, once we have a product.
In betweening (Aldo van Eyck). Became uncomfortable with the top-down projections of authority (high modernism). Built 700 playgrounds in Amsterdam.
Projecting the possibility of play onto the environment. Filled all of the gaps in Amsterdam with play. A sandbox here, a pole there, etc.
A divergence from the monolithic flows of high modernism.
Collaborative making of urban experience.
‘We are all here now’, feeling. Take different roles in the game that is more empowering towards our ability to make things in the city.
Beaurau of spatial organisational.
Before we can activate a city (with a platform) we need to begin to compose our personal, fragmented understandings, how things can be represented, things that we can broadcast to each other.
These things can be connected to the city, a living model of the city. Building the hopscotch squares from one to the other.
The game model has the flexibility to support the kind of collaborative activity that will support these things.
Matt: how to manage the politicization of artefacts. What are the political consequences of these ideologies, structures, games. A game about the making of the game.
Adam: John Zorn’s cobra: improvisational combat jazz. Disruptor.
Mike: open ended, play-based perspective: changing and following rules is very complex, and leads down paths that are very damaging. But by sticking to one set of rules might end with a better result.
Collaborative idealism is a constant flow of articulation and re-articulation. Laminar flow and turbulence. Turn up the flow of collaboration we also get ‘stop and go’ effects.
Game: flex: so many rulecards have been played that it’s impossible.
Notes on two related projects:
h2. 1. Time that land forgot
* A “project”:http://www.elasticspace.com/timeland/ in collaboration with Even Westvang
* Made in 10 days at the Icelandic locative media workshop, summer 2004
* Had the intention of making photo archives and gps trails more useful/expressive
* Looked at patterns in my photography: 5 months, 8000 photos, visualised them by date / time of day. Fantastic resource for me: late night parties, early morning flights, holidays and the effect of midnight sun is visible.
* Looking now to make it useful as part of more pragmatic interface, to try other approaches less about the abstracted visualisation
* “info, details, research and source code”:http://www.elasticspace.com/2004/07/timeland
* “time visualisation”:http://www.elasticspace.com/images/photomap_times_large.gif
h2. 2. Marking in urban public space
I’ve also been mapping stickering, stencilling and flyposting: walking around with the camera+gps and “photographing examples of marking”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/timo/sets/8380/ (not painted graffiti).
This research looks at the marking of public space by investigating the physical annotation of the city: stickering, stencilling, tagging and flyposting. It attempts to find patterns in this marking practice, looking at visibility, techniques, process, location, content and audience. It proposes ways in which this marking could be a layer between the physical city and digital spatial annotation.
h3. Some attributes of sticker design
* *Visibility*: contrast, monochromatic, patterns, bold shapes, repetition
* *Patina*: history, time, decay, degredation, relevance, filtering, social effects
* *Physicality*: residue of physical objects: interesting because these could easily contain digital info
* *Adaptation and layout*: layout is usually respectful, innovative use of dtp and photocopiers, adaptive use of sticker patina to make new messages on top of old
Layers of information build on top of each other, as with graffiti, stickers show their age through fading and patina, flyposters become unstuck, torn and covered in fresh material. Viewed from a distance the patina is evident, new work tends to respect old, and even commercial flyposting respects existing graffiti work.
Techniques vary from strapping zip-ties through cardboard and around lampposts for large posters, to simple hand-written notes stapled to trees, and short-run printed stickers. One of the most fascinating and interactive techniques is the poster offering strips of tear-off information. These are widely used, even in remote areas.
Initial findings show that stickers don’t relate to local space, that they are less about specific locations than about finding popular locations, “cool neighbourhoods” or just ensuring repeat exposure. This is opposite to my expectations, and perhaps sheds some light on current success/failure of spatial annotation projects.
I am particularly interested in the urban environment as an interface to information and an interaction layer for functionality, using our spatial and navigational senses to access local and situated information.
There is concern that in a dense spatially annotated city we might have an overload of information, what about filtering and fore-grounding of relevant, important information? Given that current technologies have very short ranges (10-30mm), we might be able to use our existing spatial skills to navigate overlapping information. We could shift some of the burden of information retrieval from information architecture to physical space.
