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'Virtual' Tagging: The Next Big Thing in Graffiti?

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on September 14, 2011 6:50 AM

Cities are always looking for new ways to target graffiti, but San Francisco's recently released free iPhone app, Graff City, is certainly an innovative plan.

Using the iPhone's digital camera, the app presents an image of the user's surroundings. He can then use a finger to digitally spray paint--or virtually tag--any surface within the camera's view.

That image can then be emailed or uploaded to Facebook for "bragging" rights.

Graff City is the product of San Francisco's Arts Commission and its StreetSmARTS program, which Reuters reports provides street artists with grants to paint murals on designated property around the city.

With that program still running on a small scale, the hope is that young people will embrace the virtual alternative, and cede with real-time vandalism.

Not to presume that the app's target audience is overwhelmingly poor or involved in gang violence, but one has to wonder whether the typical teenage (or 20-something) tagger can afford an iPhone.

Or would be compelled to draw on a virtual building when the real thing is right there.

Isn't graffiti a way to mark territory? Or make a political statement? How do you do that with an iPhone?

And with so many iPhone apps that allow users to draw on photographs, why would virtual tagging even appeal to those who tag simply because they're bored?

Graff City is certainly an interesting option, but there has to be a better way to tap into the motivations of San Francisco's taggers and develop practical alternatives.

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