They're Watching

Designer Behind Williamsburg SpyCam ‘Styleblaster’ Insists It’s Not the Hipster Creepshots

“There’s more to Williamsburg than hipsters and rich ex-Manhattanites."
screen shot 2012 10 23 at 5 46 34 pm Designer Behind Williamsburg SpyCam Styleblaster Insists Its Not the Hipster Creepshots

(Photo: Styleblaster)

In an effort to catalog the underappreciated diversity of style in gentrified Williamsburg, a team of Brooklyn technologists has set up a camera outside their apartment that records the street stylings of passersby and posts the images online. But if passersbys don’t want to be recorded, they’re kind of out of luck.

The site, called Styleblaster, aims to “become a destination for New York City peacocks to traipse by and show off what makes the neighborhood hop.” Using a camera perched a block from the Bedford Ave. L train, the site captures and immediately uploads images of Brooklynites walking by in real time. Users can then click a tophat to signal whether or not the subject is “stylin’.”

Click once through Styleblaster and you land on a picture of a moody girl with dark, blunt bangs trudging down the block in heavy black boots; click again and it’s a mom pushing a baby stroller; again, and it’s a dude with his hand down his pants.

Styleblaster is a personal project of Jules Laplace, the technology director for OkFocus, the creative agency behind the Kanye West/Donda Media PR stunt. The team created, a domain lookup site that purported to be the first startup of rapper Kanye West but was eventually revealed to be a big hoax.

Mr. Laplace has created a host of other online projects and games, like Where’s the Pixel? and video-sharing chat site Scanner Jammer. Mr. Laplace’s business partner, Ryder Ripps, told Betabeat via email that the project is not affiliated with OkFocus.

The idea for the site came from Mr. Laplace and his roommates, who are all “fairly technically minded.” His roommate, new media artist and recent NYU ITP grad Jack Kalish, designed the software that takes the photos. “The camera sits in our apartment and takes a photo whenever someone passes by our window,” Mr. Laplace said over email. “We have a webcam hooked up to a Processing sketch, which sends pictures up into the cloud.  To get people walking from right to left–so they’d be seen front on–we do motion detection using an optical flow field.  It’s pretty cool, seeing it at work: it looks like the person is pulling a bunch of rubber bands across the frame, which tell it to snap the picture.”

Mr. Laplace said the goal is to capture a portrait of Williamsburg fashion live and as it happens. “It’s an egalitarian take on streetstyle,” he said. “There’s more to Williamsburg than hipsters and rich ex-Manhattanites. Everybody has their own style, and our site celebrates that.”

But the project resurfaces privacy issues that were thrust into the mainstream by the scandal surrounding Reddit’s creepshots forum, where users posted sexualized photos of women without their consent before Reddit administrators shut it down. Still, Mr. Laplace insists that unlike, this isn’t one of OkFocus’ attempts at subversiveness. He dismissed privacy concerns by noting that with the amount of foot traffic the block sees, the images are quite ephemeral.

“As far as privacy goes, we count on people to be dressed well when they go out in public–especially on a brisk fall day,” he said. “Don’t expect the pictures to hang around, though. Fashion gets stale after a couple of days, so we don’t see a point in constructing an endless archive. This is really about the moment.”

There are surveillance cameras installed all over New York City, inside ATMs and subway stations and convenience stores. The laws in New York regarding video surveillance are very specific. To summarize, video surveillance is only illegal if the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy, meaning “a place and time when a reasonable person would believe that he or she could fully disrobe in privacy.” You’re probably not going to begin undressing on Bedford Avenue–unless you’re the dude with his hand in his pants.

“I’d like to think that sort of behavior [related to Creepshots] is a relic of a time when people really were awful to each other online,” Mr. Laplace added. “The internet’s junior high phase, if you will. Our site isn’t here to judge people or make fun of them. We’re really just in it for the fashion, to be inspired by normal people and our great neighborhood.”

(h/t Adrian Chen)

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS.