Someone asked me about this service, so let’s take a look.
We are a playful engagement platform inviting people to strike up interesting, surprising and often funny conversations with familiar street objects (e.g. lamp posts, bins, post boxes etc) using text messages or Facebook Messenger, encouraging people to look at the city with fresh eyes and see it as a playground.
Okay, a chat service. Neither system (SMS, Facebook Messager) are open, and include substantial baggage (phone service agreement, Facebook account), so this service can not in good faith be recommended to anyone.
The idea is fun, though. I like talking to things. In fact, Clover and I have already “talked” to trees beside Lake Merritt here in Oakland, as they have their number tags from their lots, or city designation, whatever (make a note to figure out who is tracking those trees, officially).
The instructions on their front page say to find an object and then send a message:
Send a text in this format: “Hello” + Object Name + #Code e.g. “Hello Bin #B6291”…
Hmmm. I wonder how they let folks know what things are ahead of time. Maybe a list somewhere. I tried to list the objects in Austin at
http://hellolamppostaustin.com/objects, but got a reminder my clock was set correctly:
Your computer clock is set to 4/13/19. Make sure your computer is set to the correct date, time, and time zone in your system settings, and then refresh mapbuildr.com.
Of course we can’t tell if this is Austin’s instance use of
mapbuildr.com is bespoke, or if it affects all instances, but not great for spot checking.
Alright, let’s put that aside: how fun is it to chat at “things”? I don’t know, and I can’t find examples. Is it a chat-based virtual bulletin system, where one can text at things and others can check the chat logs for things, and that is fun?
A web-based take
If I were building something like this, I’d want to know, and show, how the objects are being talked to. And I’d show those conversations to everyone. Probably on a map.
But what if we kept it text-only? There are less transactions that way, surely. And we could run it like any other commenting system, and interact with folks that way. If they want to. Would you?
Without any examples, I’m not sure if this is a novel play service, or a useful civic discourse system. Of course it can be both, and ideally be decent all the same.
So often we are trying to draw attention to problem issues, with no prior designation. Potholes and and blind corners don’t get ID numbers. How does one “chat” at their morning commute, or air quality?
Also, we have other chat systems, XMPP or maybe RocketChat, something that can intergrate into existing tech stacks and take advantage of the latest in bot AI and neuro-linguistic… I’m gonna stop me right there. Those are stupid technologies to apply to humans in an unequal power balance, and shipping AI as code from a corp to users is leverage over the users.
I’ll think on that point, though it seems more and more that chatting should be reserved for humans and their personal systems, and collaborative interactions with physical reality should have systems in place to expose all the data everyone is using. Kind of a fundamental principle that hardly ever lands, but hey, we can build whatever we want, ne?