April 6, 2005

Memory Mapping

by Scott Rettberg · , 11:14 pm


A new memorymap group has formed at Flickr. People are annotating satellite maps from Google Maps of places that are important to them. I can see a lot of narrative potential in the form.

11 Responses to “Memory Mapping”

  1. Jill Says:

    I want them to do Europe and Australia too!

  2. nick Says:

    Google’s interface is nice, the integration with their search engine is nice, and it’s cool that people are using this feature in creative ways, but I can’t figure out why everyone seems to think that Google just invented sliced bread.

    Judging from the dozens of announcements I’ve read about this (I presume you’ve seen them too, so I won’t try to round up all the links), almost everyone has forgotten, or else never knew, that Mapquest had this feature for years. On Google Answers from August 2002: “MapQuest … has full-color aerial photographs of US-based locations and displays objects up to 1-meter visibilty.” Here’s the May 22, 2001 press release about it from GlobeXplorer, which added the feature. For some reason, by early 2004 this feature was removed.

    Condemned to reload it, indeed. Somehow I don’t think that the major memory problem bloggers have has much to do with where the cool babysitters used to live.

  3. scott Says:

    I’m not interested in the technology itself or in particular its “newness” as much as I am in the ways that people utilize it. One of the things I like about the memory map project is how simple it is for people to put them together. Satellites have been around for a long time, and so have image-maps with mouse-overs, but I haven’t seen this particular application of those two things together before. While I understand your frustrations with the short-term memory issues of the blogosphere, I feel similarly frustrated by the tendency of many working in new media to equate newness with “interestingness” or “coolness” or “quality.” This isn’t directed at you in particular — I know that you don’t make those types of equations, but many do. Art ultimately should not be exclusively about building a better mousetrap. It’s interesting and worthwhile to experiment with artistic applications of new technologies (and to develop them), but there are plenty of things like this, relatively low-tech, garage-band-level endeavors, which do not require a high degree of procedural literacy but which could nonetheless be utlized to create compelling networked narratives.

  4. diane greco Says:

    Probably it’s been mentioned here before but Mr Beller’s Neighborhood springs to mind immediately as an example of the narrative potential of this form.

  5. nick Says:

    Scott, if you don’t know what’s new and what isn’t, you can’t discuss newness at all or say much about new media projects – certainly, nothing about their place in history.

    One of the things I like about the memory map project is how simple it is for people to put them together.

    Why is it simple to put them together now? The satellite photos provided by Google were easily available on the Web, and linked to maps, back in 2001. It seems to me that Google Maps (which you linked to) wasn’t very important as an enabling technology for this project; the buzz about it probably helped people to imagine the project and led them to participate, but the satellite photos weren’t a new contribution to the Web.

    I would guess that Flickr in general (which you didn’t link to), and specifically its image-annotation capability, provided the more important “new things” for this particular project.

    This project is good and well-worth looking at. The very personal annotations are interestingly disjointed when placed on an alien, overhead view – it reminds me a bit of having someone point out things to you in an airplane as you land, or having personal details placed on a globe-spanning and originally very impersonal information system. Maybe it makes some sense that a project that has the personal, photo-sharing Flickr system as its main enabling technology is about a personal take on images, rather than being about driving directions.

    I obviously don’t think every project “requires a high degree of procedural literacy” – neither does the sort of new media analysis that I’m trying to practice here. I do think newness is interesting. It’s one of several interesting qualities about a project and its place in history. And it certainly seems worthwhile to figure out what is new about certain projects and what existed in other forms before.

  6. scott Says:

    Nick — ahem, actually the first link above is to Flickr. I wasn’t saying that you can’t discuss newness or that an awareness of history is irrelevant, just that in this case, as in many others, the newness isn’t what’s particularly interesting about the project. And I do think that there is a problem with the focus on “newness” and “firstness” in new media writing: a lot of old territory (for instance, simple link and node hypertext) has not been fully explored or exploited to its full artistic potential, in part because of the rush to evernew territories. At a certain point, the constant embrace of the new becomes a little like pissing on trees to mark your territory.

    After a few years of teaching new media writing, I find myself more and more drawn to projects that are technically simple for my students to execute. The more technically complex the project is, the less time we can spend focusing on the content of the project. The technical aspects of this would take about 10 minutes to explain comprehensively, even to someone who’s never made a webpage. That’s glorious.

  7. nick Says:

    Diane, thanks for the link, this site is great – I hadn’t heard of Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, or else didn’t remember it, although I see it’s been around since 2000 and was nominated for a coveted Webby.

    A brief write-up to entice others to take a look: A map made of aerial photos allows access to stories about Manhattan (and some parts of Brooklyn), written by many contributors. Despite the submission form saying “A story should be true to the facts,” I found some labeled fiction. There are a large number of WTC stories, although several links on that page are broken. The site uses frames and linking to particular parts doesn’t work well; if you click on that link, you’ll have to manually visit the URL for the main site to get there afterwards.

