I want to talk to you about dark places.

Not literally places that lack adequate illumination, but locations that don’t exist. Like a place built out of dark matter and powered by dark energy, completely hidden from human perception, but real and there all the same.

FourSquare, the newest means of shouting about your life on the web, was the impetus for this idea. For those of you with a life and more important things to do with your time, let me explain FourSquare. You go places, tag yourself as being in that location with FourSquare, and then get “badges” when you accomplish things. For example, going to a place more than anyone else and becoming “mayor” of that place or visiting a gym and getting a “fit” badge. Pointless, intangible things, but for some reason people love it. There is also a tacked-on messaging system where people can leave each other suggestions of things to do at certain locations, and notes about those locations.

(Unlike Twitter, FourSquare stands a real chance of making money with their system. The amount of data they are harvesting from their users and the ability to connect businesses to those users will make the people behind it very, very rich.)

Up until their last update, if you checked in at a new place, you had to know the exact street address of a location. Annoying in every instance, downright near impossible if you are, say, in a shopping center or a mall. With the new update, however, you don’t need the address. You can just drop in the name of the place, and the address will get filled in later.

Which made me wonder – what if you just made up a place? Call it NoPlace, and then start slamming it with notes and suggestions and ideas. You’ve made a little nook in a system designed to handle the digital footprints of real places, but that nook doesn’t correspond to anything real. It is just a place out in the ether, filled with information. This is a dark place.

The name comes from darknet, the term being used to describe closed-access networks. Being they professional, social, even piracy oriented, they are the new dominant feature of the Internet these days. The professional and social ones normally start with people who’s trade involves more idea than object. They want to discuss their ideas with others like them, but email is too clunky, and the large social networks will expose them to prying eyes, so they close themselves off and go dark. There are entire cloned networks of Twitter for people like this, they took the API and built themselves a feed that is hidden away from the rest of the world.

The good internet data pirates operate in the same way now. Private ftp networks, torrent swarms that only accept pre-set IPs, encrypted newsgroups, they are the fertile ground for what the music, movie and electronic game trade groups pushed into the shadows after the hey-day of file sharing programs like Napster, Limewire, Kazaa and first generation of torrent sites like Suprnova and The Pirate Bay (yes I know TPB is still around, but they exist in a weird legal limbo land, and the originators are in jail).

Ironically, the most important and exciting places on the Internet are hidden away behind closed doors in Fight Club-esque secrecy. First rule of a darknet is that you don’t talk about a darknet. Which itself is counter point to the idea of an open network with all of the information of the world available for anyone who is willing to go looking.

But back to the local space application of this, the dark place. Essentially, the idea of using FourSquare for this is rather pointless. The functionality is too limited, but it did serve to give me an idea of what it could do. If you take a theoretical jump to include some actual augmented reality functionality, instead of faking it like FourSquare tries to do, you could end up with something like a digital speakeasy. The person who wants to form the group goes to a place in a city; a tree in a park, a pool table in a bar, or something so mundane no one else would notice it. Then that person drops an AR landmark at this spot, say with a password protected login. People with the password then get access to whatever was in that landmark, be it just a few lines of text, a video, a forum, a program, whatever. You could bury a secret history in the digital ether of a city, and no one would know save those that were supposed to know.

I’m not entirely sure why you would want to do any of this, but I’m thinking more about the how rather than the why of it right now. Didn’t get the point of Twitter, and I don’t really get the point of FourSquare, but that doesn’t stop millions of people from using those applications. It seems the good ideas are always built more around how these days, and people just hope the why shows up somewhere along the way.

There could be commercial potential in this, if you wanted to offer coupons to people who were in your businesses and you had, say a chalk board with that day’s password on it. But, I’m really more interested in the potential to hide information in a place that can only be retrieved from other people coming to that same place.

Hidden points of thought, secreted away in the dark places. That’s what this thought is about.

God I love the potential of the future.