Friday, February 27, 2015

Locative Stories in Manhattan

Recently in New York Magazine, there was a mention of the Manhattan Before 1990 photo sharing group labelled "Brilliant" and "Highbrow."

Known for its impressive photos, mysterious locations identified, and great audience of photographers, art curators, historians, bloggers and local experts, I've been participating daily for much of the year posting some of the 1.5 million items I've mapped.  New York City is second to no other city in media assets available for curation.

The original, hard-to-find,  and exclusive photos this photo-sharing group offers are compelling daily. The regular identification of locations (content cartography)  kept me intrigued daily. The geo-sleuthing is unrivaled. But the addiction of this group has proven to be the live storytelling at places connecting people who offer unique personal stories.

Here is a sample locative story-telling experience.

A social media user shares a unique photo of Manhattan with photo credit, name of person, year and location.

There is an opportunity to like, share and comment to move the post up in the feed.

A photo thread offers new perspectives of the location and further identifies it as 7th Ave and 41st Street at and pinpoints the date further as June 1980.  More info is added. This is where Basquiat first had a public exhibit. 

Connections of people who were there surface including Fab Five Freddy himself aka Fred Braithwaite who tells us what he was doing in the photo.

Fab Five Freddy was featured in Blondie's video and song Rapture.

Others contribute to describe the area. "The scene" is re-created in the comment section.

The group has rapidly grown to nearly 12,000 members over the last few months.  It is one of the rare locative photo-sharing places I have seen with a daily habit formed. This is content cartography at its best.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Crossing Paths

A way to cross paths with what you love outside your circles.

A way to change your scene.

A way to remotely connect with ideas you love.

If I could sum up what I'd love to see most, this would be it.

The most glaring thing we noticed when curating the world's largest  GPS story atlas:  People go to the same places and scenes regularly. Home, work, and hangouts. People, for the most part, stay put.

Mobility is financially, vocationally and socially constrained to keep people in the same places.

New locations for exploration are sparse. New ways of connecting are sporadic among regular contacts in social media.

* * *

Leaving your circles for new stories would be a form of "reverse social media."

In theory, connecting to a new story could be similar to Pandora recommending a new song by parsing phrases of songs you already love. "Mutual" phrases shared by songs have the same resonance.

It is like tapping into a parallel universe.

If you like the Clash, chances are you like The Ramones. Chances are the Ramones and the  Clash shared a mutual place.  And chances are they will both be profile tagged together in one post.

This '"mutuality" can define a genealogy of taste.

Because you read a story about the Clash at the Roundhouse (London)....

You might also like stories about the Ramones who  were also there....

You might also like stories of Blondie who also played there...

Places define tastes.

If you like a story that took place here, chances are you will find stories you like at other places anyone at this place frequented. There is "locative  mutuality."

New story exploration can be made even more intelligent with "personal mutuality" and "curated mutuality."  Personal mutuality can be defined as having interacted with a tag - through a like, search, comment, follow, post or view.  Curated mutuality can be defined as having mutual tags, connecting curated posts like Wikipedia.

 Stories of Paul Simon, Television, Richard Lloyd, Fred Smith, Tom Verlaine, CBGB and Lisa Kristal have "curated mutuality" via mutual tags. 

A viewer will also often skew towards a specific interest in media consumption.

Curated posts can almost be categorized into 6 topics: 1) Movies 2) Photos of the Day 3) Music 4) Biographies and History 5) Literature and 6) Invention and Art. Common topics further connect posts in "curated mutuality."

We also experimented astrological mutualities: People who shared common anniversaries had similar outcomes regularly.  A horosocope came true daily.

So wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a new way to connect with people you don't know at  places that are about what you love?

Through this method, you can be matched with viewers who  have the most common "mutualities."  This can be as simple as having crossed paths with a common place in your histories.

Writers were at Frank Shay's Bookshop (4 Christopher, NY) at different times and signed this door. 

This adds another "mutuality" - how 3rd parties personally connected with places can connect posts further. If Ernest Hemingway stayed at a hotel in Paris and Joe likes Ernest Hemingway and you like Joe, chances are you might like that hotel and the stories there. 3rd parties can also rank the most interesting posts.

"Locative mutuality" can be defined as stories or connections  you have in common with a place. Or conversely, places you have in common with stories and connections.

The people who  have "mutualities" with you  can  in turn offer you  unique personal knowledge,  intriguing stories or cool pictures of a place. Comment sections in locative posts become more like answers in Quora about a place. 

The greater the curation, the greater the expertise becomes at a place. Quality attracts quality. So it is key to reward posts for quality. Curators might be voted Mayor of a place for best story or photo at a place, for example.

* * *

For the last little while, I've been meditating on what experiences I've had that I can't live without while participating in a new creative field.

