Tower Bridge has joined the ranks of an increasing number of intelligent objects that can tell us things about themselves.
My colleague David Whittle uncovered this beautiful little story: Tower Bridge is now on Twitter. Effecitvely the bridge is keeping its own micro blog of its activitiy and notifying anyone who cares to subscribe about what it is doing.
This makes Tower Bridge into a spime – an object that is in some why aware of its’s own position in space and time, and able to report it to interested parties.
You’ve found your keys
Spimes offer a lovely way to connect the world of physical objects to the information flow of the Internet.
Lost your keys? If they were spime keys, you could Google for them.
Lent a book to someone but can’t remember who? If it were a spime you could Google for who had it. And maybe even if they had read it.
Bruce Sterling describes a vision of the future where product designers can iteratively enhance spime-products using spime data about when and where the products were used. Kind of like Web analytics but for physical products too. (Fascinating and useful for the designers, but no replacement for experience labs and other ethno techniques. Why? Because a spime will still not be able to capture and relay its users intentions, motivations and desires.)
Spimes and spime kludges
You can’t yet google your keys or get analytics about how someone used their new shoes. But there is already a lot of spime-like stuff out there, beyond Tower Bridge.
Track packages: Express parcels are spimes. They have barcodes and RFID tags, so that you can track where they have got to. There was furore a few years back over the idea of RFID tags embedded in clothes to help with inventory tracking. If you forgot to remove the tags, then conceivably, people could track you!
Find children: Mobile phones and cool sneakers with GPS are being used to help worried parents keep track of their children. (No need to implant the chip in the child, just give them a kid-friendly phone or trendy sneakers and they’ll take their treasure with them everywhere).
And this low tech but ingenious approach is helping people find lost digital cameras. If you find a lost camera, just mail four pictures from it to the Found Cameras and Orphan Pictures blog, and maybe the owner will find them and claim it.
Spime your stuff now
If you own something that you feel need to be searchable by others, Google can help. Google Base lets you store any information about anything online now, so that others can search for it. But unless you can find a way to update the information in real time, then your object won’t yet be a spime.
Know any other good spimes? Do tell.