Article 25

‘So the World Can Change Itself’

In Uncategorized on 08/06/2011 at 1:08 pm

Exploring the potential of Flare Code

By Ariana Kateri

Ian Bowman-Henderson is the president and co-founder of Flare Code, a QR code-based social app originally conceived to provide print publishers an alternative way to connect their content to material online. A Flare Code can be printed and stuck on any object, such as a newspaper, art supplies or a band’s poster, then scanned with a mobile device. The code leads the user to whatever content the publisher has linked to it.

Unlike a QR code however, the Flare user interface also collects all of the updating online content (such as RSS feeds, Tweets, Facebook statuses etc.) about that content, similar to a search engine, except that the keyword is really the object being scanned. In addition, and perhaps most important, the app is a social network with a comment section built around that real-world object and all the online content about it.

Bowman-Henderson, a journalism student at Ohio University, co-founded Flare Code with a fellow student, Niklos Salontay. Flare is still in development and will launch in September. Bowman-Henderson and Salontay spoke to Article 25 about Flare; in this issue, we feature Bowman-Henderson’s interview. It should be noted that the interview took place on two separate occasions over the course of two weeks.

   A25: The person who makes a Flare Code and prints it: (Does he or she) have the ability to moderate any of the comments that the readers post?

Bowman-Henderson: No, they can’t delete comments, and all the Flare Codes automatically have a comment section. Like that’s how we guarantee the social functionality – we are always saying this channel will be open.

   A25: So no one else can delete another person’s comment?

Bowman-Henderson: Right.

   A25: And what about “flagged for inappropriateness”? Whose job is it?

Bowman-Henderson: No one’s. I mean it’s the community’s job. I mean you just tell that person, “Fuck off.”

   A25: So can the community delete –

Bowman-Henderson: No. It’s like the normal world. You can’t stop people from speaking in the real world. That’s how your rights are set up. So it’s the best way legally to do it, too. If I moderate comments, it’s like I’m the publisher at that point. And at that point, if someone says something libelous in a comment, I’m liable for it. It’d be like I was the New York Times and my writer printed something libelous. Whereas if you just say as a matter of policy, “We don’t moderate comments,” then it’s just an open forum. People can say whatever they want. It brings their rights as individuals into it.

   A25: What do you see as the revolutionary function here, the extra content or the social (network)?

Bowman-Henderson: It’s really the fact that you are getting contextualized information from what’s around you and then having an immediate connection to other people who have had that experience. So when we talk about objects, we are really talking about experiences. I don’t give a shit about beer but I give a shit about the brewing company, and I might like to meet other people who like it; and if there was some kind of tasting around here, I would want to go to it. So it’s taking all of that and instead of having it out on the Web, it’s bringing it right to the experience that I’m sharing.

   A25: Who owns the data?  Who owns the photos that users upload? Does Flare own it?

Bowman-Henderson: This is always an issue for people. But here’s the thing. Your opinion is not really worth anything on the Internet, because it’s in a marketplace of ideas that’s flooded to the max. You are not smarter than everyone. Your ideas are not more original than everyone’s. There’s just a lot of shit out there.

   A25: So in the terms of service, the person who is clicking, “Yes, I agree,” is not saying, “OK, I also sign over rights to this content?”

Bowman-Henderson: No, we do not do that. We don’t really want it, I guess, is the point I was trying to make. We don’t want their intellectual property, like their comments, we don’t want their photos, we don’t want any of that stuff but we do think that we should be able to access their actual behaviors and what they are doing.

   A25: Do you have plans on data mining right now?

Bowman-Henderson: It’s not data mining. I mean that word doesn’t describe something that would happen, because they submit everything. You don’t have to mine it – just look at what they did (online). The fact is, yeah, we plan to use that because it’s how we allow the platform to not cost any money.

   A25: It’s a free app?

Bowman-Henderson: Yes. Sorry, we have to you sell ads. I want it to be free, but we have to sell ads or else no one gets to use it. You know, an ad is a really small price to pay; it doesn’t actually do anything to you. I mean, yeah, it’s scary, but the fact is transparency is good. It’s better for the world to be transparent and for all the shit to be known and published than it is to be hidden because most people aren’t bad.

   A25: Do you think the degree to which transparency is valued for you is mainly the age?

Bowman-Henderson: I think that just the pure fact that everyone younger than us is going to grow up with their whole lives recorded one way or another. Like not in the 1984 way, but you are going to be able to go online and tell your life story through multimedia just (as) a natural occurrence of the Web existing the way it does now.

That’s the thing: Older people are comparing the world now to the world they lived in. That world doesn’t exist anymore. There’s just nothing to hide; people’s whole lives are online. So now there is this controlling group of older individuals what we would call the current paradigm of people who grew up having their work life and personal life their home life in these silos. But these silos don’t exist anymore.

We are just living a real reflection, we are just being who actually we are. We are just being publicly. Once everyone is on that level, it just ceases to be taboo; it just ceases to be interesting really.

   A25: I feel like it’s an interesting balance – that you can also go the opposite of transparency and meticulously craft a public way of being viewed.

Bowman-Henderson: But I think that ultimately that it’s susceptible to bullshit detection. … You are going to be … skeptical about someone that seems like there is nothing weird about them at all. ’Cause it’s just going to look like a part of their life is missing. Which is how it does feel with those people, like when you look someone up online and they seem to have no life or there (are) only pictures of them skydiving or skiing or something – like there is not a whole person. You know what a whole person looks like, because all of your friends probably have a pretty accurate reflection of what their life is like online.

A25: We’ll eventually develop a good online bullshit detector.

Bowman-Henderson: It’s a product of our age. I just think that is something that makes us different than people before us.

We grew up being lied to. The first thing you can probably remember in your political consciousness was probably a lie. I don’t know what it was for you, but it was probably –

   A25: I remember Lewinsky was –

Bowman-Henderson: Yeah, that was a touchstone for us. Or information control, or the dubious politics around Sept. 11. The Iraq war, around military intervention in other countries, backroom deals and Iran and all that stuff. We’ve never been able to take anything at face value.

A25: How do you want to be remembered?

Bowman-Henderson: I want to be remembered as someone who did not (do) harm in the world. There’s just so many problems. … It’s so hard to choose one and try to solve it. Hunger, crowding, energy, oil, war, terrorism, civil rights, gay rights – all of these causes that are so important. It’s hard to know how to solve even one of them. Even if you did, there would still be all these other ones, so I don’t know what to do to make the world better.

But I know making people more knowledgeable and making them help to understand each other better and communicate more fluidly and integrate all this incredible wealth of knowledge (with) our collective will that we’ve established through the Internet – I don’t think is harmful. And I think that it can really allow other people (who) have chosen their cause and fighting their fight, to actually make headway. … I don’t know how to change the world but I do want to create this tool to allow the world to change itself.

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  1. […] way to connect their content to material online. He is a journalism student at Ohio University and co founded Flare Code with a fellow journalism student, Ian Bowman-Henderson. A Flare Code can be printed off and stuck on any real world object, such as a newspaper, art […]

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