John Kestner

Proximeter

Ambient social navigation

2009

Social pathfinder

With all the communication tools available to us, we sometimes forget how to just run into a friend, or to keep tabs on where family is. Social networking services provide a constant, low-resolution stream of what friends are doing, but they require attention to check and filter. This calls for a divergence toward simpler, more appropriate tools.

The proximeter is a wall instrument that tracks the past and future proximity of one's family and friends. By abstracting existing calendar and social network feeds into a glanceable pattern of paths, it nurtures a sense of the general state of our scattered tribe and nudge us toward more face-to-face interactions when opportunities arise.

More than just telling you where people are right now, the proximeter tells you where people will be traveling, by subscribing to their online calendar and Dopplr feeds. With a Twitter account, the instrument can also use other services to track people and objects through space and time, such as shipping packages or touring bands.

Prototypes were built using a Windows tablet PC, a hacked USB knob, wood, sand-blasted brass, and vellum diffuser sheets to soften the digital display.

The software was originally written in Processing. Then the iPad came out, and I ported it to iOS. Then Dopplr went out of business.