Plazes = Nouns, Jaiku = Verbs

As you may know, I’ve long been an evangelist for Plazes, the “where” web project based in Berlin. I’ve done radio interviews and art gallery talks about Plazes, developed applications and code for talking to Plazes, and later this week the wraps will come off a series of instructional screencasts I’ve been working on this fall.

All of this extends from a demo I had of Plazes at reboot in 2005: I was simply so impressed with the imaginative spark that gave birth to Plazes, and the elegance of the idea, that I wanted to advocate for it, support it, and be involved with its evolution.

Plazes is all about nouns. At its core it’s about leaving digital bread crumbs in your wake: publishing information about your location, contributing to the richness of data about locations, sharing the locations of others.

At reboot in 2006 I saw a demo of another elegant idea, one that’s very complementary to Plazes: Jaiku.

If Plazes is about where I am, then Jaiku is about what I’m doing: it’s a system that lets me publish information about my “presence” to my personal Jaiku website, and also to the Jaiku-enhanced contacts application in Series 60 mobile phones.

Here, for example, is a screen shot of my Jaiku presence page:

My Jaiku Presence Stream

What you see integrated there, in chronological order, is a combination of manual updates I’ve made on — Hacking Drupal, for example — posts from my weblog, my links, and updates I’ve sent by SMS message to Jaiku — “Stuffed bun and lemon iced tea” — when I’ve been out of the office.

Taken together this “presence stream” gives you a decent idea of what I’ve been up to lately, and my “current presence” — the latest entry — gives you some idea of whether it’s a good time to invite me out to coffee (“Procrastinating and Lonely”) or not (“Working heads down for a deadline”).

Interestingly, the killer Jaiku feature for me is its simplest: while you can use the fancy mobile app, and RSS feeds, and SMS messages to set your presence, you can also use a simple web app right on the front page of the Jaiku website. It looks like this:

Setting my Jaiku Presence

Somehow those pale-blue icons roped me in, and took Jaiku to a whole other level for me. I don’t want to oversell this feature, but sometimes it’s the small elegances like this that can add an intangible allure to a web application.

Plazes and Jaiku are obviously both “playing in the presence space” and there is some overlap in their utility. But it’s also not hard to imagine them working together quite well, and integrating hooks for one into the tools of the other.

Plazes is obviously the more mature of the two right now — several years in and several website revisions later there’s a polish and feature-set at Plazes, along with a rich API, a set of code snippets in many languages, and a large user base.

Jaiku is just getting started, and I find myself wishing for more flexibility and utility — an API to grab and publish my presence, for example, and an RSS feed of my presence stream. But the signs are good that there’s more to come.

When I emailed my Dad a link to an early draft of the Plazes screencast, he emailed me back “I can’t for the life of me though understand why it’s important to have the information that Plazes gives you.”

Truth be told, although I’ve probably put Plazes to as much practical use as anyone — and it is a useful tool by times — I think we’re all in the process of figuring out exactly what the “practical” use of location and presence tools is. I enjoy mucking about inside Plazes, and now Jaiku because, if nothing else, it’s interesting experimenting on myself to see what the answer to Dad’s question might be.

Or, as my friend Cynthia just messaged me:

Oh my frigging god…it’s not bad enough we know where each other is, now we will know what each other is doing, if we choose.

You can follow Cynthia’s verbs and Cynthia’s nouns to truly understand.


Jevon's picture
Jevon on November 15, 2006 - 23:19 Permalink

I have been using twittr ( lately, it has a lot of the same features. It’s usefulness it a little limited for me… but this is the kind of thing I would love to have built into Plazer.

Petteri Koponen's picture
Petteri Koponen on November 15, 2006 - 23:39 Permalink

Thanks for a great Jaiku summary! I like the nouns-verbs comparisons a lot — I wish I would’ve invented that myself :)

Plazes is a great service and I think it and Jaiku would complement each other quite nicely. As you wrote, Plazes is much more mature service, but we also plan to follow the path of opening up the system as much as possible. We are actually working on this at the moment, having the whole team in Helsinki (as can be seen from their presence streams, ofcourse :)

Henriette Weber Andersen's picture
Henriette Weber... on November 16, 2006 - 08:52 Permalink

I also want to give my 2 cents in this — I think that both services are really good — I must say I am quite taken by plazes, and Jaiku is looking promising now ( and is not draining my battery anymore)..

