Thing-narrative tools: Four examples

Posted by Rob Walker on August 2, 2010
Posted Under: Things/Thinking

In the last couple of months, a number of services and projects have come to my attention (thx: Molly B., Jee W., Grant M., maybe someone else I’m forgetting) that play with the idea of thing-narrative.

The easiest way to explain is by example.

1. Itizen. So you have an object — a thing. You put a special Itizen tag on it: This is either a sticker or sew-on tag with a QR Code on it. You type up the story about your Thing on an Itizen page that correspondonds with that QR code tag. And then, I suppose, you can give the thing away, or sell it, and its new owner can then add his or her own story. This is all rather new, so not surprisingly I don’t see anything with more than two stories so far.

2. Tales of Things. So you have an object — a thing. You write up (or video) its story, and you put a special coded tag on it, and again anyone who accesses that code with an iPhone or whatever will be led to the page where the thing’s story (“describing its history or background”) is told. I’m not sure whether this or Itizen came first, but you can see the similarities. This outfit was involved in a side project, RememberMe, in which the stories of objects in an Oxfam shop were recorded, presumably making the objects more desirable for purchase.

3. D-Build. While this Syracuse, New York, project is primarily concerned with green deconstruction, repurposing the materials from torn-down or refurbished materials into furniture and other objects, it also aims to include a dose of narrative: The creators want people to submit stories (memories, historical information, etc.) about the deconstructed building. (I also mentioned this on Unconsumption.) The idea is to create a “network of information, along with a marketplace for users to exchange reclaimed materials, finished products made of these materials, as well as ideas and services.”

4. StickyBits. This one is an app, and here’s my understanding of how it works. Via this app, you can scan any existing barcode and “attach” whatever information you want, so that whoever scans that barcode in the future will see your added info — a picture, text, whatever. An example they give is adding a recipe to the bar code of a cereal box. But this sounds to me like it could be easily used for more activist or prankish aims, if I understand it right.

You can also get code stickers from StickyBits and attach them to physical objects that don’t have a bar code. The latter scenario again sounds like Tales of Things and Itizen.

Are there others? Have you used any of these (and if so have I described properly)? Are you tempted to?

With the exception of the D-Build example, what these remind me of in a way is how I save and “tag” stories and sites I encounter with Delicious and I guess to some extent with Tumblr. It seems a bit like extending that categorization and archiving impulse into the physical world. It’s possible then that my use of the word “narrative” here is a little off, but I believe that narrative is what all these services aim for.

[Addendum: These examples are all distinct from the manufacturing “narrative” of an object, which I wrote about here and here, and also from made-up “narratives” relating to a thing, such as the Significant Objects stories (or some advertising)].

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Right on Rob! Those are four quite the literal examples of the “semantic” web in action.

One that dovetails with this is which allows people to document the back story/supply chain that goes into everything from an iphone to a cup of Starbucks coffee.

All part of the growing desire for us to understand and create the meaning that is attached to stuff.

Written By Michael Margolis on August 4th, 2010 @ 11:55 pm