Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Benefits of Geotargetted Information

Location-based services (LBS) and locative media have garnered a lot of attention - not least of which will be the focus of my dissertation. But the possible benefits beyond increased marketing opportunities has rarely been discussed or studied. Here's some of what I've come up with so far:

Recent studies are showing societal benefits for place-related information accessed via mobile devices (i.e. geotargetted information). In a Pew study, How mobile devices are changing community information environments, 65% of survey respondents with a mobile device feel it is now easier to keep up with local, community information compared with 47% for non-mobile users.

Pew also found people who accessed local news via their mobile were more likely than other adults to feel they can have a substantial impact on their community (35% vs. 27%). According to a Microsoft survey, Location Based Services Usage and Perceptions, in US, UK, Canada, Germany, and Japan, 50% of smartphone users are using LBS. The leading uses were found to be information seeking, specifically for navigation and way-finding and geotargetted weather forecasts and local news. The survey also found 94% of respondents said they find LBS to be a valuable aid.

It is my belief that geotargetted information can improve our familiarity with places and foster a positive sense of place. Sense of place has been studied in various ways in various disciplines and found to have numerous benefits. From a social perspective, sense has been found to lead to place attachment (Morgan, 2010; Williamson & Roberts, 2010). Place attachment is seen as not only central to one’s identity (Morgan, 2010) but it also assists in the formation of a sense of community (Williams, Kitchen, DeMiglio, Eyles, et al., 2010) and aids people in caring for and protecting their urban environment (Jacobs, 1992). A better understanding of how people form sense of place and the role of  LBS is useful in numerous academic and applied contexts.

From a design perspective, human-computer interaction researchers are beginning to examine the role of SOP and mobile technology (Lentini & Decortis, 2010) and offer tentative interface and interaction recommendations. Tourism and recreation scholars and practitioners can benefit from understanding how visitors come to know and experience travel destinations and their use of LBS so as to improve marketing efforts and visitor satisfaction. This area is also of interest in the fields of urban studies, architecture, and geography to create more responsive land use, buildings, and civic spaces and improve communication resources.. Museologists can benefit from learning how LBS can be used to improve interpretation efforts, patron experience, and conservation efforts.

For librarians, understanding the value of geographically relevant information can be a means of demonstrating the importance of adding georeferenced metadata or mechanisms to collections. Local studies librarianship, the field of study that addresses collecting, preserving, and providing access to the local history and news within the vicinity of a given library branch, can also benefit from this research. Reid & Macafee (2007) believe new technology can move local studies librarianship beyond traditional notions of offering clippings of local newspapers and history discussions to extending their services to new and larger audiences and more effectively engage the community.

There are additional implications to examining LBS as a method of communication and identity performance (Phillips, 201). Finally, there are policy considerations (Phillips, 2011) pertaining to privacy and accessibility that can best be addressed through a deeper understanding of the underlying user behaviour and technology.

I've only begun to look at this and would appreciate any thoughts or publications on this topic...


  • Jacobs, J. (1992). The death and life of great American cities. New York, NY: Vintage.
  • Lentini, L., & Decortis, F. (2010). Space and places: When interacting with and in physical space becomes a meaningful experience. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 14, 407-415. 
  • Morgan, P. (2010). Towards a developmental theory of place attachment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(1), 11-22. 
  • Phillips, D. (2009). Ubiquitous computing, spatiality, and the construction of identity: Directions for policy response. In C. Lucock & I. Kerr (Eds.), Lessons from the identity trail: Anonymity, privacy and identity in a networked society. Oxford University Press.
  • Phillips, D. (2011). Identity and surveillance play in hybrid space. In M. Christensen, A. Jansson, & C. Christensen (Eds.), Online territories: Globalization, mediated practice and social space. New York, NY: Peter Lang.
  • Reid, P. H., & Macafee, C. (2007). The philosophy of local studies in the interactive age. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 39(3), 126 -141. 
  • Williams, A., Kitchen, P., DeMiglio, L., Eyles, J., Newbold, B., & Streiner, D. (2010). Sense of Place in Hamilton, Ontario: Empirical results of a neighborhood-based survey. Urban Geography, 31(7), 905-931. 
  • Williamson, K., & Roberts, J. (2010). Developing and sustaining a sense of place: The role of social information. Library & Information Science Research, 32(4), 281-287. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tips for Conference Posters

This week I attended iConference 2012 and they had an impressive and extensive display of academic posters. Of all the conferences I've been to, I found this conference had the most effective posters. As the conference was for information schools (iSchools), it is not surprising that presenters would know how to effectively display information visually and succinctly.