I love the presence line…

I would also love an “on my mind right now” line… just for creativity and fun

Olle Jonsson's picture
Olle Jonsson on November 16, 2006 - 09:06 Permalink

Gosh, that is a nice write-up, Peter — and Jaiku’s grand. Now my wife uses it, too.

steve Rukavina's picture
steve Rukavina on November 16, 2006 - 10:29 Permalink

I don’t get it. Why do you want everyone to know where you are and what you’re doing all the time?

14:12 PM: Pooed…”

Ann's picture
Ann on November 16, 2006 - 13:47 Permalink

I’m with Steve.
It makes me nervous to think that anyone could know that much about another person. It assumes a benevolence that I find very sweet — but that I just don’t share (probably because I am a crank).

Plazes. Nice if Peter uses it — a little scary if the CIA does.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 16, 2006 - 14:05 Permalink

Re: CIA. Yes, of course. But (a) whether or not I choose to do this is my choice; when Plazes/Jaiku become mandatory, I’ll join you at the barricades and (b) when I get taken out by Peter McQuaid’s sharpshooters* because they knew where i was and what I was doing — “In the park / Not watching for sharpshooters” — I’ll regret all this and (c) isn’t it a good idea to surveil ourselves to get some idea of how others might do it to us against our will?

* Peter McQuaid is the Premier’s Chief of Staff; I don’t actually think he has sharpshooters.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 16, 2006 - 14:08 Permalink

Re: I don’t get it. I wonder if this sort of thing is of particular interest to those of us who stretch “our community” to include far-flung people. The last time I saw Henriette was in Copenhagen in June; for some reason it gives me some comfort to read that yesterday she was “Waiting for Thomas at a cold windy road”. Consider it the functional equivalent of the CBC cafeteria for those of us on the edge of the country with aspirations to be more connected with our colleagues. Who happen to live in Denmark.

Marian's picture
Marian on November 16, 2006 - 14:28 Permalink

I appreciate your blog, Peter, for the same reason that you like Plazes: because it lets me know about you even though I live far away. I’m not sure if I really need Plazes though. I’m a little worried, as Ann is, about something like the technological imperative coming into play here, i.e, because we have the technology we should use it.

Marian's picture
Marian on November 16, 2006 - 15:11 Permalink

I think a workplace with enforced jaiku could be Hellish. Also, it’s possible that a lot of women are going to see this idea of co-workers monitoring them a little differently. I like the idea of a device that could gauge where a person is, and maybe tell them a bit about their surroundings (number of restaurants, museums, bathrooms, bank terminals etc.). So if Plazes can do that, then that part interests me. I’m not so sure about this other transparent society stuff.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 16, 2006 - 15:20 Permalink

I think there’s another important element here, at least for me: I only enjoy the “virtual presence” of people I *know* (friends, family, co-workers) who’ve “opted in” to a system like Plazes or Jaiku. In other words, I wouldn’t be particularly interested in knowing when some anonymous person across town was “Waiting for Thomas at a cold windy road”.

Of course this might not be true of everyone.

Ann's picture
Ann on November 16, 2006 - 16:17 Permalink

But in the age of YouTube, MySpace and reality television, that old-time notion of secrecy seems almost laughable. The line between private and public is speedily being erased by video diaries, the swapping of personal information with thousands of on-line

Marian's picture
Marian on November 16, 2006 - 17:18 Permalink

Actually, Zamyatin’s “We” also comes to mind.

Marian's picture
Marian on November 16, 2006 - 17:59 Permalink

I sympathise with Ann. In fact, I posted this comment on a blog about a month ago:

I have to confess that I think only extroverts see privacy as something we should banish. Introverts see privacy as like breathable air. Whenever people say they want to banish it we start to get panicky like someone was talking about shoving us out into the vacuum of space.”

