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Location-based website appearance & physical web visit indicators

Physical Computing, Ambient displays, presence indication. This research engages in two different aspects which together form the area of "web related presence indication." First there is the aspect of creating an awareness-of-presence here, in physical space the office associated with this website; Then there is the other investigation of exploring the ways in which the visitor, there can become aware of conditions here, the place the website is located at. This could be achieved by dynamically adapting the appearance of the website, allowing a visitor to get a basic idea of current conditions "there," at the remote location.

Often websites are not associated with a particular place or geographical location in the world. Neither Amazon nor BoingBoing have a place in the real world. Blogs, for example, are more likely to be associated with a person or the various topics discussed there. BoingBoing, for example, is created by a group of contributors which are dispersed all over the world. Commercial websites such as Ebay or Amazon have national affiliations more then local ones, with specific TDLs. Craigs lists on the other hand are primarily perceived as local and as a result of that also perhaps as social media, where people meet, discuss and exchange ideas or property. There such changes could make sense. Also at websites that cater to tourists or geographical attractions. Here the visitor is likely to be captivated and attracted by a vivid sense of connectedness with the place created by certain alive features of the website.

The most simple & direct solution to convey this sense of immediacy may be a webcam image-stream; placed outdoors and pointing to a particular scenery the cameras view can convey a very immediate sense of locality. What other possibilities are there to create a sense of the natural surroundings, weather conditions and sense-of-locality without interfering too much with the content of a website or dedicating too much attention to it?

Two examples:

Example 1: >>> Local "real world" context (weather) affecting web page visualisation

Dunstan Orchard's "weather banners," at Here a selection of 96 panorama graphics display many possible weather conditions, day or night, phase of the moon and season for his parents home in Devon, UK. These banners are a visualisation of the current, abstract weather data. Through the simple abstraction of depicting weather, season, day or night and phase of the moon more "acurate" then a live webcam image, where the live-characteristics dominate the actual message, weather, geography and context in this case. Their purpose is less informative then emotional.

Example 2: <<< Individuals activity on web page visualised at "real world" place.

"Alerting Infrastructure," a project by Jonah Brucker-Cohen, functions as a physical hit-counter for website activity Here every time a visitors connects to the project website a jackhammer begins deconstructing the place that the website represents.

Definition of terms:

For reasons of clarity it is necessary to define the terms used here such as presence indication on the web, awareness display, ambient,


The first two projects, "weather banners" and "alerting infrastructure" give the clearest sense of the context of the conceptual background the two different sides of the research pertain to. Here are several more:

iGoogle personalised site. The designs change during the day, not related to weather but to geography location. (see figure: "Enter location")

Pervasive Expression
A new research direction is currently emerging in which pervasive display technology is used to reveal information about wearers and inhabitants, their activities or their surrounding environment.

Description of hardware to control a set of ambient displays via a computer:

Visualisations, telematics, ambient displays:
telematic: connecting remote parties
A project from medialab Europe, connecting two remote parties:

Dangling string as ambient display for network traffic
Mark Weiser's classic "designing calm technology"

Pinwheels at the MediaLab visualising network traffic:

Ambient display:
An analogue clock visualising unread emails.

Cezanne Still life representing emails

Materious weather "forcast" umbrella handle:

Weather affecting appearance of website:

The current weather data transformed into a video animation:

Another weather mapping:
Different cities in one display.

Amsterdam webcam of sky arranged as a large mapping, visualising weather and duration of day/night.

Sun Clock, a light bulb dimming up and down thus visualising the sun outside.

Presence indication:
In physical space and visually
Visitor to website:

Life stats painting, RCA, Revital Cohen:
"The Telepresence Frame is a domestic object which utilises the fact that one's bodily functions are digitised in order to create a new form of telepresence. Allowing loved ones to be constantly aware of your physical state."

Feed Widget by FEEDJit: Not only the fact that a certain number of visitors are present is displayed, but actually WHERE they are coming from.

Web Visit Indicators, Physical Hit Counters

Since the Arduino board has become available it is much easier to indicate web visits with physical displays:

Dimme created a web visitor blinker with an Arduino board. Of particular interest is that he describes the result as an emotional experience: "What it does is that every time somebody visits my website, a LED light blinks once in my room, and I get a warm feeling of a visitor" He is sharing the code - which only works with a web-server running on the local machine.

"Alerting Infrastructure," a project by Jonah Brucker-Cohen, functions as a physical hit-counter for website activity Here every time a visitors connects to the project website a jackhammer begins deconstructing the place that the website represents - "highlighting normally invisible aspects of various kinds of networks."

Alex at Tinkerlog has built an Arduino XMAS hitcounter physically shaking a bell. He also describes the emotional experience "It puts a smile on your face, every time someone hits your blog".
On the other hand the bell also is intrusive. Later in the evening he disconnected it: "Ok, ok, I surrender. I pulled the plug. Thanks for “dinging” in …"

Bob created a physical hit counter that actually counts visits with mechanical counter.

Eugenio Tisselli created a webpage that deteriorates (title: "Degenerative") with every visit. After These changes are irreversible and take place on the screen only.


Tim O'Reilly calls it "Augmented Reality":
"We're clearly careening towards a world in which virtual worlds are overlaid on the real world, bits interpenetrated with atoms." Exactly what this research is about ...
A number of links in the text and many ideas of mapping and Second Life.

Andrew Whitacre wrote in 2006 of "Web Design Develops its Tactile Language"
"Web design may have no sense of touch, but neither does the written word. The difference, at present, is that the written word has had time to develop its language for communicating touch, to get what a person sees on the page to trigger the participation of imagination and, more importantly, tactile memory.

Web design is slowly developing its own language for the sense of touch, as well as generally for shared space. [...] Don’t think of your site as a collection of visual elements. Don’t think of it as HTML or CSS or PHP. Don’t even think of it as page.

Think of it as a room you can walk into and shake someone’s hand."

Andrew's quote is taken here slightly out of context. He actually allures to a different type of conceptual web-design and writing. But the intention is strikingly similar. It is about a personal connection between the writer and his audience.

last update: 9/18/02009 19:28

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