Ghost in front of Balthazar, New York

Want the best latte? Ask a real ghost in New York.

Ever walked around a new neighbourhood in a new city, feeling a bit lost? Now take my hand.

Yelp gives you local insight based on your geo location. But what about the new and awesome coffee shop that just opened around the corner? Or the secret fashion store in the basement below the subway? All the location based apps out there work all right. But still they don’t beat the experience that you get when you run into that special guy or girl that just knows the hood from the inside out, because they have lived there their entire lives.

Contribution creatures

“Do you know any great restaurants around this neighbourhood?”. Ever get that feeling of being the president of your own hood? The person that just knows every single side street. Every vibe. Every story. I love that feeling. The satisfaction of giving some total stranger a tip they’ll never forget. A tip that they’ll pass on to their friends, next time a friend on Facebook asks for tips, before travelling. All because of you.

Walking with Paul Auster

Four years ago Paul (the author) and I went for a walk around the crater of Ground Zero in New York. Paul took me back to that day. Told me stories that had never been told in the news. Local stories about victims of that horrible crime.

He told it so well that my brain couldn’t tell the difference. The fact that I was actually right there where it happened, being guided by a local (Paul lives in Brooklyn), getting the sounds from back then. Almost all my senses were in play: Visuals created by my own eyes with the assistance from his words. Sounds from when it happened. People screaming. Smelling this exact street, as they did back then. The taste in my mouth from the local noodle joint around the corner. Everything was so real.

In the end Paul took me to a bench on the harbor where he read me a poem that he wrote about the terrible fate of the families that were left behind after that day. A poem that touched me deeply. And I guess Paul was a very realistic dream too. Yelp just don’t do that for me.

Real people are better than pixels

Yelp is a good compensation for the user that doesn’t go around asking everyone for advice on the street. Foursquare even has tips about each place. But you can’t see or hear the people behind the comments. You can’t hear their voices. You can’t see their facial expressions when sharing insights with an enthusiasm that just captures you. All the nuances of body language and tonality are peeled off only leaving you with small and meaningless pixels on your phone’s display.

Talking ghosts

Let’s play a scary game. Imagine that you arrive in a new city. Let it be New York, since it’s so new. You are staying in Soho for a few days. And in-between meetings you’ll have time to explore the city a bit. Before you left you asked your best friend for advice. He told you about a new service called Ghost.

“What the hell is that?”.
“Just download the app. And then I’ll meet you out there at the corner of Spring St and Lafayette St”.
“But you are in San Francisco, how can you meet me there?”.
“You’ll see .. or rather HEAR! .. haha”.

You arrive to that cross street and open the Ghost app on your phone. It tells you to put on your best headphones and then put your phone in your pocket. When you put them on, it feels like you are in a different world, that sounds like the same world. You feel like you stepped into a parallel universe. Suddenly distant voices start fading in. Voices that are telling you something. The voices are coming from all directions. First of all you are a bit amazed by the realism you are feeling here. You can hear voices, but you can’t see anyone. When you turn around, the voices stay, like they are rotating around you in real-time. What the f….

Even though the app is a Ghost app and the voices are kind of spooky, you decide to walk toward one of the voices. You pick the voice that you find most interesting and it’s at a particularly interesting spot of that street. When walking toward the voice, it becomes more and more clear. It changes from being a subtle mumbling to become a clear and crisp male voice that says “Hi! Let me tell you something. This place is awesome. Balthazar is a great hangout place for chilling with a business partner in the afternoon. They have a GREAT lunch and the guy that receives you is AWESOME. Ask for John and ask him about the soup. Ask him why his soup is so damn special. When tasting the soup, you will literally fall off your chair. The way they use spices is .. I don’t know how to describe it. Say hi from James.”. The guy laughs. And then you can just hear him standing there. Breathing. Fumbling coins. Hanging out. For the fun of it you try walking through him and when doing so, it almost feels like being inside a different person. You are him. He’s you.

Remote and personalized creation

Suddenly you hear your friend calling: “Hey! I’m over here!”. You walk toward the voice and get to the opposite corner.

“What took you so long?”
It all seems too realistic and you catch yourself answering “What do you mean, I just got here.”
“This hood is AWESOME. Just walk around in a radius of half a mile and you’ll find everything from awesome organic cafés to excentric fashion stores and galleries. Enjoy!”

So I guess your friend created that just for you, in a bus on his way to work in San Francisco. How awesome is that?

Random vs guided

Then you stumple into a ghost woman called Lisa that guides you to an awesome fashion store called Odin on Lafayette St. When you arrive at the store, she’s suddenly there too. When you get out of the store you hear her voice saying “So? Am I right or am I right? Want more?”. After walking (while she teleports) for a while, she gets you around the hood visiting some of the coolest places you’ve ever been to. You decide to start “following” her in your app and finds out that she also did a lot of guides in the San Francisco area.

Creating your own “ghost talks” is easy as hell. You just stand where you want the voice to “appear” and then tap a big red record button. The next time a fellow user passes that spot, she will hear your voice babling about how great a burger the joint behind you makes.

Next step is to connect the app to a brain chip interface that is communicating with your eyes’ to actually make the ghost appear in front of you. Anyone up for that challenge?

Walking the streets of New York will never be the same again.