this is aaronland

convergence mirrors

aka, parallel-dopplr

Tom Coates and I were trolling each other a couple of weeks ago.

Like a lot of people he was voicing frustration at the demise and eventual shuttering last year of Dopplr, the social travel website that had been bought and largely neglected for years by Nokia. I made a comment that privatesquare was growing the ability to add trips, much the way you could in Dopplr. It's been a slow and gradual process but the core of the functionality has been working since late January and I've been testing it and dealing with the details ever since.

Tom pointed out that trips without the ability to share them with your friends wasn't very Dopplr-like on the Dopplr Scale.

And he was right. Trips in privatesquare are not a social feature because there's nothing social about privatesquare in the first place. You can't share your check-ins with anyone and there are no plans to add that functionality anytime soon. I'm not opposed to the idea and honestly being able to see someone else's Atlas of Desire — a list of places that a person has expressed an opinion about beyond simply checking in — would be really useful but that will require an amount of work that a mornings-and-weekends project doesn't afford.

With the trips release you can at least create a shared calendar but that's a pretty limited kind of social and I'll talk about it in detail, later.

Tom's comment got me thinking, though, and it started to feel like an extension of what I wrote about the motivations for building oh yeah, that. It's not that I don't want to build tools for sharing things with my friends. Rather, it's more that I'd like to build the things that I want to use first. I want to make sure that there I are tools I would keep using even if no one else wanted to play.

The funny thing about Dopplr was how quickly people started to use it as a device to recall the past as much as they used it as a tool to plan for the future.

There's a lot of chatter these days about applications that are for archiving versus applications that are for doing, or sharing. Or something like that. As usual it still seems to demand comparing the sad laugh track that Flickr has become against the reality that Instagram doesn't actually do very much to start with.

I would like to believe that given the choice between an application that takes as its starting point a stable and robust archive — a thing that is ultimately meant for the individual — and that radiates outward to include social features versus an application that only does social that people will opt for the former.

But not on principle, alone. I think Instagram has proven that.

Careful readers will notice that the grammatical tense for the arrival and departure dates, in the screenshot above, is incorrect since the trip is still marked as tentative. It should read This trip is still tentative but you would be here between... and has since been fixed.

That said, I don't believe Instagram or its friends are some kind of universal truth. I just think they are the easy way to build something and if the choice is good and simple versus kind-of-crap and thorough people will usually choose the former. It's not like we have a long history of really good tools for doing any kind of personal archiving, particularly an archive that affords a measured sociability, so it's easy to believe that it can't be done.

I am not sure where privatesquare falls on that scale but these are the things I've been thinking about and it's one of the reasons why you can't share trips: I'm still trying to figure out what I want before worrying about where other people are going.

So, you can add trips.

You can see all your trips organized by year and by month as well as by city. You can mark trips as being tentative or confirmed or as wishful thinking because that's basically the way most of us live our lives. Individual trips will display the places you checked-in to during your visit as well as all the places you've checked-in to over time. Individual check-ins do not indicate whether they were part of a trip yet.

Pages for trips that are in future will display your Atlas of Desire for that city. It used to be possible to flag a venue, in privatesquare, as a place you wanted to visit in by pasting a Foursquare URL in to a form. I eventually removed that because it seemed a bit superfluous but trips will probably bring that functionality back in some form.

You can also import all your past Dopplr trips, assuming you exported all of your data before they shut down. That part was awesome and not just because I had to consult Dopplr extensively when applying to Government Club; I genuinely had no memory of why I was in Canada in July of 2009. Maybe I really am the only person who wants applications that start from the archive radiating outwards but judging by the number of people I know who still use the calendar view on Flickr to situate their past selves I don't think I'm alone.

I have always maintained that the distinction between weblogs and calendars and bookmarking is close to meaningless and used to joke about publishing this weblog as an .ics (or shared calendar) file. Exporting your privatesquare check-ins has long been on the list of things to do. Although it's still not possible for check-ins I've now had to write enough of the plumbing to publish trips as a shared calendar that I expect it will be pretty easy to export other things as a calendar in future releases.

For now you can create one or more calendars and share them with people. You can limit calendars to a given city or to a particular type of trip (say only trips marked as confirmed) or to both. You can also set an expiration date on a shared calendar or include all the trips from the past that match the criteria for a calendar. Calendars can be deleted at any time but the data is a lot like syndication feeds: Once it's been published there's not really any way to scrub all the copies (from people's software caches or their hard drives).

No privatesquare account to is required to see a calendar. Instead calendars rely on casual privacy style URLs to limit access so the following warning is included on every page containing a casual privacy link. It's quite long as warnings go, perhaps too long. One person who I asked to sanity check the text pointed out that I can't tell if I'm supposed to use this option or not. Which pretty much sums up doing anything online these days given all the bad news...

The link below will allow you to share this calendar with other people. It contains all the trips that you've chose for this calendar formatted as an iCal file, which means it can be read and displayed by most calendar applications. This calendar includes the following information:

  • This calendar includes any kind of trip, regardless of its status (pending, confirmed, etc.)
  • This calendar includes trip notes.
  • This calendar includes trips from the past.

Sharing calendars works by using a technique called “casual privacy” which requires creating a secret code long enough as to be effectively unguessable and allows a person who is not logged in to privatesquare as you to see this calendar. That's the ?c=GIBBERISH stuff in the link. It also relies on the link being accessed over an encrypted connection. That's the https:// stuff in the link.

If you're using a version of privatesquare that does not use encrypted connections then you might want to reconsider using shared calendars (or even privatesquare) at all. Without encryption anyone who happens to be listening on the same network and sees that URL will be able to see the trips associated with a given calendar. It is worth noting that if you're not using a version of privatesquare with encrypted connections then someone might have already seen your secret URL since it is included in the content of this page...

On some levels the same thing applies to sharing that URL, whether or not it is encrypted, via email or some other broadcast mechanism. If someone can see the secret code they can see the trips for that calendar. If all of this sounds a bit paranoid and like a trip to tin-foil hat territory that's because it is. It's mostly a question of degrees and awareness. If you're worried about the modern security state knowing about your trips then you shouldn't be using privatesquare to hide from people in the first place. Also, chances are good that they already know where you're going by a number of other means.

The same is probably true of entities like Google but understand that even if you don't use those services when you send this link to someone with a GMail account you should expect that sooner or later a robot will follow the URL and no one really has any idea what sort of freakish stew these companies are brewing with all the information they collect.

Casual privacy is not a perfect solution. It is meant to be a kind of acceptible middle ground to account for the fact that most calendaring software doesn't have any way to prompt people for login credentials and privatesquare doesn't have any concept of relationships (or permissions) between users. Calendars can be deleted at any time. You can also configure a calendar to stop including updates after a certain dates. In both cases though if someone has already subscribed to a calendar then you should assume they have access to any trips already downloaded. In the end few of us lead lives with the kind of intrigue that warrant anything more than casual privacy but better to understand what's going on than not.


That's about it, really. Both trips and calendars lack some of the features and polish that I'd like them to have but the basics are all there. I think I imagined this taking four or five scattered week's worth of mornings and weekends and it's been more like four months so barring any outstanding bugs it's time to put privatesquare down for a while and let it simmer and give the other projects some attention.

As always, the source code is over on GitHub and there's a handy tarball of the current release here: