Archive: foursquare

Derby [2061] – Telescope Cards Edition

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.

On deck.

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 [2061] 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.

Derby 2061

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.

Early Conclusions

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.

Framing the future: fictional place descriptions and tips.

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[2061] is awareness. If I place these cards in the gallery shop window, or on a coffee shop counter, will people’s interest be piqued?

A selection of the deck of 25 cards.

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 [2061] 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.

Derby 2061

Today we’re ‘releasing’ a new ‘thing’. It’s an experiment…. a prototype… we’re not sure what it is yet…

Throughout the summer we’ve been playing with existing locative platforms. A lot of the time we get asked by clients to build them something using location, but a lot of the time it’s either just too damn expensive for the project, or would take away from the project by being tacked on to an otherwise nice tight package. Frustrated by the cost of new development, we decided to spend time messing around with what’s already out there. Even though we don’t like them so much, we started playing with QR codes to create contextual portals of interactivity, rather than strictly GPS-enabled gubbins. These were cheap, quick, easy like digital sketches. We tried out SCVNGR in a museum (in the V&A!).

Two of my favourite things are stories and time-travel. Everyone at Mudlark knows this. I like the layer that historical knowledge can apply to the everyday. It’s what Augmented Reality endeavours to do. Sometimes you don’t need apps, and sometimes you do. There are a few out there that have tackled history, so we thought we’d have a go at the future.

'Girl X' from Derby 2061
‘Girl X’ from Derby 2061

It started with Derby Train Station. I think we were just testing to see if Foursquare would let you make something up. It did. So we made an alternate version of the train station “location”. It was some time in the future, when a Monorail (the first sign of the future) arrives in town, and Toby started adding ‘tips’ about Memory Ports in the carriages (this set ended up setting the tone for the whole of the project).

On the next trip out of town, I checked into the future Derby Monorail Station on Foursquare instead of the present day version. The ‘Tip’, rather than a commercial for something around me, felt more like a story. It felt like a nugget of another layer. It made me want to find more. Add to that a healthy dose of Pat Cadigan and Philip K. Dick and the next thing you know there’s a spreadsheet and collaborative Google Map open and we’re barn-storming what Derby will be like in fifty years.

A bit of time and a fair bit of thinking later, and it’s ready to road test. Fifty locations scattered around Derby city-centre and Darley Abbey (where our studio is) exploring what the city might be like in fifty years’ time. There’s a story in it to find. In fact there are a few. There’s the story of new industry, of civilian life in a new culture changed by it, the story of buildings being repurposed, of politics, of clock-making and time. All told by a female guide from the future.

Luckily, Foursquare have just released ‘Lists’, providing us with an easy way to share the whole story with users. Click here for that. We’re also making a Wiki for all the bits of story we’ve invented, and hope to add more to it if people add nuggets of their own to the locations.

Greg’s still on the fence about this project. He keeps asking me what ‘it’ is. So, for Greg:

It’s an experiment to find out the following:

  • Can you tell a story on Foursquare?
  • Will users engage with it?
  • Will Foursquare and it’s user base let you mess with the program?
  • How does it square up as the surface layer of a deeper story (tested out on the Wiki but possibly transferable to long-form print)?
  • Is it just me being me, or can checking in to things that aren’t there feel like the future (or past)?

It’s right on time to be something for a load of southerners to play with when they come to Derbyshire this week to immerse themselves in old industry at our Laptops & Looms three-day event, where we visit the historical heart of the Industrial Revolution, sitting in silk mills pondering the future.