After earlier talking about dérive and psychogeography, I'll compare three apps that work on iOS for doing an actual dérive. A dérive, if you haven't been following, is something of an assisted random meandering, typically in an urban area. Because, a dérive doesn't depend on your actual surroundings and requires you to focus on specific, often banal, aspects of your locale, a dérive allows you to experience your environment in a completely different way, whether you're in your hometown, Paris or Kinshasa.
I'm comparing deriveapp, which is web based, and the two iOS apps Serendipitor and Drift. None of these apps were built for Android devices, though deriveapp obviously will work on them. With psychogeography being a project of 1950s European Urbanism, and something that's got quite a following amongst architects and artists, this shouldn't be too much of a surprise; 'these people' don't own Android phones, they own iPhones.
I compare the three apps on a number of features I believe the perfect dérive app should have. For each of these features, I give each app 0, 1 or 2 points, after which I declare an overall winner by adding up the individual scores. Comments are very welcome, including suggestions on features I missed.
The app should work on the widest range of devices possible.
deriveapp resolves this by being web based. However, because the cards with tasks are images, and are designed to fit on a small iOS screen, this device independence only goes so far. Still, compared to Serendipitor and Drift, deriveapp will indeed work on a wider range of devices.
No internet connection required
Though you might use a dérive app in your hometown or in your own country, chances are you'll use it while on holiday. There's a possibility you'll have internet access through a roaming agreement, or perhaps you didn't cross your country's borders, or decided to plug in a local sim card, but, most likely, you won't have easy, or cheap, access to the internet. Therefore, the ideal dérive app should not require an internet connection.
deriveapp, web based, completely fails, here, but the other two apps don't do any better. Serendipitor uses an online map to show where it wants you to go and requires a connection to plot you a route, while Drift tries to upload the photos you take after every step. With the latter unable to start up without an internet connection, all three apps, in the end, do equally bad.
Not all of us speak English, so either having language independence built in, offering multiple languages within the app, or allowing for third parties to contribute content in other languages would make for a better experience.
Serendipitor and Drift are locked down, but deriveapp's open architecture allows for anyone to contribute. In fact, the basic packs of tasks come with the tasks in three languages. Sadly, because these cards are pure images, it's not text that can easily be translated or adapted.
Tasks need to be skippable
Though a dérive's individual tasks are typically generic, it's still quite possible that your next task doesn't make any sense in your context. Serendipitor can require you to find a fire hydrant. I've never seen one in Kampala (where I currently am).
Both deriveapp and Serendipitor allow you to skip to the next task, while Drift allows you to perform the tasks in any order, which somewhat defies the point of the concept.
Allow for expandable sets of tasks
Being able to build your own set of tasks not only frees you from the whims of the app's author, it specifically allows you to build a set of tasks perfectly fit to your current, or your chosen, locale. Also, this allows for a potentially vibrant user community to contribute in unimaginable ways, which in turn reinforces the random nature of the dérive.
deriveapp is the only app that's expandable without interference from the app author. In fact, as the underlying code is freely available, hosting your own dérive server and adding to it to your liking is very straightforward.
Allow for including and importing photos
A dérive typically includes documenting your experiences through photography. A photographer won't be happy with just snapping a few photos and, at least, will want to be able to edit photos, taken as part of the dérive, with his device's built in manipulation tools. Additionally, perhaps, putting together the results of his meander through an online interface, he might want to include photos shot with an external camera.
deriveapp doesn't store anything, and is not an actual mobile app, meaning that imports are not an option. Serendipitor and Drift only allow for shooting photos from within the app.
Store results locally
After having done a dérive, it's fun to browse through your meander, mapped (if possible because of your internet connection), with tasks and photos.
deriveapp does not store any progress. Serendipitor does, but only shows this at the end of your dérive, when it's ready to send an email to its servers. Drift lists your tasks with their photos, catalogued for your pleasure, but leaves out the locations.
Stores results on the web and allows for sharing
Having access to your trips locally is nice, but being able to see them online and sharing them with others is what allows you to store your trips for posterity. Additionally, this has the power to foster a community. The result should include the route you walked, the tasks you were given and the photos you took. It could even be possible to include third party services like foursquare or Instagram.
deriveapp does not store any progress, let alone showing the results of your dérive online. Serendipitor does show the results online, even though the online interface leaves room for improvement. Drift uploads the photos, but there's (currently) no private or public place for users' past dérives. After a few photos, all contributions 'fall off the page'.
Have an API
I should be able to export the results of a dérive, to use in whatever application I see fit.
deriveapp doesn't store anything, while Drift is locked down. Serendipitor sends the results of your meander to its servers by email (for which you actively have to push a 'send' button inside your device's email app), which means it's possible to send the results to an alternate email address, where a script could deconstruct your meander. This is obviously not ideal, but it would work to some extent.
A collaborative dérive app is perfectly suited to be gamified, providing batches for achievements in similar fashion that foursquare and many other location based services do.
No map needed
A true dérive does not rely on a map. The randomness and unexpected encounters being part of the meander is what makes a dérive interesting. And, anyway, with the apps all running on smartphones, mapping apps are already on the device itself. That said, having a map also isn't in itself a bad thing (unless it prevents the app from working). So, no scoring on this feature.
Serendipitor wins with a small lead, deriveapp narrowly taking second place:
Off the three, deriveapp is by far the prettiest, but also misses some key functionality that Serendipitor provides, due to its inability to store any progress. Serendipitor could be an excellent app if it borrowed a few things from deriveapp and would make itself work without internet access.
I'm considering designing and building a web based dérive app which would work in concert with one of the few trip recording apps such as HipGeo. After that, perhaps it would be time to design and build an actual mobile app.
After obtaining an M. Sc in maths, Babak Fakhamzadeh started with an office job at a major blue chip company but soon realised he'd do better on his own. Babak is a traveling web guru with a penchant for doing good and a love for visual and experimental art. Together with Eduardo Cachucho, he won the World Summit Award in the m-Tourism and Culture category in 2012 for Dérive app. With Ismail Farouk, he won the Highway Africa new media award in 2007 for Soweto Uprisings . com. Check out Babak's CV.
Babak is currently in Colombia.
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