Digital Graffiti is Invisible to The Naked Eye. But It’s Everywhere

Isn’t it a shame that every picture you take gets banished to the Photos App – a personal, chaotic abyss. The only chance of remembering these photos is to bravely dive head first into your digital photo album and peruse hundreds, if not thousands of photos.

But what if there were a more convenient way to resurface these memories?

This is the idea behind digital graffiti – moments stamped in a time, a location, or in the company of certain people – set to resurface when these contextual clues emerge once again.

  • You’re back along the ocean boardwalk your family visits every year.
  • It’s your mother’s birthday and you want to relive each of the last 5 birthdays.
  • You’ve just reconnected with a friend you haven’t seen in 3 years and you’re telling great stories from the past.

In each of these moments, there are pictures on our smartphones from years past that should resurface to make those memory moments even stronger. Digital Graffiti uses location data, time stamps, and even the presence of other devices to understand which photos might be relevant to the “current” situation.

If you use Facebook, then you’re familiar with a similar experience. Every so often Facebook will remind you how long you’ve been Facebook friends with someone or show you a photo that you posted one year ago. It’s their own form of digital graffiti – ephemeral moments that reappear for you to enjoy again.

Personal photos are just the tip of the iceberg, though.

Digital Graffiti

The beauty of graffiti (and art for that matter) is that they can be experienced by the public. It’s a means of sharing something beautiful with others that might enjoy it.

Digital graffiti will be no different.

Let’s look at holographic notes, for example. In the video below, Ryan and I show how a video hologram can replace the traditional Yelp review. I created a hologram of me reviewing the restaurant we were dining at, which (one day) others will be able to watch for food suggestions – in lieu of reading Yelp reviews:

Holographic notes are one form of digital graffiti that will be left all over the world in strategic locations for travel tips, communicating with celebrities, mementos to loved ones, etc.

In many ways, digital graffiti is like leaving breadcrumbs in the digital world. It’s a means of leaving traces of our digital interactions in the relevant places that they were created.

Imagine during your next vacation, you and your wife travel to Paris. At each monument you visit, the two of you create a holographic note, take a photo, or write a short message. Leaving these digital breadcrumbs throughout your entire visit.

A year later, your son and his newly-wedded wife take the same trip, making sure to follow your trail of breadcrumbs. At each location, they encounter a new piece of digital graffiti that you left for them to enjoy. Words of endearment, digital congratulations, etc.

Digital graffiti is cool in theory. But what about in practice?

Digital Graffiti Companies

This lofty idea of leaving traces of our digital mementos around the world for others to enjoy is not unrealistic. And there are even a few companies already executing the idea.

An early example would be Mark AR, which is an app for digitally tagging walls with graffiti for others to see on their smartphones:

Although the only type of Digital Graffiti that Mark AR lets users create is, well, “digital graffiti”, they’ve nailed the greater concept – where a person creates something digitally that is anchored in a physical location.

Google’s ARCore platform stores the location using GPS and computer vision, capturing details in the environment to use them as anchor points. When somebody shares art with you, a thumbnail will appear on a map; if you visit that location and point your phone at the place shown in the thumbnail, you’ll see whatever image they’ve created.

Adi Robertson, The Verge

Likewise, the Breadcrumbs App lets users anchor their digital reviews and information in physical locations. Once again, the list of media you can create and share is quite small. Basically just text. But the concept of digital graffiti is there.

And lastly, I’m extremely drawn to the Adobe Aero platform. It’s the most impressive set of tools I’ve seen yet for creating AR visual assets and digital graffiti.

This leads me to the most important piece of the puzzle for digital graffiti. Viewing it.

A Window Into the Digital World

Digital graffiti cannot be viewed by the naked eye. You need a screen, a window, or a portal of some sort that reveals these digital creations.

Today, the smartphone is the most compelling way to view digital graffiti:

Niantic Labs has programmed Pokemon to roam all over the world. But you can only see those Pokemon through your phone’s screen in the Pokemon Go App. These Pokemon, in many ways, are digital graffiti. Invisible to the naked eye. Visible to the technologically augmented eye.

The phone, however, is not the most realistic portal for viewing digital graffiti. Because it resides in our pockets, we might pass by digital graffiti without ever knowing.

Augmented reality, whether as headsets, AR glasses, or some other wearable we cannot yet imagine, is what will take digital graffiti to new levels. With a pair of Magic Leap goggles on at all times, the window to digital graffiti is always there. The friction has vanished. And we can experience digital graffiti without needing to take out our phones.

There are many wrinkles which AR wearables need to iron out before they are as common as smartphones. But once they do, digital graffiti will be their biggest hit.

Of course, there are other necessary pieces that need to be solved, such as building robust digital maps for seeking and finding digital graffiti. Along with ensuring proper monitoring and content moderation systems.

But once we do, we’ll add new dimensions to our digital interactions. Tweets will be cemented in locations. Photographs will resurface during relevant times. Digital graffiti will surround us and elevate the way we communicate digitally.