Socializing Location Awareness – “the New Black:”
Interview with Chris Brogan

Sat, Mar 14, 2009


Om Malik just wrote that he was surprised by the number of location-aware mobile services being launched in Austin, Texas, SXSW Festival this year in his post, “SXSW, Location Awareness Is The New Black.” I am not surprised.  The Mobile Meet Social, Tech Meetup in New York City in February was abuzz with new location aware applications and platforms for location based services.

I have been fortunate to attend a number of the key conferences this year. I am just back from ETech 2009 brimming with ideas and interviews for posts, and I am just catching up with publishing my interviews from Tools of Change 2009!  At TOC I did an interesting interview with Chris Brogan on how location awareness will change social media.  The web is flowing out into the world and questions of  who YOU are, WHERE you are, WHAT you are doing, WHAT is around you are becoming central to the rapidly emerging internetworked world.  TOC explored the digital future of books and heralded the transition of books into “everyware,” (see my interview with Adam Greenfield author of “Everyware: The Dawning of the Age of Ubiquitous Computing”).

There were many highlights for me at TOC 2009, including Nick Bilton’s keynote, “The Narrative is Changing: Sensors, Social Editors and the New Storytelling.” Nick developed some of these ideas further at ETech where I had the pleasure of playing Werewolf with Nick, Jane McGonigal, and many other ETech presenters and attendees. Nick is seated to the right of Jane (center) – click to enlarge. Jane is demonstrating the attitude of a werewolf to noobs to the game like me. Nick Bilton by the way is an accomplished werewolf (in case one day you find yourself as an innocent villager, seer, or healer defending yourself against him), for more photos of Werewolf at ETech see my Flickr stream.    Also see this excellent write up of Nick Bilton’s talk at ETech, “Sensors, Smart Content, and the Future of News,” by Richard MacManus.


Peter Brantley’s, “Literature as a (Web) Service,” talk at TOC also elaborated a theme, “literature as a service,” that was developed more broadly at ETech where Mike Kuniavsky of Thingm brilliantly presented on things as services (much more coming on this soon!).  Brantley, at TOC, concluded with an invocation for the future of machine parsed books.  And Bob Stein’s, “A Book is a Place”, Tim O’Reilly’s “Reasons to be Excited,” and Google’s  Jon Orwant’s update on Google’s quest for the holy grail, “converting images to original intent XML,” should not be missed (you can watch the videos here). Enjoying the serendipity particular to conferences,  I had a very inspiring long lunch conversation with  Ben Vershbow about “Books as Spimes” – more on this too soon!

Tim O’Reilly’s talks were inspiring at Tools of Change and ETech. His finger is on the pulse as always. Tim O’Reilly’s big vision is richly informed by  his own lived engagement with tools of change. Tim does not merely narrate how Twitter can facilitate publisher/curator relationships with authors and content, he is part of the evolution of Twitter as a publisher’s medium, through his own creative use. Also see these two key posts by O’Reilly Radar’s Joshua Michele-Ross on Forbes, The Rise of the Social Nervous System and a follow up by Tim,  The Social Nervous System Has More Than One Sense.

Tim’s  keynote for ETech is perhaps one of the best invocations and elaborations of a theme he has been developing in recent months – “work on stuff that matters” (see this excellent summary in Venture Beat).

In  my post, “Towards a Newer Urbanism: Talking Cities, Networks, and Publics with Adam Greenfield,” Adam makes some interesting comments on “the networked book” and  “unbooks.” Adam’s upcoming book, The City Is Here For You To Use,  is evolving as somewhat of an unbook.  Unbooks are, he writes:

“a container for long-form ideas appropriate to an internetworked age” and an approach that “can usefully harness the dynamic and responsive nature of discourse on the Web. At the same time, you preserve the things books are really good at: coherence, authorial voice and intent.”

Unbooks draw on lessons from the “open source” approach in software – version control, open-endedness to inform a collaborative development of books (this is an approach Usman Haque has taken to environments and cities – Urban Versioning System, for more see my interview with Usman here).

It seems fiiting that as I began writing this post an email came in from my friend Steve Fagin inviting me to The Last Book Project in LA, April 26th, 2009 – save the date.  Steve, is a brilliant artist, director, and impresario (please check out one of his early films, The Machine That killed Bad People, 1989 which was how I first became aquainted with his work).  Steve writes:

“Our vain glory is the attempt to resurrect the medieval illuminated manuscript through the invocation of our current alchemy, the new technologies, to conjure a future the past in reverse.”

