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17 October 2003

DIDW: The social life of objects

I find RFID infinitely interesting and exciting (and am considered something of a freak by my more privacy-concerned colleagues), so I enjoyed Mark Roberti’s RFID: Platform for change. All of his examples were situated in manufacturing and retail and the military, though, and what really interests me is how RFID might attach history and bring sociability to objects – particularly books (or other artefacts that are collected).

Books already come with an ISBN number - e.g. "0-43-253422-0" - which is a unique machine-readable ID. It references information about the cover art, title, author, and category. But this number only identifies a specific product, not every physical instance of it.

This is where BookCrossing steps in to give us 'a simple way to share books with the world, and follow their paths forever more!'.

The "3 Rs" of BookCrossing:

  • Read a good book (you already know how to do that)
  • Register it here (along with your journal comments), get a unique BCID (BookCrossing ID number), and label the book
  • Release it for someone else to read (give it to a friend, leave it on a park bench, donate it to charity, "forget" it in a coffee shop, etc.), and get notified by email each time someone comes here and records journal entries for that book. And if you make Release Notes on the book, others can Go Hunting for it and try to find it!

  • This is a lovely application of identities for things but not as automated or rich as it could be... with an injection of RFID. I'm very keen on the idea of user-initiated RFIDs for objects with emotional investment (like books and vinyl LPs) that can be killed or blocked by a recipient if they value their privacy more than the game.

    This is a really interesting, emotive 'supply chain'.

    And while the RFID investment required by a Boots, which ships millions of lipsticks a year, is probably still prohibitive at $0.50 per tag, an individual with an abiding interest in natural history books or Motown vinyl or Australian stamps would likely be prepared to invest $0.50 in a cherished object’s future. Particularly if it allowed them to connect with future and past owners/collectors of that object, track its travels and recall forgotten details or annotations some time later. They are interested in the social life of objects.

    Imagine a book that can say ‘I have been read by 36 people before you - in 3 cities (London, Sydney and Helsinki) - and all of them paused on page 132. I once spent 5 days in the lift at the British Library, just travelling up and down, after being released by a BookCrosser.’

    Imagine a book that can tell its own story as well as the one contained within its pages.


    See also:

  • Barcodes & Google Blast Open Politics of Labels
  • AURA
  • Auto-ID Center
  • RFID Journal
  • Posted at 03:41 PM in Collecting, Identities for things | Permalink


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