While viewing the posters, I made mental notes of what was effective and what was not:

Poster Design
  • Posters displayed as mini research papers (e.g. with sections for abstract, intro, lit review, method, findings, conclusions, references) were overwhelming too read and dull  - I think this format is best for the proceedings publication but the poster itself should consider the demands of the visual medium
  • Standard graphic design principles apply (e.g. font, colour, spacing, whitespace, etc.)
  • Consider the unique design needs for posters - e.g. large font size, easy to read, unique, etc.
  • Colour is essential to make the poster appealing and attract attention - not too many though more than one colour is needed but probably not more than 3-4 (including shades)
  • Limit content to 2-3 points
  • Key message should be in a call-out and placed prominently - it's better when it's short and not a full abstract
  • Images should not be eye candy, but reflect the content of the study
  • Include your contact information - i.e. email address and website (I was surprised by how many people did not include this)
  • References - lots of posters didn't have these and the ones that did it took up a lot of space that wasn't useful for attendees. If they can be omitted or referred to a website for them, I think the space can be much better used
  • Moratorium needed on word clouds - I estimate that a third of posters included them. They seem trite now and aren't an effective way (e.g. legibility issues) to present main themes
Supporting Material
Take-aways for attendees are a great way to ensure that people will actually follow-up with you or read the work in more detail.  As posters are available for display outside of the official presentation hours, it is a great idea to have them pinned near or on your poster (bring extra pins for these). Take-aways can include:
  • Print-out of the poster (full colour is better)
  • Business cards
  • Postcards of the project
  • One of the main points of posters is to provide a means to connect with others interested in your work, so it's important to actually be present during the designated poster presentations (surprisingly at an iConference's poster session some presenters were not there for the entire two hours)
  • Show up early, I went half an hour before the designated time and there were a fair number of people who were also there early - this is a great time to stand out and talk to people before the hoard  arrives
  •  Consider adding interactivity or multimedia to your poster as a way to standout and offer supporting content - this is particularly effective outside of the official session presentation as people have more time (and quiet) to spend on the posters.  Two techniques I found effective at iConference, were push-button audio clips of interview excerpts and tablets running a demo of the project software.
The University of Leichester has a really good, in-depth tutorial on posters and Colorado State University has a useful poster guide

I'm hoping to present a poster in the next year, so I'd love to hear other people's tips here!

Friday, February 10, 2012

I, Conference iConference

Today was the last day of iConference 2012. The conference, geared to topics of interest to iSchools (i.e. Information studies), was hosted by my school, University of Toronto, Faculty of Information. When I wasn't volunteering, I was able to attend several sessions. This post captures my ramblings as I make sense of my first foray into iConferences and immersion in the iSchool movement.

Conference vibe
Having not been to any other iConferences, I'm not sure what is typical of their nature or this particular instance. As a smallish conference for a defined body, it had a collegial feel. This was a welcome relief from more vast and impersonal conferences. The organizers did a great job encouraging the collegial feel from such touches as name tags that presented one's name as most important and a welcome reception complete with ice-breaker games and signature cocktails.

Recaps of conferences often fail to account for the venue. In my mind and body, venue is as important as the content. I'm hoping that in my small way I can convince (or shame) conference organizers and venues to care about this. The conference facilities at Toronto's downtown Marriott was overall quite good. The conference rooms were comfortable and they had a nice central area, dubbed the Living Room, with comfy seats, food, ample (free) coffee, and art installations. It was a great spot to hang out - surprisingly, most venues I've been to lack such space. I also like how the Marriott is centrally-located (even if I hard time finding the passage from the Eaton Centre and spent awkward amount of time walking around Sears' lingerie section until I found it). Even for in-town attendees, let alone for foreign visitors, it is important to be near amenities instead of at a desolate, entrapping conference centre. My only complaints were that the rooms were a little airless (typical) and even though there was free wi-fi, there were difficulties connecting to it and cell networks.

