Following on from my look at image-based reconstruction of the buildings of a city, I want to explore another type of reconstruction; let’s call it psycho-social. While the image-reconstructions build a cloud of architectural feature points, location-tagged micro-blogging allows the formation of a cloud of social/emotional “enunciation points”.

With the announcement that Twitter will be building in support for latitude/longitude tagging, we are guaranteed a steady flood of points to build our Psycho-Social City.

The following is an example of what is being done with Twitter at the moment, without fine-grain location information:




Landscapes and Tweetscapes

My interests lie predominantly in the idea of space as a “practiced place” – our experience and understanding of a location laying beyond the geometric, and having a significant social component. This social component is read through others’ everyday, idiosyncratic, casually creative performance within a space; their spatial practices. The best example of this I can think of involves imagining you are alone in an urban park at twilight. Around a corner echoes the sounds of either breaking glass and shouting, or children laughing and playing. Consider how the audible trace of these spatial practices alters your experience of the park.

Micro-blogging combined with augmented reality hits social space from three fronts: First, it captures a trace of spatial practices that may otherwise go undocumented (You are here, doing this, seeing this…). Second, it folds back into our navigation and experience of places, and transforms the social communication of spaces (You are near, you ate here, you liked it…). Finally, it can be used (by, for example, the police) to repress unwanted spatial practices (They are there, doing this, right now.)

The potential power of this technology to build a rich, near-realtime map of a city has not gone unnoticed. While the the USGS is uses Twitter to determine the magnitude of earthquakes, advertising agencies are developing data mashups to track trends at postcode level. Twitter is certainly anticipating these uses:

“[…]Compelling context will be added to each burst of information. […] You could switch from reading the tweets of accounts you follow to reading tweets from anyone in your neighborhood or city—whether you follow them or not. It’s easy to imagine how this might be interesting at an event like a concert or even something more dramatic like an earthquake. “ (Twitter Blog)


Project Epic and Information Tools

Project Epic is a “multi-disciplinary, multi-university, multi-lingual research effort to support the information needs by members of the public during times of mass emergency“, recently launched and receiving a $2.8M grant from the US National Science Foundation. They have been monitoring the buzz of micro-blogging coming out of the recent Haitian earthquake, and are attempting to improve the clear communication of information and help requests:

“The Haitian earthquake has led to the spontaneous use of Twitter to communicate about missing people, request help of various kinds, and other disaster-related needs. [Project Epic] is promoting ‘Tweek The Tweet’, a collection of defined hashtags (‘beacons’) and related microsyntax.”

The proposed microsyntax is designed based on realworld scenarios and messages. For example, the message

Altagrace Pierre needs help at Delmas 14 House no. 14.


#haiti #name Altagrace Pierre #need help #loc Delmas 14 House no. 14.

Assuming total trust and transparency when Tweeting, such microsyntax could support a localised community support network ranging from freecycling to getting urgent medical attention (First-Aiders keeping tabs on the “#need” search results in their area). Using such a casual, vernacular communication system for something so serious has major issues though. Tweets can tell lies. Tweets can be read by the stalking school gunman. Tweets can incriminate. How will our City look if we start fearing the walls we build?