Starting a conversation
Tom Armitage and Sam Hill are unlocking the city of Bristol’s personality and starting real conversations. These conversations are not with the residents of Bristol, but with their lamp posts, mailboxes, and cranes.
Now their project, Hello Lamp Post, is helping Bristol residents contribute to and interact with their city using Twilio Programmable SMS. Tom and Sam set out to build an experience that would put residents in touch with their own culture, through an unexpected and new medium of human interaction. They just didn’t realize how fun it would be.
Writing the diary of a city
Ready to strike up a conversation with your local mailbox? Just enter the mailbox’s alphanumeric code and text it to Hello Lamp Post’s Twilio number. The mailbox might reply with “Hey, what’s behind me?” Whatever you respond with becomes a part of that object’s memory. The next day when someone else texts the mailbox, it remembers your conversation and say, “Apparently, there was a double parked car behind me. Is it still there?”
“Cities are like big geographic diaries,” says Sam. This project lets residents write the diary of their city, while documenting their own experiences in conversation. “One of the wonderful things about living in a large city is that you get to sample all the different things that everyone’s doing. That’s fantastic because as a consequence you get a more enriched lifestyle,” Sam added.
Bristol residents learn more about themselves in learning from their city’s street furniture. So far 2,185 different residents have started 5,106 conversations with various inanimate objects around Bristol.
Tom and Sam designed Hello Lamp Post to promote the idea of a living, breathing, “playable” city. But, making an inanimate piece of street furniture playable is one thing, teaching it to carry a conversation is another. When Tom and Sam built Hello Lamp Post, they focused on conversation logic, logging objects’ “memories”, and compiling data for the city of Bristol. At first, they weren’t sure if they’d even use messaging.
“Hello Lamp Post didn’t come about because we specifically wanted to work with messaging. However, once we knew messaging would be a great fit to bring the concept to life, I knew I didn’t have to worry about the messaging implementation – Twilio ensures that it’s a solved problem,” says Tom.
Hello Lamp Post launched in Bristol July 15th 2013 and runs until September 8th, with support from Arts Council England and production help from creative agency, Watershed. Since kicking off in July, Bristol’s lamp posts, mailboxes and telephone poles have learned a lot about the city’s residents. Hello Lamp Post received more than 15,000 messages from users who unlocked and talked to nearly 800 inanimate objects around Bristol.
Sam and Tom are passionate about creating this immersive experience and looking forward to expanding the ways residents can interact with each other, and their city. “We’re hoping that by encouraging people to engage in conversation with objects, to put themselves in their shoes, rather than just complete tasks or score points, we might be able to more effectively alter their perspective of their city – to change how they see it,” says Tom.