Monday, July 12, 2004

Locality: the next big thing?

The internet and the cell phone have made the world one large community. It no longer matters where you are; you can communicate with anyone. In a brief column/blog entry (Social Lives of a Cell Phone) Eric Bender describes Dodgeball, a service that tells you whether anyone you know is within shouting distance.
"You take out your mobile phone and tap in the name of the restaurant where you're hanging out. You get a list of friends, and friends of friends, within 10 blocks. You can message each other about getting together, and maybe send a photo of yourself. 'We're taking social software off the desktop and moving it into the environment where people actually socialize' ... ."
The fact is, we now live in two worlds, the physical world of streets, buildings, trees, automobiles, and flesh, and the internet world. Dodgeball is the latest in an growing list of services that integrate these worlds. The most famous is the GPS location system. Others include map services like MapQuest and and their ability to tell you what stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. are near a given physical location.

Another way of looking at these services is that they extend our traditional senses. With GPS it is as if we had the ability to sense our latitude/longitude locations. Migrating birds seem to have a variant of this sense. With Dodgeball it is as if we had an extended sense of vision that enabled us to sense people we know anywhere within a given radius.

A service that I as a Los Angeles driver have often wanted was one that told me the status of the freeways along the possible routes that I was considering. We have had radio traffic reports for a long time. But I can't seem to find them when I want them. And they generally aren't specific enough. Also, they seem to report the traffic conditions backwards. First they describe a condition; then they tell you where the condition exists. If I'm driving along waiting to hear whether the route I am on has a problem, I don't listen very closely until I hear the name of my freeway. By that time the condition that applied to that freeway has already been described, and they are on to something else!

There is even a web site with pretty much the information I want. RIITS, the Regional Integration of Intelligent Transportation Systems project, sponsored by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, provides realtime information about the freeway system. I just don't have an easy way to access it while I'm driving.

What all these services do is to use technology to give us additional perspectives on our environment. In fact we have been doing that for a long time: consider telescopes and microscopes. What's new is that perspectives are now being created for our personal environments. These new perspectives provide in-context social information, not just physical information.

No comments: