Lots of “location-based” software applications are being developed for wireless use, thanks to the growing user base of cell phones, palmtop computers, consumer GPS devices, and other pocket-sized devices that allow users to indicate their locations and receive information based on where they are. Most of these applications are designed to make it easier to find and purchase nearby consumables or help people find their way around or access needed services in an unfamiliar environment.
Such applications clearly have the potential to make life more convenient. However, they also change the experience of place. Some cultural critics believe that these applications make people more in different to their environments, since the electronic device eliminates the need to get to know the place on its own terms. (No need to ask a local where the post office is; just punch the query into your handheld map.) Other applications may reduce the experience of place to the consumer transactions available there. (Seen through Vindigo, the neighborhood of Chelsea becomes a list of restaurants, shops, nightclubs and movie theaters.)
Today, mobile computers and wireless networks make it possible to publish and deliver such experiences to anyone with an Internet-connected phone, laptop or palmtop. In the near future, as hardware gets cheaper and wireless networking technologies such as WiFi grow more common in the environment, the range of opportunities will be even greater.
Prototype: Annotate Space DUMBO
The prototype Annotate Space experience is an electronic walking tour of the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). The tour is designed be used on a graphics-and Internet-capable palmtop computer while walking around the neighborhood.
The content takes advantage of unique opportunities offered by this digital, networked platform. It blends historical information with current events, incorporates both passive and participatory exploration, and lets users write and post their immediate, on-site responses to the places and people they encounter. To optimize use by small groups, the tour offers variant versions to be downloaded by different group members. Group members are thus be exposed to somewhat different sets of community viewpoints, providing an opening for small group discussion along the tour route.