Showcasing St. Louis’ virtual and physical vitality

The suggestively named St. Louis collective “Brain Drain” has come up with an interesting idea to display what they termed the city’s “creative talent.” Seeking to counter the general view of St. Louis as a sleepy city, they’ve designed a system to display, both physically and virtually, the vitality and human capital of the place.

The physical visualization would be comprised of light beacons spread throughout the city, equipped with proximity sensors so that they would grow brighter when people approached them. They would also serve as additional lighting and landmarks for the urban landscape.

In the virtual realm, users would be able to access a on-the-fly heat map of the city’s activities, which would combine the beacon sensors with social media information such as Tweets, Foursquare check-ins, Flickr pictures, etc.

Another branch of the physical system would be creating digital kiosks that could display this information, so people could find activities going on in the city as they are happening.

PS: I was pretty scared about one statistic mentioned in the video: that 1/4 mile is generally the longest distance people are willing to walk before resorting to a car (so that would be the radius of the beacons’ coverage).

Loacation-based Services

In the beginning, there was Dodgeball.

No, not that Dodgeball. Dodgeball was a service to which you could text your location and other members of your service would receive the information with the potential of meeting up with you (or robbing your house if you’re not home). You could also receive information such as crushes, friends, friends’ friends and interesting venues nearby. Dodgeball, created in 2000, was purchased by Google in 2005 and discontinued in 2009, superseded by Google Latitude. One of the makers of Dodgeball went on to create Foursquare.

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Foursquare exists somewhere between reality and the virtual realm. While users can “check in” to physical venues, they can also earn “badges” for certain activities and if someone checks in to the same place more than anyone else they become the “Mayor” of that place. Foursquare has also worked out arrangements with businesses to offer specials to users, frequent visitors and especially the Mayor. Checking in is a manual process, developers citing technical issues such as the i-phone not allowing applications to run in the background as well as the drain on battery power that the GPS has. What is not mentioned on their site, however, are the privacy concerns. was one of the first websites to point out how exposed people were with geo-tagged social media technology.

Foursquare is making use of many of the technologies we’ve discussed in class and some we haven’t. PostGIS, MapBox, OpenStreetMap are used as well asĀ Google’s s2 library to store cell IDs for geo-indexing and dataset to reverse geocode addresses into coordinates.

Opting-in to share your location may be a nice option for some but as we have seen you don’t need to be a Foursquare member or opt-in to anything to unintentionally divulge your location with unintended results.