Cos (cos) wrote,

Wiffiti spreads

Here's one of those "What I've been up to" posts that are so rare on my LJ :)

Since January I've been working part time for a company in Davis Square called LocaModa, helping them develop, roll out, and promote an experiment of theirs called Wiffiti. A Wiffiti screen is a flatscreen bulletin board. To post messages to it, rather than tacking on pieces of paper, you text to it from a cell phone. The screen just sits there displaying the texts people have posted to it - as new ones come in, older ones progressively fade away. Here's what the Wiffiti screen at Someday Cafe in Davis Square looks like right now:
    [thumbnail image of Someday Wiffiti screen]
(that's a live link, updated every few minutes to show what's on Someday's screen - click for full size)

LocaModa is a startup, exploring concepts they call "the web outside" - basically, ways to bring networked/online culture to physical places, rather than just people sitting at computers. They've got another product, StreetSurfer, that they actually make money from, so they're experimenting with Wiffiti to see what people will do with it.

I joined them not only because I thought the concept was a lot of fun, but because I like the way they think about it. They don't want to prescribe ahead of time what it's for, they want to put it out there and watch, and let the applications evolve. They're open-minded about the possibilities - flirting, social networking, political organizing, community information, roommate ads, etc. - as well as the certainty that they haven't thought of everything. The people built the initial Internet thought it was mainly for remote computer user, and didn't think of email. The people who started the web didn't include graphics, and the first browser was text-only. Their inventions succeeded because they built open, flexible structures, and made them available, and welcomed new kinds of use.

I just ran across a cute blog post about Wiffiti, titled What's next: Bluetooth brain implants?
    [... ] not only does it represent the next step in blogging &emdash; although the cell-to-screen systems are localized, they're connected to the web, where viewers can see what's happening on all of the local installations &emdash; but a further decentralization of communications authority as well; s a safe bet that some people and groups really will use the technology for social causes and organizational purposes.
Actually, the cell-to-screen systems are not localized: Once you've been to a venue and know a screen's code, you can send a message to it from anywhere you have cell service. Or, you could just look at the screen shot on the web site, see the code there, and learn how to text to any screen. Most messages on each screen come from people at the venue, but we do get some from elsewhere - usually people familiar with the venue, who have been there before. That, plus the fact that anyone on the Internet can see images of all the screens, is part of what I think makes it so cool, and have untapped potential. And I have experimented with using it for social/community purposes and political organizing.

Here are some saved screen shots, and I've been saving links to articles and blog posts about Wiffiti at

The biggest obstacle to interesting things I think of trying with Wiffiti, is that there aren't screens in enough places yet. It's really nice to be able to text to Davis or to Central, and it's fun to text to Good Time when the 48 Hour Film Project has showings there, but most of the time when I'd like to text something location-specific, there isn't a screen at that location.

... and that's part of my job: find places that want Wiffiti screens. I got our first three away-from-Boston locations, though one of those fell through. The other two are up: Filter, a cafe in Wicker Park, Chicago; and Hurricane Cafe, a 24 hour diner in Seattle. This week, two more went live, at Half Fast Subs in Boulder CO, and Tommy Nevin's Pub in Evanston IL (Chicago metro).

Another part is getting people to know these screens are there and start using them, so that we can see what they think of and do with them. Already we've been surprised by marriage proposals and people using Wiffiti to tell people they're running late; we've enjoyed the flirting, the surrealism at Someday, the wordplay everywhere. There' even been some lively meta-debates on occasion.

Help me out? If you live here in Camberville, or in Seattle, Chicago, or Boulder, visit these places with a friend and try out the screens. Tell other people in your city about them. Let me know what you see, be it amusing, boring, surprising, interesting, or bothersome. When dahling, ambrosiaoferis and I stopped by Toscanini's a few months ago and starting posting messages, a couple of other tables of people we didn't know got in on the act and hilarity ensued.

Do you know a place that might be interested in trying this out? Somewhere lots of people go in and through for much of the day, that draws a young crowd comfortable with text messaging? An independent business that doesn't have a lot of multilevel bureacracy, or a public or civic venue that you're involved with and could help get through the bureaucracy? If they get a sponsored screen (see those screenshots with the "ntwrk truth" logo and URL in the corner - those are sponsored) then it's entirely free. Or if they already have a flatscreen display that wants a better use :)

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