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Mobile Access to
Cultural Information
through meetings and contributed to shaping the final prototype.
According to Proboscis founder Giles Lane, the Urban Tapestries venture strikes a
balance between the use of mobile devices, knowledge, and emotions. The prototype
system aims to create an opportunity for users to embed what they consider to be `knowl-
edge' into the fabric of the urban environment through wireless technologies. It grants them
access to their own and other participants' content and impressions through a range of
filtering and decision-making techniques that can be programmed to reflect their emo-
tional state, a process known as `mood filtering'.Each Urban Tapestry should have its own
flavour, whether it was installed in an urban setting around a local area, or within a museum
as, for instance, a means for visitors to exchange reflections and comments on the exhibits.
The project began with a proposal to use the 802.11b wireless networking protocol
together with PocketPC handheld computers (specifically iPAQ PDAs). As the limitations
of the system were explored, the team established a series of protocols and frameworks
that are as platform and network independent as possible.While the project intended to
anticipate future uses of new technologies over a three-to-seven year horizon, the proof-
of-concept demonstration was constrained by the technical limitations of existing devices
and networks.The limitations of GPS use to support location awareness led the team to
implement an alternative solution based on direct user input of street address and pointing
at a digital map as a way of indicating a location.The prototype trialled in December
2003 combined GPRS & 802.11b network access, GPS and user input for location
awareness, and a combination of PocketPC PDAs (iPAQs & Jornadas) and Sony Ericsson
P800 Symbian OS mobile phones.
A number of compatibility and interfacing issues arose during the development of the
project. Devices were not interoperable and some did not support emerging standards for
mobile applications (such as Java 2 Micro Edition). Many devices are tied to a particular
form of networking and are unable to switch dynamically between networks (for example
wireless protocols 802.11b and GPRS).
During a nine-day trial in December 2003, twenty users had an opportunity to take
part each day. User interviews are being planned by project partner Orange, as well as an
online feedback system allowing trial users to offer their thoughts and feelings. Evaluation
of the LSE's `Experimental Ethnography' will be completed early in 2004.While the
results of the trial were not finalised as we brought this report to press, the success of the
project's proof-of-concept prototype has encouraged the Urban Tapestries team to con-
tinue its exploration of emerging devices and networking standards.
Urban Tapestries focuses on what emerging wireless technologies could make possible.
It aims to anticipate their social, cultural, economic and political implications. As Lane
explains, `Our aim is to demonstrate that, by placing the tools of creation in the hands of
everyday users (rather than creating closed systems purely for consumption of pre-
authored content), a whole new world of possibilities lies ahead that is limited only by the
imagination of its users.'
Approaches of this kind lie at the heart of twenty-first century
creative industries.
146 Steven J.Vaughan-Nichols' concise and straightforward outline of the issues involved with the use of
wireless protocols (2002) can be found at
147 For more on Urban Tapestries, see Giles Lane, "Urban Tapestries:Wireless networking, public authoring and
social knowledge", Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, no. 7, pp. 3-4, July 2003:
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