Earlier this month, the internet saw the arrival of Telescope Cards. This service enables you to pull in a List – a curated collection of places e.g. best coffee in East London – from Foursquare, and have it handsomely printed onto a pocket collection of cards.
I like cards. Apart from them lighting up that card collecting boy that’s still inside me somewhere, they’re also nice and tactile. You can flip through them, give them to someone, write on them. It’s been said a lot more eloquently and informed than this, but you can’t do those things with the internet.
Printing out the internet has rightfully become a thing, and mini cards is the perfect way to print out Foursquare. As soon as I saw Basil & Co at Minified‘s lovely site for Telescope Cards, I wanted to try out Derby  with it.
Background to Derby 2061
In 2011 I wrote a story on Foursquare. It tells the tale of a city fifty years in the future, where memories can be downloaded and experienced internally, where fast food is 3D printed, real food is for the rich, and the Moon and Mars have been colonised. The aim wasn’t to write a speculative masterpiece – the facets of the story are stock sci-fi tropes – but to see if you could write something on a location-based game platform.
Users ‘Check In’ at a location using Foursquare, and see an alternative version of that place. They click on that place to see what it is – a Monorail Station where the train station is supposed to be, or a Server Farm instead of the college campus – and find a strange Tip from a narrator.
The narrator is Girl X, a young girl accidentally sent back in time from 2061 to the present day. She uses Foursquare (and other assorted social media) to tell us what will happen to the places around us in the next half century.
As well as using Foursquare as a storytelling platform, I wanted to see if you could entice someone into a story by leaving a digital breadcrumb trail. And if you told parts of a story, would the reader fill in the gaps?
The main problem in this excersize is awareness and likelihood of that happening. The concept has had good press and been mentioned at conferences around the world, but it’s located in Derby. You have to be in Derby to experience it. And not that many people travel to Derby, so your audience is the population divided by the amount of Foursquare users within it divided by the amount of Foursquare users within it who are interested in digital storytelling. The story is buried, and there aren’t that many diggers around.
Telescope cards are an opportunity to see if people respond to the story when the ‘rabbit hole’ into it is a physical thing rather than a digital one.
Making The First Set
I printed one set of cards: a prototype set. Telescope print decks of 25 cards, so I cut the story in half to fit. For the printed Tip on each card, you can use 100 characters max. In under an hour I’d done a good bit of editing and the result was better than what I’d started out with. Forced editing is a good thing.
The cards arrived the other day, and I love them. I flip through them, reading the Tips and imagining the place they are talking about. Next time I’m in Derby city, I’ll go to some of the places and see what effects the combination of card and vision have.
Will being at a location with a card in hand reframe the place of Foursquare in the story?
Is Foursquare a means to tick off that part of the story, and tell my social graph that I’ve ‘completed’ a chapter?
The narrative of the story was embedded in Girl X’s description of places. By lifting out these descriptions into print, could that open up Foursquare to go deeper into the narrative/character?
The main problem with Derby is awareness. If I place these cards in the gallery shop window, or on a coffee shop counter, will people’s interest be piqued?
I’m going to test this first deck out on a few people, see what happens. If the response it good, maybe I’ll print a few more decks and put them in some good spots to see if people pick them up and play with them.
As a result of thinking about what is essentially a low-level protype, alpha version of a story (as well as a way of telling one), I find the story becoming clearer in my mind. By thinking “what would Girl X say about this place?” her character now has a voice and opinion in my head. Thus it becomes easier to expand the story.
If Telescope Cards work for Derby  or not, they have at least given me a bit of time with a story I had almost left behind, and established in my mind a character whose deeper story I am becoming increasingly interested in telling.