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Location Based Apps for the Homeless

During the 90’s I spent a lot of time ‘roughing it’ and wandering Europe. I’d walk between France, Switzerland and Germany sleeping under the stars and making money where I could. If you’ve ever read Narcissus and Goldmund  by Hesse you’ll get the idea.

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I starting writing a book called the ‘Blaggers Guid To The World’. I never finished it. At the time I felt I could easily justify some of my money making and free travel methods I was exploring but now.. written down.. they don’t look entirely ethical, so the book sits half finished in a tatty notebook.

My social network at the time lived in the same leather bound notebook. The pages were split into countries and under each country heading were listed names, addresses and phone numbers. Most of the travellers I met on the road would exchange details with me. No emails or mobile numbers.  Just an address & home number that if you rang and someone answered, you could be sure of a bed for the night as you travelled through.

There was an unwritten code of mutual assistance for anyone wanting to follow a nomadic way of life. We were the voluntary homeless, the student tramps on a never ending year out, Backpackers without an itinerary.

The noticeboards at youth hostels would give you the latest local information. Even where you could eat, shower and sleep for free. I soon learn’t that marinas offered a comfortable night under an upturned boat and occasionally had unlocked warm showers for shivering windsurfers.. or me.

Markets and Hari Krishna temples always had free food and in Italy I could be sure to feast on salami, bread and cheese should I wander into a church looking hungry. Yes I’d have to listen to a religious sales pitch but that was a small price to pay for such luxurious tastes.

At one point on my travels I met a guy on the run form the French Foreign Legion. On a short overnight boat trip, I listened to his acquired wisdom and he gave me half the contents of my unfinished book. He scrawled out some symbols into my notebook and told me to keep an eye out for chalked of stone scratched graffiti.

6231024556 94a3e9fb2a o Location Based Apps for the HomelessYears later I found out this was an almost identical code to American Hobo signs.

I took to carrying a chalky stone in my pocket and adding the relevant marks where I could. I liked the idea that if spotted, the owner could remove it but also that with time it would fade. A fresh mark meant a recent update and fresh news.

Today, many people still don’t get location based social networking but we have very similar features to those above in apps like Foursquare and Gowalla.

If I had the time, energy and know-how I’d build an app based on the above system used in Hobo Graffiti. I’d also also include some of the more known Wardriving symbols that also used to be spotted on our streets in order to highlight open Wifi. I am not sure the newly digitally equipped Hobo would be ready for the WorkSnug kind of interface but something smart and simple.. Why not?

Of course there are more than a few location apps showing available hotspots, power points etc. But as more people travel with technology or shun our normal static lifestyles, how about an app aimed at the travellers, the voluntarily homeless?  One that does not necessarily conform to societies norms.

I can’t imagine how my 10 years exploring the world would have looked should I have had a smart phone in my pocket. As it stands I’m quite glad I trod the analogue path.

But should I ever do it again, these kinds of apps would certainly travel with me. Along with my digitised and leather bound social networks.

About Documentally

Talking, teaching and documenting using mobile tools. Running workshops and consulting worldwide with a focus on social technology.

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