I finished by showing this animation by Kriss Salmanis, a young Latvian artist. Amazing re-mediation of urban space through stencilling, animation and photography. (“Un ar reizi naks tas bridis” roughly translates as “And in time the moment will come”.
p(footnote). Graffiti Archaeology, Cassidy Curtis
p(footnote). Street Memes, collaborative project
p(footnote). Spatial annotation projects list
p(footnote). Nokia RFID kit for 5140
p(footnote). Spotcodes, High Energy Magic
p(footnote). ?Mystery Meat navigation?, Vincent Flanders
p(footnote). RDF as barcodes, Chris Heathcote
p(footnote). Implementation: spatial literature
p(footnote). Yellow Arrow
There’s a really good “writeup of the installations and artwork at Grandtextauto”:http://grandtextauto.gatech.edu/2004/09/05/isea-2004-art-report.
There are two versions: a “low-bandwidth”:/timeland/noimages.html no-image version and a “high-bandwidth”:/timeland/ version with images. There is also a “Quicktime movie”:http://polarfront.org/time_land_forgot.mov for people that can’t run Flash at a reasonable frame rate.
We have made the “source code”:http://www.polarfront.org/timeland.zip (.zip file) available for people that want to play with it, under a General Public License (GPL).
h2. Background: Narrative images and GPS tracks
Over the last five years Timo has been photographing daily experience using a digital camera and archiving thousands of images by date and time. Transient, ephemeral and numerous; these images have become a sequential narrative beyond the photographic frame. They sit somewhere between photography and film, with less emphasis on the single image in re-presenting experience.
For the duration of the workshop Timo used a GPS receiver to record tracklogs, capturing geographic co-ordinates for every part of the journey. It is this data that we explore here, using it to provide a history and context to the images.
This project is particularly relevant as mobile phones start to integrate location-aware technology and as cameraphone image-making becomes ubiquitous.
We discussed the context in which we were creating an application: who would use it, and what would they be using it for? In our case, Timo is using the photographs as a personal diary, and this is the first scenario: a personal life-log, where visualisations help to recollect events, time-periods and patterns.
Then there is the close network of friends and family, or participants in the same journey, who are likely to invest time looking at the system and finding their own perspective within it. Beyond that there is a wider audience interested in images and information about places, that might want a richer understanding of places they have never been, or places that they have experienced from a different perspective.
Images are immediately useful and communicative for all sorts of audiences, it was less clear how we should use the geographic information, the GPS tracks might only be interesting to people that actually participated in that particular journey or event.
We looked at existing photo-mapping work, discovering a lot of projects that attempted to give images context by placing them within a map. But these visualisations and interfaces seemed to foreground the map over the images and photos embedded in maps get lost by layering. The problem was most dramatic with topographic or street maps full of superfluous detail, detracting from the immediate experience of the image.
Even the exhaustive and useful research from Microsoft’s “World Wide Media Index (WWMX)”:http://wwmx.org/ arrives at a somewhat unsatisfactory visual interface. The paper details five interesting mapping alternatives, and settles on a solution that averages the number of photos in any particular area, giving it a representatively scaled ‘blob’ on a street map (see below). Although this might solve some problems with massive data-sets, it seems a rather clunky interface solution, overlooking something that is potentially beautiful and communicative in itself.
p(caption). See “http://wwmx.org/docs/wwmx_acm2003.pdf”:http://wwmx.org/docs/wwmx_acm2003.pdf page 8
Other examples (below) show other mapping solutions; Geophotoblog pins images to locations, but staggers them in time to avoid layering, an architectural map from Pariser Platz, Berlin gives an indication of direction, and an aerial photo is used as context for user-submitted photos at Tokyo-picturesque. There are more examples of prior work, papers and technologies “here”:http://www.elasticspace.com/index.php?id=44.
p(caption). Image from “Pariser Platz Berlin”:http://www.fes.uwaterloo.ca/u/tseebohm/berlin/map-whole.html
p(caption). Image from “geophotoblog”:http://brainoff.com/geophotoblog/plot/
p(caption). Image from “Tokyo Picturesque”:http://www.downgoesthesystem.com/devzone/exiftest/final/
By shifting the emphasis to location the aspect most clearly lacking in these representations is _time_ and thereby also the context in which the images can most easily form narrative to the viewer. These images are subordinate to the map, thereby removing the instant expressivity of the image.
