Public notebook

L is for Long Lost Pals


Just when you think might have seen everything the social web has to offer, it tickles you with some magic.

This morning I was entertaining my four-year-old son by building his name out of letters in Flickr photos. It’s a service I found a while ago called, appropriately enough, Spell With Flickr.

It takes advantage of the fact that there are a lot of people who love letters, typography, in Flickr, who maintain neatly ordered, tagged, collections of images of individual letters.

My son’s learning to read at the moment, so he loves letters. What I thought would be a few minutes of fun turned into an hour or so of exploring typography. Wonderful.

He also picked up the concept of favouriting images so that he can find them again among the trillion or so pages on the web out there.

One he chose was this L – the first leter of his name – made out of a pattern of coffee cups.

He was so enthralled by letters, we decided to take the camera on a walk along the seafront to find some letters of our own…

When we got back there was an email for me from the photographer of L, who goes by the Flickr name UrbanMkr. Turns out I went to university with them, we’d lost touch since they’d moved to Montreal. They followed the link back to my account when Flickr had alerted them and saw my photo.

Like I said, the web is a beautiful thing…

Public notebook

I prefer iPhone to me laptop sometimes…

iCrossing's New York office building, as seen in Google Maps

The new iPhone software upgrade came out over the weekend. Love the fact that the phone I bought a few months ago keep getting better, instead of degrading like my last smartdumbphone did.

The standout shiny new thing in the new set-up is Google Maps, the iPhone’s application which lets you quickly search for businesses, addresses, locate yourself on the map and plan routes. 

Google Maps on the iPhone

When I was in Atlanta last week I noticed that at close zoom the buildings’ outlines were shown on the map. Cool, I thought – that’s really useful when you’re navigating one of those anonymous grid layouts and are trying to find a landmark. The new software’s taken a big leap beyond that, however, as now you can click on a location and – where available – move down to streetview. 

This is mainly only of use to me in the US, but I understand Google has been building a street-level index of the UK and other European countries over recent months.

So, apart from the geek-thrill of a new piece of tech-wizadry, why is this interesting. Three things: 

1. This is superb UI design. My four-year-old son sat on my lap while I showed him some of the parts of New York I’d recently visited. We panned and zoomed. Clicked on the arrows to move us along the street. Searched for a Fire Station for him to have a look at. Easy. He picked up the navigation in seconds, it was hard to stop prodding, squeezing, pushing the screen around to get the views he wanted.  


Navigating past Union Square's Coffee Bar. You click on the white arrows to move along the street and can pan and zoom in any direction - pass the VR helmet!


2. This is the best way to give directions / get directions quickly. I wished immediately I’d been able to use it a day earlier to shwo a colleague on his way to New York exactly where on Union Square the Coffee Bar was. again – when you’re looking at a city with a grid system, it’s hard sometimes (for a brain wired in England) to work out where things are on a map, or translate that map into real directions. 

3. For some things, I prefer using my iPhone to a larger computer. Google Maps seems faster, more intuitive, personalised, connected into things like my contacts and email, and is just nicer to use.  Actually this iPhone bias in my computing usage is evident in a few other apps, like calendar and mail (for checking through large volumes). It speaks to the power of the iPhone but also to the latent productivity potential for multi-touch when it makes it to our larger machines and new formats too.

: : Bonus geek-out… Also love the fact that my iPhone can now download podcasts direct without having to sync with my laptop… 


The new iPhone podcast screen