Get this stuff out of my head.

QR Code Stickers to Catalog a City

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The process of cataloging all of the physical and public things in a city is a mammoth task. Identifying and geotagging all lampposts, grit bins, bus stops, drop curbs, litter bins, telephone junction boxes, parking meters, etc. is something that seems to be insurmountable.  Not only that but who should do it?

Obviously the local council has a responsibility, but so do many other local and national organisations like telephone companies, gas and electricity providers, car park owners, universities, oh the list goes on.

But the impetus to start such a catalog seems to be stifled by the thought that it needs to be complete to be useful. I want to challenge that assumption and to suggest a way in which the task of cataloging could be begun independently of the owners of the physical assets.

QR code stickers to catalog a cityThe idea is to create hundreds, no thousands of QR code stickers, each with a unique URL encoded on it. These URLs would be an unique but random short code, just like those used by URL shortening services like  The stickers should be waterproof, not easy to peel off and contain little other information (perhaps just the URL to allow access by people without QR code devices).

These stickers could then attached to any item in the real world and the URL attributed to the physical object and its location, type, photographs, condition, owner can all be added to the object’s record.

But the sticking and the attributing don’t have to be done at the same time. Stickers can be stuck and the attribution could be done by the first person to visit the URL by capturing its QR code.

“this item hasn’t been cataloged yet, can you tell use what and where it is?”

Of course it may be that more than one sticker has been stuck to the object. No problem, the system’s algorithms should be able to recognise the difference between two stickers on a lamp post and sticker on the litter bin attached to the lamp post.

Once items are catalogued, the URL becomes an interface for interactions:

“This is a lamp post on South Road. Do you want to:

  • Upload a photograph of it, 
  • Report it as faulty, 
  • Make a comment about it, 
  • Claim ownership of it.”

by acting a brokerage for Interacting with public physical objects, the project could:

  • provide a common set of open APIs for developers
  • amass a collection of open data
  • show the existence of a digital city in the physical one
  • provide a single, unified and implement process in order to change peoples behaviour from consumer of public objects to being involved in their maintenance

Acting as a brokerage would also mean that existing systems could be utilised, FixMyStreet for fault reports (that are a council’s responsibility), Gowala or FourSquare for comments or review, flickr for photographs.  Using these kind of services would greatly reduce the effort needed to build a common point of contact for them.  The project starts to feel like a link shortener for public physical objects.

Hmmmm. All your thoughts are very welcome.