Locative media combines both photo curation with location identification. The offspring is a new streetview that shows you  iconic stories and pictures geo-tagging history. Iconic moments are displayed street by street. They defined the topography of a place by narrative.

Movieview of Robert De Niro in Godfather II at 524 E 6th St, NYC

But a place like Central Park can have 1000s of stories, and a city like New York can have 8 million stories.  Stories nearby can also remain static to nullify regular exploration nearby. So how to filter stories for an exciting presentation for you became the next challenge as well as how to extend your exploration.  "Mutuality"is one way to understand what intrigues you most and can extend a path outside your circles.

* * *

It's no surprise notifications drive media consumption. But the question is how to make notifications less superfluous and more rewarding.

"Like" or new "follower" notifications may be more meaningful if the source is a peer of interest or expert in the field. Ranking profiles might make sense (e.g. by  how many likes an expert has and how many mutualities a peer might have with you).

Suzanne Vega favorited the places i mapped of her lyrics and life

Comment notifications might be more rewarding if they tell you stories you never knew about a place or profile you love. Photo threading can offer different perspectives of a post.

The posts with the greatest mutual personal connections tend to be the most popular. A viewer identifies most with a post where there is a personal connection.

* * *
After defining a way to measure "mutuality," the next question is how are these story results triggered? 

For convenience, we   considered integrating into something you love doing  regularly already as a digital activity.

It could be taking pictures, viewing pictures or curating pictures.  Imagine while doing this, you can learn something unique about the photo and the subject matter.  

Alternatively, we asked, what would compel you to leave what you love doing regularly to explore new stories -- out of your current radius of travel and social media usage.   Instead of a Google search, you might consider stories within six degrees of separation in a location, image or profile search. 

Stories (search results) are connected by "mutualities"

After spending much of the year observing communities that view interesting stories and photos and people who have a passion for finding their locations, this is a summary of what I saw people love most.

1. Visual feed showcasing refreshing and highly interesting photos. 
2. Mysterious locations identified for familiar images.
3. Personal connections with places and people that crossed paths with our past. 
4. Comments adding personal stories, facts and interesting images related to the post. 
5. Likes from experts

The only question that remained was how to make it efficient to showcase what you love most. Measuring mutualities could be the answer. The net effect is a Pandora for storytelling.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What drives habitual street viewing

For the longest time, I wanted to know where this 1950 Ruth Orkin photo was.

Many of her color photos were in Times Square so I focused on searching photos there, stopping for a while at's Grant's Cafeteria (220 W 42nd St)  with its similar light bulbs and ceiling windows near 7th Ave and 42nd St.

I felt I was close but for many months I was stumped.

During those months, I was participating daily in a Facebook group called Manhattan Before 1990 which rapidly surpassed 10,000 members. It combines curated photos of New York City with location identification.

Great New York photographers, historians, art curators, music chroniclers, bloggers, film buffs and locals share stories and unique photos of Manhattan on every block. It's one of a kind.

Geo-sleuth Nicholas West found the address of Ruth Orkin's (Irving's) Famous Malted Milk photo at 203 W 42nd St. It was right across the street from Grant's!  I was so close. Location identification is that humbling. 

Alexander Alland 1940 photo 
 Irving's Famous Malted Milk (203 W 42nd St)
Nedick's at 7th and 42nd St is left of Grant's

It's nothing I would have planned or predicted. But this group created an intriguing daily viewing habit (by the hour/minute)  I hadn't seen in any other geo-spatial community or photo feed. 

Some of the most mysterious photos had their locations unveiled in this Facebook group. 

In Martin Scorcese's After Hours (1985), the conversation between Griffith Dunne and Club Berlin's bouncer is adapted from Franz Kafka's Before the Law. The script says the punk bar was at West Broadway & Grand (NYC). But a sign for Spring St can be seen nearby. 

Club Berlin was actually at 296 Spring (at Hudson) in New York City. 

Alex Smith aka blogger Flaming Pablum likes to re-enact 
cultural moments with his kids seen at 296 Spring.

296 Spring was once Half Note Club
1959 jazz photo by Burt Glinn 

Cultural threading is common in this Facebook group which is used regularly to identify stories and locations associated with photos.

This group is the closest thing I've found related to what I've seen emerge after curating and geo-tagging 1.4 million pieces into stories and sharing featured posts daily for  years. 

Interesting and nostalgic photos related to movies, music, photos of the day and biographies are followed daily in a featured feed -  with an emphasis on location.  

 Al Pacino on the roof of 150 S 8th St, Willamsburg (Brooklyn) 

Francis Ford Coppola with Robert De Niro 
on set of Godfather II at 534 E 6th St (NYC)

It's become more interesting to me than any museum or gallery in New York City. 

In our own public displays,  social media feeds featuring similar posts (but from any region) have generated millions of views with very limited distribution.  In our case, every scene becomes a locative art exhibit as well  on location viewable with GPS. 

