Monday, February 15, 2010

Yellow Arrow Projects

Yellow Arrow is fundamentally a new way of exploring cities. A harbinger of the "geospatial web," Yellow Arrow began in 2004 as a street art project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Since then, Yellow Arrow has grown to over 35 countries and 380 cities globally and become a way to experience and publish ideas and stories via text messaging on your mobile phone and interactive maps online. In October, 2008, this groundbreaking experiment was wrapped-up and all the content generated internationally by hundreds of contributors has been archived in the public domain here in Flickr.

The project is built around the general philosophy that every place is distinct and engaging if seen from a unique perspective. With this foundation, Yellow Arrow enables every place to become an attraction. Stories are always tied to unique details such as back-alley murals or unique street markers, as well as classic locations like the Empire State Building in New York or the Reichstag in Berlin. Overall, the aim is for Yellow Arrow to provide a frame and platform to see the world in a new way.

When the project was first introduced in 2004, renowned Stanford archaeologist and cultural theorist Michael Shanks wrote that Yellow Arrow was an example of "deep mapping cultural experience - a cartography of the intimate, the everyday, the monumental, the ephemeral, the epochal."


Participants place uniquely-coded Yellow Arrow stickers to draw attention to different locations and objects - a favorite view of the city, an odd fire hydrant, the local bar. By sending an SMS from a mobile phone to the Yellow Arrow number beginning with the arrow's unique code, Yellow Arrow authors connect a story to the location where they place their sticker. Messages range from short poetic fragments to personal stories to game-like prompts to action. When another person encounters the Yellow Arrow, he or she sends its code to the Yellow Arrow number and immediately receives the message on their mobile phone. The website extends this location-based exchange, by allowing participants to annotate their arrows with photos and maps in the online gallery of Yellow Arrows placed throughout the world.

With mobile technology we are now able to integrate the social potential of networked experience with the immediacy and relevance of the physical world. As Jean Baudrillard writes in response to student strikes in France of May 1968:

"The real revolutionary media were the walls and their speech, the silk-screen posters and the handpainted notices, the street where speech began and was exchanged - everything that was an immediate inscription, given and turned, spoken and answered, mobile in the same space and time, reciprocal and antagonistic. The street is, in this sense, the alternative and subversive form of the mass media, since it isn't, like the latter, an objectified support for answerless messages, a transmission system at a distance. It is the frayed space of the symbolic exchange of speech - ephemeral, mortal."

In a networked age, different communities across the globe have very different access to technology, but mobile phones have become widely available across all social classes. By perceiving a network as something that is inherently a combination of physical, social, and technological components, the project hopes to bring these elements together under a paradigm that honors the type of vibrant exchange Baudrillard found so inspiring.

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