Sure, programs like Twitter are a boon for campus communities and for social circles of all kinds. They permit students and professors — the tech-savvy ones, at least — to keep their friends and associates apprised of what they’re up to, where to find them, what they’re thinking. But what if you want different groups of acquaintances to know different things about how you’re spending the day? What if you don’t want certain people – your boss, for example – to know what you’re really doing?
Then you need Swarm, says its inventor, Christine Satchell, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Melbourne. While completing her doctoral dissertation at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology — it was titled “A Young Nomad’s Guide to New Digital Terrains” — she came up with the idea of cell-phone software that lets users choose what to report to which of their associates.
By flicking through and clicking on a few of Swarm’s screens, menus, and icons, a user can signal different things to different people in a phone’s address book. Loaded into just about any of the newfangled 3G phones, Swarm’s icons indicate that a user is — or claims to be — on vacation, driving, or working; it can also signal that the user is socializing, and where to join in, or that the user is sleeping, so that friends don’t interrupt a nap.
But users can also choose to tell some contacts that they’re at a certain pub having a beer — the icon is a cocktail glass — and at the same time assure the boss that they’re running an important errand. Users can add icons that signal their mood, or add music, photographs, or videos to their shout-outs.
Ms. Satchell admits that her system’s capabilities have earned it the name “the liephone,” but she says she prefers to see it as giving users control over their own identity — or identities.
A segment about Swarm that appeared this month on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s weekly television program, The New Inventors. —Peter Monaghan