The Last Book project’s illustrious team  include’s China’s “best bad girl novelist,” Mian Mian, as the reader of the Last Book.

The mobile phone is leading the charge into ubiquitious computing (although more immersive forms of experience will not be far behind (see my earlier post here). Note in Japan, “half the top selling books are WRITTEN on mobile phones.” While the “total spimy revolution isn’t here yet” – see “What Bruce Sterling Actually Said About Web 2.0 at Webstock 09,” we are blowing holes in “the spider’s web” of the end to end internet.

Since the NewYorkTech Meeetup – Mobile Meets Social, I have been thinking about the question: “How do timeliness and location-independence affect social media?”

This is a core question as David Oliver pointed out to me after the meetup (interview with David and Nathan Freitas upcoming).  David and Nathan are the principles of  Oliver + Coady a company focusing on Mobile/Social/Architecture  – also see Nathan’s blog for more.

At Tools of Change, I had the opportunity to talk with the social media guru and uber blogger Chris Brogan.

You can catch up on Chris’ TOC workshop, “Blogging and Social Media,” -  here (also see my Posterous here, “Smart Phones the Gateway Toy in Everyone’s Pocket”).

Interview with Chris Brogan

Tish Shute: I have been thinking about the question that David Oliver (principle of Oliver + Coady with Natahan Freitas) put to me: “How do timeliness and location-independence affect social media?” Mobility, is the key as David points out, NOT mobile as in a desktop in your hand, but timeliness (you do things when you need them) and location independence (you do things where you need them.

Chris Brogan: There’s a theory that I’ve been working on and I’ve typed a little bit into my blog from time to time where I call it ‘the secrets of the annotated world’. What I’m saying is, where I’ve experienced differences in Brightkite as applied to the iphone. When I first ever used Brightkite, I didn’t like it. The app didn’t do anything for me on the desktop. But when the iphone app came about, because it sucked my location off of my iphone, it said “can I tell people where you are?” And I’d say, “Why yes.” So what I’d do with it wasn’t so much talk to my friends and have a location element to it.  What I would do is I’d talk of the location. You know, “I’m at the Roger Smith hotel on 47th and Lex and they have a nice quaint little bar.”  And I would note, “try the pear fused gin.”

So what I’ve done is I’ve left a note in time and also in space. So now if another Brightkite user, and this is an example but I think this extrapolates to other places.. and I’ll think about a clearing house of space. What I think is that another Brightkite user who now comes somewhere near that space and who says what information, who said anything nearby where I am right now, will see I was at the Roger Smith Hotel, I had the pear fused gin it’s delicious. Oh! I like gin maybe I’ll try that. I think I’m helping put signposts up in space and time such that other people will come and read these glyphs that nobody else can see. And that’s sort of the imagery I have.

I think there’s an opportunity with this. One I think there’s an opportunity for this data to port across more places. I understand that in the data, if you own the customers then you own the future. But, if you don’t do it then somebody like Google will do it and I think that what will happen is Google maps will own this idea of you can add notes to a place. Google Local does this right now on the desktop,  so if I look up my local pizza place I now have would you like to write a review about it?  Would you add more info to the story?  And I thought, “wow this is getting there, except I still can’t see it nicely on my phone,” but now Google Locate arrives and now maybe I can.

So I think what it adds to social isn’t … Dodgeball tried awhile back and theirs is more like where are you, where are you, where are you. This is great if you’re a very mobile tribe, not everyone is. But from time to time we wander through different pieces of space and we would run across this information that would tie us more to the space. And so I’m passionate about how do I annotate and how do I maybe do more equipping. It’s interesting to me that Yelp as a restaraunt review product doesn’t have input from an iphone.  So in lieu of, I mean it lets me ask what reviews are up on the site, but in lieu of that  I can then put my restaurant reviews in Brightkite and then anyone can come find them based on time and space not based on a fixed site.

Tish Shute: I suppose it is hardly surprising (if disappointing to me) that some of the early location based services are trying to get mindshare by picking up on the glue celebrities give to mass culture. At the last New York Tech Meetup, OMGICU demoed a rather terrifying new pre-launch location based “participatory celebrity gossip application” which seems to combine all the worst features of social media with celebrity stalking, plus a narrative to change the notion of celebrity itself by “turning D listers into A listers.”

