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So. You are walking down the street on hot summer afternoon in Brooklyn, when you see a fire hydrant gushing water with a gang of happy kids playing in it. “Good times,” you reflect nostalgically as you dodge the spray and keep strolling down the block. You remember what it was like being a kid yourself doing the same thing in the dead of summer. Your mind wanders and you start to think about fire hydrants themselves and their history and the laws strictly prohibiting people from wastefully opening them up like that. When you round the next corner you see another hydrant, and this one hasn’t been opened for recreational purposes. On the side of it you are pleased to find a small sticker placed there by another citizen, because that sticker will enable you to access more information about fire hydrants, their history, and the laws about opening them up for play. You snap a picture of that sticker with your phone and it immediately links you to the appropriate Wikipedia article “fire hydrant”, while the GPS determines your location and the appropriate location based information to push to you.

OK, the fire hydrant is a slight bizarre example, a bit of a stretch, but its been hotter than hell in NYC lately and this story illustrates what Semapedia.org does.

Visit the site, it’s a really cool idea- filling out a form on their website will create 2D barcodes for you that correspond to any Wikipedia article. It gives you a pdf of that barcode and then you can print stickers that you attach to a real world artifact “once you have permission”. Part two of the venture is installing a 2D barcode reader on your phone, which taps into the camera function (some phones come with them already installed, others you’ll have to sort out on your own). Then snap a picture of any 2D barcode and it will take you to the appropriate URL. Here’s a link to a project at Columbia where someone built a 2D barcode reader for the iPhone that can recognize URLs embedded in QR codes. Unfortunately, because Apple is all about driving you to their not so mom-and-pop App Store for everything, with the 2.0 upgrade I haven’t figured out how to install a 2D barcode reader on my phone. If any readers can help, please email me.

But wait, is hyperlinking the world’s objects an appropriate end game? I don’t think so. I went to a publisher’s showcase at New York Public Library this afternoon and decided to walk all the way back home to Greenpoint, Brooklyn from 42nd st. The urban hike is a beautiful thing, don’t knock it- even if some fools try to turn it into a networking experience. Along my way I was snapping pics on my phone and sending them to FaceBook mobile, documenting my path and my thoughts as I passed through the city. I love the graffiti aspect of the Semapedia project: literally “tagging” things with information. But what if you customized your own version of this technology and made the barcodes you place on objects link not to Wikipedia but to your own site. You could “virtually” slander or promote a physical target via one tiny barcode. You could create your own narrative of your urban hike, based on fleeting memories, random nostalgic associations, déjà vu, ANYTHING. While I appreciate the “information commons” aspect of Semapedia, the first thing I think of is customizing and personalizing the thing and making Sema-Nate-O-Pedia so that I can create my own narratives of the city and my daily journeys through it. I’d put those damn stickers everywhere! I’ll add that I think this is part of what the artists are experimenting with in the Marfa webring project proposed on Rhizome, but I’d love to see that taken to the next level and made individual rather than awkwardly pseudo-municipal.

Bottom line: I’m less interested in a physical-computing encyclopedia of the world’s objects than I am in a physical-computing encyclopedia of the world’s object versus me. That’s not vanity, that’s just the way individuals interact with the world, as individuals. The collectives will form by themselves later.

Update: looks like this is easy enough to do with this QR code generator!  Awesome!  Now i just need a reader for the iphone…

Update again:  I got a datamatrix decoder to work on my iphone!  awesome! 

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One Comment

  1. whoa! totally cool!

    this would be so awesome for urban hikes. or even jogging tours of a city. love it nate! thanks for sharing your take.


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