We feel that these orderings make spatially annotated images a weaker proposition than simple sequential images in terms of telling the story of the photographer. This is very much a problem of the seemingly objective space as contained by the GPS coordinates versus the subjective place of actual experience.
h2. Using GPS Data
We started our technical research by looking at the data that is available to us, discovering data implicit in the GPS tracks that could be useful in terms of context, many of which are seldom exposed:
* speed in 3 dimensions
* time of day
* time of year
With a little processing, and a little extra data we can find:
* acceleration in 3 dimensions
* change in heading
* mode of transportation (roughly)
* nearest landmark or town
* actual (recorded) temperature and weather
* many other possibilities based on local, syndicated data
Would it be interesting to use acceleration as a way of looking at photos? We would be able to select arrivals and departures by choosing images that were taken at moments of greatest acceleration or deceleration. Would these images be the equivalent of ‘establishing’, ‘resolution’ or ‘transition’ shots in film, generating a good narrative frame for a story?
Would looking at photos by a specific time of day give good indication of patterns and habits of daily life? The superimposition of daily unfolding trails of an habitual office dwelling creature might show interesting departures from rote behaviour.
h2. Using photo data
By analysing and visualising image metadata we wanted to look for ways of increasing the expressive qualities of a image library. Almost all digital images are saved with the date and time of capture but we also found unexplored tags in the EXIF data that accompany digital images:
* focus distance
* focal length
* white balance
We analysed metadata from almost 7000 photographs taken between 18 February – 26 July 2004 to see patterns that we might be able to exploit for new interfaces. We specifically looked for patterns that helped identify changes over the course of the day.
p(caption). Shutter, Aperture, Focal length and File size against time of day (click for larger version)
This shows an increase in shutter speed and aperture during the middle of the day. The images also become sharper during daylight hours, indicated by an increased file-size.
p(caption). Date against time of day (click for larger version)
This shows definite patterns: holidays and travels are clearly visible (three horizontal clusters towards the top) as are late night parties and early morning flights. This gives us huge potential for navigation and interface. Image-based ‘life-log’ applications like “Flickr”:http://www.flickr.com and “Lifeblog”:http://www.nokia.com/lifeblog are appearing, the visualisation of this light-weight metadata will be invaluable for re-presenting and navigating large photographic archives like these.
Matias Arje – also at the Iceland workshop – has done “valuable work”:http://arje.net/locative/ in this direction.
Getting at the GPS and EXIF data was fairly trivial though it did demand some testing and swearing.
We are both based on Apple OS X systems, and we had to borrow a PC to get the tracklogs reliably out of the Timo’s GPS and into Garmin’s Mapsource. We decided to use GPX as our format for the GPS tracks, GPSBabel happily created this data from the original Garmin files.
The EXIF was parsed out of the images by a few lines of Python using the EXIF.py module and turned into another XML file containing image file name and timestamp.
We chose Flash as the container for the front end, it is ubiquitous and Even’s programming poison of choice for visualisation. Flash reads both the GPX and EXIF XML files and generates the display in real-time.
More on our choices of technologies “here”:http://www.elasticspace.com/2004/07/geo-referenced-photography.
h2. First prototype
Mirroring Timo’s photography and documentation effort, Even has invested serious time and thought in “dynamic continous interfaces”:http://www.polarfront.org. The first prototype is a linear experience of a journey, suitable for a gallery or screening, where images are overlaid into textural clusters of experience. It shows a scaling representation of the travel route based on the distance covered the last 20-30 minutes. Images recede in scale and importance as they move back in time. Each tick represents 1 minute, every red tick represents an hour.
We chose to create a balance of representation in the interface around a set of prerogatives: first image (for expressivity), then time (for narrative), then location (for spatialising, and commenting on, image and time).
In making these interfaces there is the problem of scale. The GPS data itself has a resolution down to a few meters, but the range of speeds a person can travel at varies wildly through different modes of transportation. The interface therefore had to take into account the temporo-spatial scope of the data and scale the resolution of display accordingly.
