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Searching the Annotated World

Last night I went to a concert at Webster Hall in New York. The band I was seeing, the Divine Fits, covered a Frank Ocean song. I didn’t know which song it was, and wouldn’t have been able to Shazam it even if I’d had a smartphone because it was a live cover, but I liked it and wanted to find the original version today so I could listen again.

The fastest way to answer my question, it turns out, was to search Twitter for “Frank Ocean” + “Divine Fits.” People tweet a lot when they go to concerts, and the audience was large enough that I knew several would have commented on the Frank Ocean cover (“Lost,” in case you wondered). The band has also been playing the song throughout their tour, so my search retrieved Divine Fits/Frank Ocean tweets going back to early last week. Pitchfork even posted a video of the band covering “Lost” during their Rhode Island show.

I’ve used Twitter’s search function for similar purposes in the past, but in this instance I realized that I wasn’t actually searching the internet to answer my question. I was searching my own experiences away from the computer. I was searching space and time, not websites. I was searching the real world—which, of course, becomes less distinct from the internet all the time thanks to phenomena like the one I’ve just described.

Many people have examined the internet’s potential to annotate reality. Yelp, Foursquare, and of course Twitter and Facebook are the most prominent examples of this. But I’m somehow more amazed this time, after using a text search to answer a question about a few specific minutes between 9:00 and 10:00 pm last night that were shared by less than a thousand people, some of whom tweeted about exactly what I wanted to know. Thanks to their voluntary annotation, I was able to Google my weekend.

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