On the other hand, I have a blog. So, how is it possible for me to think one thing and do another? Well, for one thing, my blog is actually not about me, it’s about stuff. I live in a foreign country. I write about what that’s like. I also write under an assumed name. It’s a kind of creation as opposed to a camera pointed into my home. No one here knows I have this alter-ego. I think it also helps if you view what people do online as performance. Of course, some of what people do online isn’t really performance, and that’s where it can seem to disturb the established order: private/public as well as real/fake.

Also, I think there’s a lot of contempt out there right now for ‘ordinary people’ and this may in part be what drives some to go on TV. It’s possible that they feel that TV justifies them in some way.

Alan's picture
Alan on November 16, 2006 - 18:05 Permalink

I think that the fictional aspects of Plazes and Jaiku are more interesting in the sense that how we describe our situations never really states the experience of being there. We improve out lots in life for the benefits of others and, even if we do not know it, while we are at a restaurant in Rome or Chigaco when travelling, we are likely more lonely eating alone in a strange place daydreaming, leering or making things up in a transitory conversation as we are doing anything profound. If there was an objective standard to compare the subjective charactrization people use through the descriptor selections on these applications then your could also create a crap factor that could be displayed in the corner, available to others watching you describe yourself. Say if you indicate you at a great restaurant which other web rating services confirms to be a dive — then you might expose the fact that you have no taste. Otherwise there is a bot-like aspect to it in addition to the inadvertant privacy implications that no one can estimate given our lack of awareness of future uses of data.

Marian's picture
Marian on November 16, 2006 - 18:29 Permalink

One more thing: the internet is really the introvert’s saviour/enabler. If you wanted to, you could never leave your home, never talk to anyone you didn’t like and you could still have ‘friends’ and an ‘active’ (mentally active, at least) life. No one has to phone anyone anymore, really, if they don’t want to. It’s a hard tool to live without, if you want to keep the world at bay. And certainly it has a way of putting things at a distance and fictionalising them even as it brings things close and makes them more real.

Ann's picture
Ann on November 16, 2006 - 18:34 Permalink

our lack of awareness of future uses of data” … or other uses… is exactly what bothers me about this.

I have had more conversations with people who simply forgot to stop and think that things they post on blogs (just as an example) are available to everyone…not just their friends. I am surprised that it doesn’t bother people that people they don’t even know know where they are and what they are doing.

Introverts see privacy as like breathable air.”Exactly! But so should we all.

Alan's picture
Alan on November 16, 2006 - 20:06 Permalink

Ann, that and why I know from working in privacy law is why I never write directly about work or family on my blogs (other than distant relatives like my fifth-cousins-in-laws the Rukavinas, Peter and Steve) though I am sure there are plenty enough references.

But even, then, even if you choose to do sort of selection of topic, there is the picture of oneself — the framework of opinion — that the introvert in all of us still display more openly through what we discuss than we would otherwise. And, due to the nature of the medium, you have done it in a more permanent, searchable and somehow compelling format.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 16, 2006 - 21:54 Permalink

Forget the CIA. What about burglars? Do either Plazes or Jaika have a “Home Alarm On” icon? Maybe you ought to consult your insurer. On the bright side, there may be fewer hold ups in a world in which you can steal with confidence that you won’t be confronted unawares.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on November 17, 2006 - 02:33 Permalink

One must remember that it is a choice to join communities suck as Plazes and/or Jaiku. (I can not know where you are Ann or what Peter’s Dad is doing if you have not become a contact of mine.)

For me, there are a few reasons I partake in these experiements: I aim to be part of a bigger community; I love maps and applying coordinates; I am interested in where my friends are and what they have seen or experienced in the sense that I may be influenced (or not) by their actions; it is convenient and cost-efficient if I know where I can find a friend without using a cell phone….

I suppose ther are some other reasons…but those are the main ones.

Alan's picture
Alan on November 17, 2006 - 15:23 Permalink

Yes but you can’t define all the uses others make of your choice so it is by definition an uninformed choice. Plus, I doubt that your are experiencing is limited to or even defined by the available icons. Call me when there is a Jaiku button for “wasted another evening” or “doubted wisdom of past personal decisions” or “all itchy today”. It is a move towards standardization made seductive by the GUI which constitutes an odd denial of the simple utility of the 26 letter alphabet.

Ann's picture
Ann on November 17, 2006 - 16:40 Permalink

And the simple utility of most of our daily activities, too.