January 23, 2003
Wireless Blogging With a Real-Time Twist
HINK of the T-Mobile Sidekick as the Ginsu knife of the mobile wireless class. About the size of a deck of cards, it not only makes phone calls but also sends e-mail and instant messages, browses the Web and takes pictures.
Now Sidekick owners who cannot resist using all those functions have found a way to gather the tribe: through a sort of communal Weblog, or blog, called Hiptop Nation.
"Hiptop Nation is a place where people share their experiences with the world while wandering around with these little Sidekick devices with cameras," said John Lester, a 35-year-old Boston resident and one of about 300 participants at Hiptop Nation (www.hiptop.bedope.com). "It gives you a sense of connectedness because not only are people posting to the blog wirelessly but they're reading it wirelessly."
The result is a stream of picture-heavy conversations, from practical to whimsical. One user tipped others to a two-for-one turkey deal just before Thanksgiving. Another posted the question, "Whose boss has the messiest desk?" A flurry of snapshots arrived proving it wasn't his.
Hiptop Nation is the brainchild of Mike Popovic, 34, a Webmaster in southern Maine. He began the site shortly after the Sidekick's introduction last fall. "I thought it would be fun to see what people posted and have the community interact," he said during a recent phone interview conducted on his Sidekick. (T-Mobile licensed the Sidekick technology from Danger Research, which refers to the device generically as the Hiptop - hence the site's name.)
Many entries convey the same existential boredom familiar to chat-room regulars. ("I have to sit here and answer phones at work when I SHOULD be at home playing Metroid. Oh, the agony.") But just as often, postings come with pictures that communicate what words alone cannot. Last month, for instance, someone posted snapshots of Frank Gehry's signature design work on the Disney Concert Hall and Hotel in Los Angeles. While text-based online forums tend to be dominated by participants who are most loquacious, Hiptop Nation lets people offer visual rather than verbal descriptions.
The site also offers more of a real-time experience than a traditional blog does. Users write about "what someone is seeing on the bus as they're going to work as opposed to recollections at the end of the day about the commute," Mr. Popovic said.
Pornography has briefly appeared. A semi-nude shot was recently posted. A ripple of comments ensued, and then the community moved its attention to other things: whatever happened to Wite-Out, for instance, or what people were eating for lunch. Perhaps most remarkable is the site's general civility. Mr. Popovic invites people to share pictures of themselves the first time they post. That there are faces next to names, he thinks, may help.
Things do occasionally heat up. Mr. Popovic concocted a Halloween photographic scavenger hunt that he announced two weeks before the holiday. Five teams of 11 members each quickly assembled and devised strategies for photographing items to which Mr. Popovic had assigned points. Team members in nine states communicated through their Sidekicks, using instant messages, e-mail, a Web-based chat room and their cameras.
"This is what the whole 'technology empowering people' is all about," said Mr. Lester, who compares the enthusiastic use of Hiptop Nation to the Internet's early days. "No one really knew how we would use it, and consequently once you gave people the tools, all this amazing stuff fell out."