    My sense is that it may be a slightly better framework for collaborative writing than for reading. The place-based interface makes it obvious how people can contribute; anyone who has something to write about Manhattan can offer it, although the site is edited and not everything is printed. It’s definitely a great place to skim through stories, reading up on the history of NYC neighborhoods and landmarks. But the lack of hypertextual or textual connection (via reference to other stories) isn’t entirely compensated for by those stories being set in the same neighborhood, I think. When there is one focusing event that everyone is writing about (as with the WTC stories) the lack of explicit connection is less of a problem. Definitely worth visiting, anyway.

    Scott, I think I understand what you’re talking about with regard to “the constant embrace of the new.” In this particular instance, though, you seem to have embraced the new by having linked to this new project. You seem to think it involves a new form, since you said “I can see a lot of narrative potential in the form.” People could be writing link-and-node hypertexts, which have not been fully explored, instead of doing memory maps, which we both agree are new. But I suppose you don’t object to every new development in computing.

    And, I suppose you are writing more specifically about an obsessive concern with the latest things that are announced, to the neglect of the past. While you’re talking about exploring artistic and literary forms and I was talking about new media history, your point is pretty similar to the one I was making in my original comment: instead of being obsessed with the new to the point of ignoring what has already transpired, let’s also look to the past. I’ve just tried to point out what aspects of the project are “newer” than other aspects, and to figure out what developments helped to enable this project.

    You wrote “the newness isn’t what’s particularly interesting about the project,” but could you mention, aside from the one sentence you wrote about narrative potential, what you think is interesting about it?

    My own point, by the way, is not about technical sophistication or simplicity, just about new media history. It’s possible to have new systems that aren’t very technologically sophisticated, but which nevertheless bring elements together to allow new sorts of expression and communication. You could argue that the Web was a system of this sort, joining the networked capabilities of the Internet to a hypertext system that was not (and still isn’t) state of the art.

    Whether you’re obsessed with new technologies or you think it’s worthwhile to explore passed-over forms (text-based IF is in this category with link-and-node hypertext, of course) – and whether you work high up at Electronic Arts or have a “garage band” gaming company or group – I still think it will be worthwhile to understand new media history. I like blogs for a lot of reasons, but today’s announcements about new systems, projects, and technologies aren’t adequate sources for an understanding of that history.

  8. scott Says:

    Oh man, I just wrote a long comment and then the darn machine crashed. I think we’re in more or less total agreement. I guess the aspect of this I find most interesting is that it’s another example of people repurposing a web application for artistic/narrative purposes. Also, unless I’m missing something, flickr annontations are limited in that you can’t include working links in the annotation. Here’s a nice example of how to do the same thing using CSS.

  9. Darren Torpey Says:

    There certainly is a lot of hype and discussion going around about Google-related technologies these days. I am most certainly a contributor to that. I do wonder, though, as we all obviously do, how much merit it all has, especially in the context of critical media studies, emerging art forms, etc.

    However, I’m coming more and more to the opinion that, as obvious as it sounds, the key here really is the exposure that Google technologies get. Of course, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy to say that we should continue to hype Google technologies and the uses being made of them because of the exposure they get. But is that a bad thing? Only if we lose ourselves in the hype and heat of the current “blogosphere fad” (blogosphad?) and forget that the tools are ultimately means to our ends.

    I agree with you, Scott (and Nick), that what’s really exciting and interesting is the narrative potential, and emerging realizations of that potential, that these technologies are helping create, regardless of just how “new” each aspect of the underlying technology is.

  10. diane greco Says:

    Thanks for including the description of MBN, Nick. now folks actually might look at the site! (I didn’t mean to be so cryptic.)

    Something I’ve been thinking about in conn.with MBN is how some of its hypertextuality is off the screen and off the network — with MBN the links happen (for me, anyway) in my head and on the street, as if *I* am supplying the connections instead of the author or the technology. I know this sounds bizarre and abstract — and I wish I could elaborate but the space key is sticking on my terminal…ANYway, I saw a project at one of the eNarrative conferences a few years back where the hypertext was actually distributed over a whole town in the UK, and reader/participants walked from kiosk to kiosk, each kiosk being a node in a story network that you could traverse according to different clues/cues. MBN reminds me of that physical, spatial hypertextuality; I feel the MBN stories all around me here in NYC, like another layer of the landscape. there’s something very situationist about it… these projects construct readers similarly, as a sort of supplement, outside a story that doesn’t make sense without them out there on the ground.

    will try to find the name of the UK project in my files. it came out of northampton as i recall

    shift key is now sticking, my fingers have a stutter!


  11. Jonas Says:

    I don’t really care wether it’s new or not (although it’s hard not to agree with the fact that Google Maps shouldn’t really have had much to do with this), I just think it’s great to see so many cool projects spring from Flickr, even ones like this that are internal and use the original Flickr features instead of external API projects.

    Thanks for the link =)

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