<b>Post-Its for Passers-By</b>
New York Up Close
By RICHARD MORGAN
<i>The New York Times</i>
November 13, 2005
During the Republican National Convention last year, Robert Pietri, a 37-year-old filmmaker from Park Slope, was arrested on 16th Street between Irving Place and Park Avenue South. You'd know that if you went to that block - well, if you went to that location, and if you had a Motorola i860 cellphone, and if that phone were connected to a program called Socialight.
Socialight leaves virtual Post-it notes, called sticky shadows, in specific sites around the city. A text message pops up when a cellphone is carried into the designated space, which is generally smaller than a city block but larger than an intersection. Started last month in a Chelsea loft by two 2004 graduates of New York University, Socialight now has dotted the metropolitan region with more than 500 stickies.
The topic of Mr. Pietri's first post to Socialight was his arrest, but he quickly moved into less personal material: the spot where Malcolm X was killed (the Audubon Ballroom, in Washington Heights at Broadway and 165th Street), for example, or the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire (at Washington Place and Greene Street, in Greenwich Village). "I didn't want to just say, 'There's a good mojito here' or 'There's good pizza here,' " Mr. Pietri said.
The entrepreneurs behind the program, Michael Sharon and Dan Melinger, who helped develop Socialight at N.Y.U., have a history as gamesters who use cities as playing boards; in another N.Y.U. game, called Pac-Manhattan, cellphone users turn the streets of the borough into the game itself. But with Socialight they wanted something lighter and more social.
"With instant messaging on computers, you just ping people," Mr. Sharon said. "It's short conversations, light-touch communication. So we wanted to keep that fun with cellphones, which people carry everywhere they go."
So far, Socialight functions only with the Motorola i860 because that phone's built-in global positioning system chip and camera provided the most fertile ground for the program's growth. But Mr. Melinger notes that federal regulations are mandating the increased use of G.P.S. chips in cellphones for emergency-response services, and he and Mr. Sharon hope to spread Socialight along with that technology.
Until then, Mr. Pietri looms large among the shadows, one of which notes that the Great Lawn in Central Park was a shantytown during the Depression. "So that when somebody with a Frisbee finds out, they're like, thank God," he said. "It gives them something to think about, whether they choose to think about it or not."