Chris Brogan: It raises a really interesting question because I’m willing to divulge my information freely. I’m not willing to divulge my family’s information. I don’t ever point out where they are in the world. One criticism that people have had when I use a product like Brightkite, is they’re saying you’re identifying that you’re not at your home. But I’m also telling people I’m not at conference. There’s lots of things, it’s not Brightkite telling them that. Its everything I do, it’s my blog. I’m not afraid of that. But I am interested in the negative impact of people doing that OMGICU thing because maybe I don’t want people to know I’m in Wyoming working with a client who maybe doesn’t want the world to know I’m working with them. It might be under non-disclosure. Or I might not want people to know which town exactly  I live in or where exactly my house is.

There’s some beautiful things that can be done on location, Wired had a big piece in their magazine about some location things. even that doesn’t get to the crux of the things I would do with it. Look at my analogy of annotating, I’ll put tags in the air that you’ll come and stumble across. Why can’t I find caches of these – like geocaching – why can’t I find caches of data that only exist in place. Why can’t I find data that’s … now I’m talking more like Gibson and Neuromancer.  But why can’t I find pods of data that can only be accessed by being in a locale.

Tish Shute: Have you seen Wikitude?  Something like Wikitude would be really great with some social tools.

Chris Brogan: Anywhere where it is possible to have all those hands raise up the load it is so much better because things get done faster, they get done more effectively. I am never going to get over to Williamsburg in Brooklyn and hang out there.  But if someone else was doing it I could always get the mapping, and I would know where I would want to hang out if I did. So I think these tools cry for this. The hint of this was in the Batman movie when he used eveyone’s phone to make a picture. The technology was obviously more vivid for a film sense.  But that is not unlike what we are doing with things like Twitter.

Tish Shute: One of the things I really like about Twitter is a a sense that i can drop in and out of the stream.  Is Twitter is the best current example of timeliness and social media?

Chris Brogan: I think that Twitter’s a great example, Twitter filters the noise out. If you search twitter, there’s a trending topics thing, that tells us now here are the top 6 trends going on at the moment. And so you can see when something surfaces that matters to you. Or you can search and try to aggregate.  So for example when the Australia fires story was breaking for a little while the only news you got was just links back to other peoples news. Then what we were searching for there was specifically this gentleman named Paul Mooney, and he was searching for first hand accounts. That was harder to get through twitter. But it’s almost like calling it out. It’s imagined in a game sense, we’re all in a big room, it’s almost like Marco Polo in the water. Maybe there’s 10 people and there’s one of us blind and he has to send out a ping, and all 10 ACK that they’re there somewhere. Well I think that the social meets presence type of things deal with, can you bubble that information up to me so that I hear it through the din and can you direct me to things that I shouldn’t normally have access to, that through my own senses cannot find.

Tish Shute: Without underestimating the value of social media  (as a blogger I owe much to social media), do you think though we need to develop different and more nuanced social tools as the web reaches out further into who YOU are, WHERE you are, WHAT you are doing, WHAT is around you?

Chris Brogan: There’s a lot to be said about the whole friends quote unquote equation  But I don’t understand, I mean believe me in the business sense I do, but I do not understand the amnesia that happens. When I go over and jump on any of those new services that you just showed me, I am now forced to go refind my friends. So the very first thing I need to do is cure my amnesia. Oh we’re friends here too? Oh I like that we’re friends. Why not here? Like open social but not like data portability. I need to carry my network with me. And another sort of future trend is that I also want private areas where it’s sort of the velvet rope social network, if you will. Right now we’re in the media area here. If we were doing this out in the hallway, then I’d get however many folk from that session. If we weren’t hitting the afternoon sessions, it’s say “Hey, great speech whatever or horrible speech I think you’re terrible.” We’d be bothered. So I think as we join the stalkerati, and as we know where everyone is all the time, we now often need a sort of “hush mode” that lets us go off and do some things in sort of small clusters.

