Toupix: What it really means (Part 2)

This is a braindump of my second post outlining the critical context of Toupix. It is likely to change, but at least allows me to anchor my thoughts so far. Other Posts: Part 1

To help allay fears of about photographic privacy, Toupix now implements a simple privacy system. However, being beta it should be handled with care. I've also implemented the beginnings of the XMLAPI publishing RSS feeds that users can subscribe to see photos, events and how they connect with other Toupix users. Again, these publications are subject to privacy restrictions; photos marked private will (or should) not be published through the XMLAPI.

This post outlines some of the spatial context of Toupix. This is the root theory from where the project originally started, and again is related to the complex (and expanding) networks created through the smart-mob culture. Toupix explores the social spaces we inhabit through our everyday lives, and offers an insight into the multiple perspectives of the crowd. Rather than just receivers, in today's culture have become powerful transmitters, able to broadcast ourselves and our knowledge across infinite space. This forces us to reconsider the distributions of knowledge perspectives. Nigel Thrift's (Spatial Formations, 1996) knowledge stocks explore knowledge from the perspective of the actor, and from the perspective of society. The event are the intricate connections we make with each other as we connect our spaces, what Thrift's model identifies as shared knowledge. The crowd is not a single organism (and must not therefore be observed as such); it is a multitude of interconnected cells actors (Thrift's term), each with its own outlook and interpretation on the greater space it creates. Within the smart-mobs culture, these cells now have the ability of intercommunication: feedback through and to the crowd, or organism. (Note that my project Transience goes into more detail on the changing nature of actors in the city space)

The greater space created through social interaction is the event. It is, in this context, the space generated as the cumulative effect of those actors who are present (spatially and temporally). When one actor captures the event through Toupix, they take photos of a social space as well as the (normal) visual space. This is the social context of a Toupix photograph. The social context describes the event and the interactions between the present actors. Once the social context is photographed, it can be used to map, over time, the changing social patterns of the user, their peers, or the 'crowd' as a whole. We can, in effect, create social albums in the same way we create photo albums, albeit in a far more fluid state. Social interactions change through time as they are often transient.

As people snapshot an event with Toupix, they chronical their perspective on that event. Of course, different perspectives on events have been captured through photography for many years, but their failure to recognise the social context of that event is where the capture model ends. The single perspective is unconnected, and thus a complete model of the event can never be built once it has passed (and at the speed of light, the passage is imperceptible).

With ubiquitous camera technology (primarily, the mobile cameraphone) came the ability to conjoin these perspectives, to group them by spatial context such that observers might begin to understand the event from the first-person rather than some overarching third-person. A more complete model was possible through visualising - and sharing - different perspectives on the same event. An example would be Flickr, where photos may be shared through contacts as well as spatial context (tags).

However, these models rely heavily on the user recognising shared perspectives, or on semantic 'scraping' technologies to aggregate and determine social connections. Whilst the Web2.0 platform and shift toward open information publishing (XML derivative technologies, such as RSS) has undeniably made recognising these connections through semantics more thorough and reliable, connections of a social context are still either reliant on human intervention, or else 'loosely' defined through those semantic systems.

Toupix changes that by leveraging passive connection technologies that are built into mobile devices. Rather than relying on semantic identification (or human intervention) to recognise connections between events, Toupix composes the social context of the photo at the time it is taken, using discovered (instead of composed) social space. These definitive connections, unlike their loosely defined counterparts, represent the socio-spatial makeup of the event.

As Web 2.0 continues to expand, and mobile technologies increasingly become part of our culture (the smart-mobs ), our ability to engage these social connections begins to have profound impact on our spatial context. This 'mobile2.0' mindset is where we find ourselves permanently interconnected, and able to explore those channeled connections and the perspectives they offer.