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October 23, 2004

I Have Seen The Future of Annotating Space, and My, Is It!

Anne links to a piece from the Institute for the Future's blog on annotating space. The core paragraph is is:

Everyone one of these personal geo-annotations boils down to "I was here" or "You are here". People will take the time to compose a message and tag that message to a place because they want you to know that they were there, or because they have information that will be relevant to you later when you're in the same location, or some combination of both. As I look back at the annotations I composed, the "I was here" motivation will be largely emotionally driven. Examples: 'This is the place where he proposed'; 'I needed to mark the spot where occurred'; 'I'm a tourist and really having a great time'; even 'I lost a bet, as part of my payoff I have to mark the spot where..'. Ultimately, these types of annotations are still meant for other people -- what is the sound of an unread geo-annotation? -- but the value for the viewer will largely be to participate in someone else's experience and get a sense of the unrecorded history of a place.

...and that strikes me as exactly wrong. Shockingly, fundamentally wrong. What's bizarre is how this poster's interpretation directly contradicts the evidence they cite.

The evidence suggests a strong "I was here" orientation. Which, to me, is not about annotating space for others -- but annotating space for yourself.

Why would you want to annotate space for yourself? For whatever reasons you would use While thrives as a "social bookmark" site, it depends on the me-ness of the activity -- by and large, I'm saving items to that interest me, that I might want to return to later, and the posting-for-others aspect is largely secondary. It's an added benefit, but not the raison d'etre.

One of the key emerging trends we're seeing with things like and Flickr is the merging of personal information architecture and public/shared/group/emergent information architecture. And one of the things we're seeing in the *use* of these systems is self-centeredness -- how else do you explain the prevalence of "me" on Flickr?

To get back to the notion of annotating space -- I would argue that people will annotate space much like they annotate the web, or annotate their photos... More in a notebook sense, a journaling sense. The annotations are explicitly *not* "meant for other people" -- they're meant for yourself, they only have to make sense for yourself, and if others stumble across them, great, fine.

In fact, I would argue that if people are annotating space only to serve others, it will never, or only rarely, happen. What do I care what some stranger 8 months from now thinks about what I wrote at the corner of New Montgomery and Market in San Francisco? What on earth could I possibly say that's meaningful to them? What benefit do I derive by acting as a tour guide to a stranger?

But I will note things that are important to me, much the same way I do in, so that it helps me remember.

People interested in this topic would be well advised to visit Annotate Space, produced by smart person Andrea Moed.

Posted by peterme at October 23, 2004 04:48 PM


Just for the fun of it, here's a space annotation project directed towards others. -- Rick

Posted by: Rick Prelinger at October 23, 2004 11:32 PM

Annotate Space is (currently) incorrectly linked above. A quick Googling leads to:


Posted by: Brian M. Dennis at October 24, 2004 07:25 PM

It's an interesting problem: different people using the same tools for radically diff intents, and each sure their usage is the central one. Both the linked post and yours seem to be saying, "this is how and flickr are/will/should be used." I use deli and flickr as a memory/journal tool as you mention, but also specifically for an audience, saying, "look at this" and quite often as a primary purpose... "publishing" links and pix.

Benefits of "acting like a tour guide" might be encouraging others to do the same for you... and it might impact your reputation, your network, etc. I never really considered before that this might be a fringe or exceptional usage.

Posted by: Matt at October 25, 2004 08:20 AM

Yes. is very much intended as a mechanism for remembering in public and that things are stored (remembered) so that other people can retrieve (recall) them. Very astute.

Posted by: joshua schachter at October 25, 2004 11:37 AM

Another really sweet system for annotating the internet can be found at

It lets you make public notes in the world wide web's margin. I can only hope that it and delicious become good friends, in time.

Posted by: rjbs at October 26, 2004 03:44 AM

I definitely see the required critical mass of crowded urban spaces as a hindrance to the geo-annotation trend. For example, I was in New York last week and had a good old time using Plazes (via Ben Hammersley) to annotate my friend's apartment and his graduate school computer lab, but now I'm back in San Diego and the (relatively) wide-open-no-connectivity spaces. I see that Molly's noticed this problem as well.

Posted by: Al Abut at November 8, 2004 12:46 PM

Usefull geogrphic annotations:
"Great Icecream in this parlor"
"Be sure to check out this small gallery"
"There's a cheaper store two blocks away"

Posted by: Uri at November 12, 2004 07:15 AM

Blinklist is much better than I feel - I prefer hte interface and it lest me have private links which is what I want (most of the time actually)

Posted by: xman at October 13, 2005 08:11 AM

I'm surprised by how many people will provide book reviews on Amazon, movie reviews on IMDB, restaurant reviews on Citysearch, etc. These people are using reviews as a way to both share with a larger community and to do some journaling for themselves. It's similar to traditional blogging.

A friend of mine and I started a website a couple months ago to allow people to describe places in San Francisco using blog-like entries, maps, tags, and photos. Initially, we thought that people would use the site primarily to criticize or review places but instead the posts have largely migrated towards journaling, as you suggest here.

As an example, look at this entry posted last night about Hotel Vitale, a new and popular hotel in San Francisco:

Nothing in it about the quality of the hotel, but you get a sense that this might be a fun place to hang out. The post is less of a review than a short blog entry.

Posted by: Michael at October 13, 2005 09:30 AM