The one number we’re up against is Dunbar’s number of 150 people. I’m fascinated by that because on twitter I have 40 thousand people, and I follow 36 thousand. I clearly don’t know what 36,000 people are doing. So what I’ve done instead, I’ve sort of wired a phone network. So I can ring you because I have this access to you, but I don’t always listen in on every conversation. Instead I dip in when I need to and otherwise I’ll wait until you come in. I use Tweet Deck like you do. I have one call in for @replies, I have one call in for my last name because sometimes people don’t form it right. And then direct messages and then the regular stream. The regular stream, I’ll see stuff go by and I’ll comment on as, but let’s just do quick math – 40 thousand people 1 percent of that is 400 people. 1 tweet each per day for 1 percent of my people would fill that screen for some time. So I can’t field all your conversations. But what I can do, as I demonstrated in my presentation, I use search a lot and I fall onto those conversations and then talk to people that way. So I’m using Twitter differently than most. And then the goal is to extrapolate that out until we find that there’s a bunch of journalists and people talking about journalism talking on this thing called journchat which is a Twitter group of people, and the only way to do that is to follow a tag. The beauty of such an option is in the way that the web could be TV, and still hasn’t in a meaningful way, in that I can deliver very exactly what someone wants to them. We don’t see the parity of that yet in a lot of spaces, and we haven’t really found the perfect ways to monetize the effort that’s there.

Clearly this is the magic. We were talking about this more than a decade ago. But it never came out the way we said. You were talking about the forward thinking part of it. I was in wireless technology for years. It just never was really there fast enough, and the reason was, of course, because the telco’s don’t really want to innovate. There’s no motivation to. They’re making money as it is. Telecoms adopted when VOIP looked like it was going to crush them. And so they absorbed it. and so they may or may not absorb location as a service. They might absorb presence as a service.

That’s my speech tomorrow. I stole most of my idea from Jeff Holver’s line. Jeff Holver said young people today bring their own dial tones with them. That means if you think of our US election, one person won and the other person lost. and the other person who lost was ringing everybody’s land line home phone numbers. And the person who won was on facebook and twitter and myspace and text messaging and all those sources. So dial tone as we understand it to make a telephone call is nothing like it used to be. When you call a home that’s where you call to ask a question. But that’s not, I mean I have a cell phone, my wife has a cell phone, there’s a land line but we never pick up the land line because it’s usually some calling about a bill we didn’t pay. So we listen to the message, pay the bill and we’re done.

Tish Shute: I have to ask you this as you are THE expert on the business of social media, how will people make money out these new services?

Chris Brogan:
Honestly I’m really surprised that more of these things aren’t willing to try a subscription model. At the volume I use twitter, I mentioned if I do one tweet a day it goes out to 40000 people. So every time I do that it writes 40K records in 40K different accounts if you think of it as a database. Twitter technically should charge me. Maybe there’s other services they can offer in sort of a premium model, so there’s a free to premium kind of a plan. That’s how companies can make the money. I don’t know when we stopped feeling like we should pay for software.

I don’t know that we know just yet but I don’t think that there’s a business model for the phone except for subscription. So if twitter is to be the new phone it’s a subscription product. But you know, the iphone store, there’s people selling 99 cent to 5 dollar product and it’s going well. I’ve bought 6 apps now.

I think as we’re defining the etiquette and as we’re starting to understand how social platforms in general do and don’t work. I think what we’re finding is that people are having to relearn their business communications skills, not their marketing or their sales skills, because the old ways that we were trying to market were getting more and more frenetic, and getting more pushy, and more and more the walls came up and no one wanted to pay attention anymore. That’s where we are as a group in the western world for the most part. So now what we’re doing is we’re rediscovering relationships. I’ve talked to people from Tyson Foods. Why should I ever care about a company that sells chicken nuggets, except that I have a small child. So I’m finding conversations like that all the time. I think that’s what’s going to happen. I think there’s sales there. I think the problem is that the numbers are a little more wiley.  And I think that the numbers are a little more hops down the stream instead of direct. I can argue till the cows come home that you buying a post card and shipping out to a pile of people isn’t worth the money. But you at least can say well I got 45 sales out of those 5 thousand post cards that cost me this much. I got 45 sales and that numbers higher than this number, we did well.

Tish: I can see you are being called to your next meeting. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!

categories: architecture of participation, Augmented Reality, culture of participation, Instrumenting the World, Mixed Reality, mobile meets social, Mobile Technology, new urbanism, online privacy, Paticipatory Culture, privacy and online identity, social media, ubiquitous computing, Web 2.0
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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Twitter Icon Guy Says:

    I think Chris nailed it when he said “think what we’re finding is that people are having to relearn their business communications skills, not their marketing or their sales skills”

    Great interview, thanks!

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