In the Facebook group, there's an instant reward in seeing a stunning unique photo and then seeing related stories and cool photos augmenting the story.  People who have been a part of New York City photography and local history participate in storytelling.  We learn a lot from each other. The group has attracted some of the most knowledgeable people of New York City and its cultural, visual and social fabric.  

That's key for impressive geo-browsing.  Beyond rich locative stories and visuals experts weave into a community, they also correct long-standing photo caption location mistakes made by libraries, museums, photographers and historians (duplicated many times by people who share them online).  

* * * 
Storytellers  who do locative detective work and gather historical and geographical artifacts are the core of this visual-spatial community.  And their results form the attraction for the growing viewership. A new kind of streetview is being created with rich imagery and storytelling.  One that generates hourly dialogue. 

In higher-caliber curation, we typically assume a viewer doesn't know any history and might not even care about the topic.  A distinctive visual and compelling story are paramount.  A location ID also makes any post interesting.  You can now compare a spot on location with how it once looked. 

For future locative products, we must assume a viewer has absolutely no patience and is frustrated by clutter. A viewer wants speed (convenience) and to retreat into sensual visual experience (inspiration).

As noted in a prior blog post, maps are simply too slow and too static to achieve this goal. Geo-spatial navigation needs rapid media browsing to be competitive and a way for instant communication with other viewers to share locative knowledge.

* * * 
In this era, "pleasant" notifications drive the growth of any digital media community. "Pleasant" being the key word. Each notification must have a reward for it to be gratifying. 

In the Facebook group, photographers and curators get notifications for "likes" from very knowledgeable people. 

It feels almost like winning an Oscar in terms of the caliber of peers who judge posts. Viewers are often notable photographers, historians, bloggers,  curators and locals with a passion for the hood. But the biggest reward is getting a juicy "comment" notification. One that tells you something you never knew. One that adds to your narrative or visual experience.  One that identifies a deeply mysterious location.  

Through collaborative geo-sleuthing, the buildings 
on the left were confirmed as 305 & 310 E 46th St. 

The detective work is impressive among local experts who love the thrill of investigation and discovery. The comments enrich the original post, sometimes even overshadowing the original post. The threads are highly educational for anyone who  considers themselves an expert on New York City, culture or photography. For others, the threads re-live what they love about a place. 

When experts forge a locative photography community, the collaboration yields faster location discoveries and a greater knowledge about a photo or place. Thrilling photo wikis emerge with deep knowledge, new discoveries and exclusive history reports. 

* * * 

This is the skeleton of the experience: 

0. See locations of featured posts in a feed.  Posts go up in the queue if someone comments or likes.

1. Post photo. Group identifies  location if not already known. 

2. See photos and stories related to  location. See nearby angles sometimes. 

3. See how much a photo is "liked" by notable photographers or knowledgeable New Yorkers.

4. View notifications of stories and photos in comments that  augment the narrative or visual experience for a locative post.

5. Share knowledge.  Add your stories and photos about a place in comments.  

6. Share locative post elsewhere. 

It is a regular occurrence that people on Facebook who are not even members of this group are asked to solve mysteries about a post. 

The posts that also offer a personal connection were the most popular. They are posts that crossed paths with your life, your history or ideas you love. 

Crossing paths with what you love - that's where we see the future of geo-browsing. Discovering more info about what you love is the reward you get from a community. 

* * *

Experimenting further...

In our own feeds, we added a daily birthday angle showing astrological connections. A horoscope can surprisingly be expressed in photos and stories that happened. They are the outcomes of the predictions.  Photos related to notable profiles were featured on their birthdays and illustrated clusters of similar outcomes among people born the same day. Profile birthday stories also vary locations and photos to be explored daily. A birthday story is also  topical everyday (trending in social media).  We also showed astrological stories on death anniversaries. 

A surprising number of "Americans" in history are also Closet Canadians. So we also uniquely highlighted that. It almost felt like half of Hollywood's roots were Canadian.   

Quotes of the day are added if a profile is a writer and expressed a personality for a visual horoscope. 

* * * 

Beyond this foundation, we considered tools for exploration. This was more for the pro-active searcher as opposed to an habitual viewer: 

1. Address/profile searches allowed you to see relational posts and surrounding geographical visual artifacts to identify a location. Each pin had a photo and story. 

2. Mutual tags  (geo-tag, profile/topic tag)  allowed you to jump to related posts. We soon discovered posts needed to be ranked when there are dozens of stories at a place. 

* * * 

The habitual street viewer behaves very differently from a typical map viewer or  social media user. There is a greater focus on stories, visual curation  and comparative geographical artifacts to help examine or identify a location. The comments call for others to share stories and photos related to a place. Many of these stories are exclusive.  New history is discovered about a place.