This was solved by creating a ‘camera’ connected to a spring system that attempts to center the image on the advancing ‘now’ while keeping a recent history of 20 points points in view. The parser for the GPS tracks discards the positional data between the minutes and the animation is driven forward by every new ‘minute’ we find in the track and that is inserted into the view of the camera. This animation system can both be used to generate animations and interactive views of the data set.
There are some issues with this strategy. There will be discontinuities in the tracklogs as the GPS is switched off during standstill and nights. Currently the system smoothes tracklog time to make breaks seem more like quick transitions.
The system should ideally maintain a ‘subjective feeling’ of time adjusted to picture taking and movement; a temporal scaling as well as a spatial scaling. This would be an analog to our own remembering of events: minute memories from double loop roller-coasters, smudged holes of memory from sleepy nights.
Most of the tweaking in the animation system went into refining the extents system around the camera history & zoom, acceleration and friction of spring systems and the ratio between insertion of new points and animation ticks.
In terms of processing speed this interface should ideally have been built in Java or as a stand alone application, though tests have shown that Flash is able to parse a 6000 point tracklog, and draw it on screen along with 400 medium resolution images. Once the images and points have been drawn on the canvas they animate with reasonable speed on mid-spec hardware.
This prototype has proved that many technical challenges are solvable, and given us a working space to develop more visualisations, and interactive environments, using this as a tool for thinking about wider design issues in geo-referenced photography. We are really excited by the sense of ‘groundedness’ the visualisation gives over the images, and the way in which spatial relationships develop between images.
For Timo it has given a new sense of spatiality to image making, the images are no longer locked into a simple sequential narrative, but affected by spatial differences like location and speed. He is now experimenting with more ambient recording: taking a photo exactly every 20 minutes for example, in an effort to affect the presentation.
Another strand of ideas we explored was using the metaphor of a 16mm “Steenbeck”:http://www.harvardfilmarchive.org/gallery/images/conservation_steenbeck.jpg edit deck: scrubbing 16mm film through the playhead and watching the resulting sound and image come together: we could use the scrubbing of an image timeline, to control all of the other metadata, and give real control to the user. It would be exciting to explore a spatial timeline of images, correlated with contextual data like the GPS tracks.
We need to overcome the difficulty obtaining quality data, especially if we expect this to work in an urban environment. GPS is not passive, and “requires a lot of attention to record tracks”:http://www.elasticspace.com/index.php?id=4. Overall our representation doesn’t require location accuracy, just consistency and ubiquity of data; we hope that something like cell-based tracking on a mobile phone becomes more ubiquitous and usable.
We would like to experiment further with the extracted image metadata. For large-scale overviews, images could be replaced by a simple rectangular proxy, coloured by the average hue of the original picture and taking brightness (EV) from exposure and aperture readings. This would show the actual brightness recorded by the camera’s light meter, instead of the brightness of the image.
Imagine a series of images from bright green vacation days, dark grey winter mornings or blue Icelandic glaciers, combined with the clusters and patterns that time-based visualisation offers.
We would like to extend the data sets to include other people: from teenagers using gps camera phones in Japan to photojournalists. How would visualisations differ, and are there variables that we can pre-set for different uses? And how would the map look with multiple trails to follow, as a collaboration between multiple people and multiple perspectives?
At a technical level it would be good to have more integration with developing standards: we would like to use “Locative packets”:http://locative.net/workshop/index.cgi?Locative_Packets, just need more time and reference material. This would make it useful as a visualisation tool for other projects, “Aware”:http://aware.uiah.fi/ for example.
We hope that the system will be used to present work from other workshops, and that an interactive installation of the piece can be set up at “Art+Communication”:http://rixc.lv/04/.
Even Westvang works between interaction design, research and artistic practice. Recent work includes a slowly growing digital organism that roams the LAN of a Norwegian secondary school and an interactive installation for the University of Oslo looking at immersion, interaction and narrative. Even lives and works in Oslo. His musings live on “polarfront.org”:http://www.polarfront.org and some of his work can be seen at “bengler.no”:http://www.bengler.no.
Timo Arnall is an interaction designer and researcher working in London, Oslo and Helsinki. Recent design projects include a social networking application, an MMS based interactive television show and a large media archiving project. Current research directions explore mapping, photography and marking in public places. Work and research can be seen at “elasticspace.com”:http://www.elasticspace.com.