Hyperlocal websites and augmented reality – hypARlocal

Talk About Local is working on an experiment to bring public service content from hyperlocal websites into the world of augmented reality. We want to make it easy for people who run hyperlocal websites, the sort of folk we bring together at our unconferences, to consistently put their work into an augmented reality environment. Most stuff published in augmented reality environments (AR) right now is commercially-driven and often uninspiring. We wanted to bring some of the public service ethos of hyperlocal sites into AR and in so doing start a conversation about geotagging with hyperlocal publishers.

This is a continuation of our long term thinking at Talk About Local on futures for hyperlocal publishing and means of local content delivery. We are convinced that geotagging of the great public service stuff people write or photograph for hyperlocal sites is important as people use their mobiles more and more – see n0tice for instance. And AR is a fascinating demonstration of what geotagging can do.

Hyperlocal bloggers write content that is specific about a place, often very specific – a particular building or street corner. The days of AR as ‘geeks with glasses’ or huge headsets staggering around the corridors of MIT are now largely past.  Talk About Local is working with mobile phone based augmented reality applications. When you hold your phone’s camera up to see the street in front of you augmented reality apps arrange information from the blog in say speech bubbles on screen hovering over the thing that they relate to. Two factors combine to label things you can see through the camera:

  • the hyperlocal blog post has a ‘geo-tag’ with the latitude and longitude of the place that the post relates to within its HTML, and
  • the smart phone has a GPS receiver and inertial compass so that the phone knows where it is an in which direction it is facing.

Augmented reality on mobiles is just breaking through to the mass market as the apps stabilise, the phones become more powerful and gain higher bandwidths and GPS. Mike Rawlins of PitsnPots first showed phone-based AR to me a couple of years ago and I thought at the time that it was ‘a bit Bladerunner/Terminator’. Even now it still has something of a wow factor.  Recently there has been huge excitement about Google’s Project Glass but for that to work fully there needs to be much more accurately geotagged content out there.

We approached The Nominet Trust for funding for a technology demonstrator, focussing mainly on public service content and they partnered with innovation funder NESTA just as NESTA was starting up its Destination Local programme. Talk About Local is delighted to be funded by these partners in a project we call hypARlocal (apologies for the cheesiness, it was late at night, we had a form to fill in etc and at least i haven’t used SoLoMo so far).

In hypARlocal with some volunteer hyperlocal websites we are looking at:

  • geotagging content
  • pushing geotagged content into different AR environments
  • exploring those environments
  • talking with people as they use AR, including users with disabilities. And in general
  • blogging this as we go.

This is an experiment and consumer facing AR and geotagging services are relatively new stuff. The process isn’t easy, many things don’t quite work as advertised nor always do what a local blogger might want them to. We want to learn lessons and share them so that others don’t have to. As well as feed back to software and platform developers what independent local publishers might want from their products.

It’s great fun also to be working on this with the talented developer Adrian Short. Much of what we learn and publish will be far more generally applicable than to hyperlocal sites. And many of the things we try won’t work, which is why it’s great to be working with funders and partners who understand innovation. Useful suggestions, tips, trackbacks would be welcome in the comments.  Watch this blog for more on the Augmented Reality tag, especially from Mike Rawlins who is doing much of the work in Talk About Local – you can sign up to help on his post.

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William Perrin

Founder of Talk About Local, Trustee of the Indigo Trust, member of UK Government transparency panels, former Policy Advisor to UK Prime Minister, former Cabinet Office senior civil servant.Open data do-er, Kings Cross London blogger. Loves countryside. Two kids, not enough sleep.
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