Zen and the Art of Internet Tracking

Many people like the idea that they can find where the latest parcel they ordered from amazon.com is located right now, where their stolen car is heading, or if their teenage daughter is returning home using the safest way.

Tracking is also an old favourite for scholars of social psychology. Best know of them all is Stanley Milgram , the genius who shook the world with his study of obedience and is the person behind the concept of Six Degree of Separation (although he never used the term) or, as he called it, Small World Project. Milgram set out to test the extent (length, spread) of connection between people in social networks across the USA.

Milgram was able to track mini-sized parcels across the United States – arguing that each person in a given social network may be linked to any other person through fix connecting ‘steps.’ It is important to note that several of Milgram’s findings have been contested over the years.  Personally, I love Milgram’s  work and believe him to be a genius who operated way ahead of his time.

BookCrossing, my favourite tracking site, allows people to register online a book they love (or simply one they want to track.) For each book they register, they receive a unique number (BCID) and a sticker, asking whomever finds the book to go online and use the BCID to register the book and note where the book was found. Bok owners are encouraged to simply leave the books behind – on the train, in the library or on a bench in the park, rather then give them away to someone. The enable users to track book movements.  There are currently 4,327,258 registered books on Bookcrossing!

In 2004, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary added the following:

Bookcrossing: n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

Other tracking sites:

  • PhotoTag.org disposable cameras are being distributed at random ‘in the wild’ people are invited to take one picture and pass the camera on. Postage and a return address are included — to make it simple to send the camera back when all the film is used up.
  • WheresGeorge.com tracks US dollars through their serial number.
  • Confluence.org aims to visit each of the latitude and longitude integer degree intersections in the world, and to take pictures at each location.