Between my volunteering duties and childcare limits, I missed a lot of sessions that I would have liked to have attended. And some sessions were not up my alley. But I greatly appreciated that the conference had a variety of session types - paper sessions, workshops, panels, posters, jams, world cafe and fishbowl discussions. I wish more conferences would mix things up like this.

I would also like to emphatically state at this time how hugely inappropriate it is for people to "present" by reading (often in a monotone) their paper in its entirety. Reading aloud at a conference is as out of place as going to a restaurant to sleep on a table. It is disdainful of the audience and pointless (other than to add it to one's c.v.) and I am peeved at how tolerated (encouraged?) it is in academia.

Rather than recount every session, I'll briefly highlight the main concepts and take-aways:

Positive design - Mary Beth Rosson raised this as a fruitful approach to design that builds upon what a medium enables rather than dwelling on overcoming its constraints. For example, online conversation may not have all the visual clues of face-to-face, but it is easily archivable and searchable. So it helps to consider under what circumstances these benefits are desired and plan around that.

User-defined success - an interesting way to think about the "success" of behaviour observed online or elsewhere is to use the metrics reflective of people's goals. I've seen program evaluation that has this component, but I don't believe this concept is as widespread as it should be in academia or industry. For more on this, read the paper presented by Christopher Mascaro Not Just a Wink and Smile: An Analysis of User-Defined Success in Online Dating (co-authors Rachel Magee & Sean Goggins)

Visual research - there was an interesting panel that examined different methods to solicit research on a concept (see Jenna Hartel's What is Information). I believe that methods that rely on people to textually account for their thoughts and behaviour are limited, as are reductionist surveys and experiments. It's interesting to consider other ways of soliciting participants' ideas - in this case Hartel used drawings, but I think photography, collage, clay, performance, or cultural probes would generate invaluable insight.

Commenting on news websites - Mary Cavanagh studied user comments on news sites.
Among her findings, she found comments used by people for: informing, contesting, criticising, elaborating, questioning, asserting, ampliyfing, mocking, learning, and re-framing. I asked her whether she observed a "community" among these sites' users and although she noted elements of "we-ness", inter-poster conversation and familiarity, she's reluctant to consider it cohesive and reoccurring enough to be a community.

Information browsing versus information seeking - as Jenna Hartel and panellists pointed out, there tends to be a focus on information seeking as rational and expedient, neglecting the role of pleasure and play. The term information browsing helps to capture the elements of affect, embodiment, and serendipity in information use.

Map-based search
Microsoft Research was a sponsor of iConference 2012, so they were there promoting their new products. I was really impressed with their Academic Map search tool. By selecting an academic area and a location on the map, one can easily see clusters of research and click on an individual researcher. They are currently limited to 14 very broad areas (e.g. "Social Sciences") but in talking to the rep. there are plans to refine these categories, which would make it much more useful.

Benefits of locative media
Topics directly related to my research interests were unfortunately limited to one poster, Does the Use of Place Affect Learner Engagement? The Case of GeoStoryteller on the Streets of New York, but it was excellent. The project used locative media, with an optional augmented reality component, to deliver information about the history of Germans in NYC. What I found particularly encouraging is that the researchers, Anthony Cocciolo and Debbie Rabina, found that such applications effectively used place and technology to improve learning engagement. As they note: "This engagement is the result of discovering new information about familiar surroundings using standard mobile user interfaces (lists, maps, videos), and not from more novel user interfaces (augmented reality)".

I would have liked to have seen sessions along this line at iConference, but it offers a panoramic snapshot of work going on in iSchools. It will be interesting to see if mobile user experience, geoinformatics, location-based services or locative media feature more prominently at the next iConference in Fort Worth, Texas.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Top 20 Most Important Developments of the Internet

The Internet Society is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. They are a global organization devoted to maintaining a free, open, accessible, and viable Internet.

I've recently blogged about the Internet Society's call for people to submit ideas for a new Internet Hall of Fame they are establishing.

Internet Society is also marking their anniversary with a listing of what people think are the 20 most significant developments in the history of the Internet, whether an innovation, event, or product.

So I figured I would offer my top 20. I tried to combine technological inventions, commercial product launches, and events that have shaped the Internet.  I've linked to Wikipedia (#16) for more information on the topics.

Top 20 Internet Developments:
  1. ARPANET - the military research network of the 1960s that became the Internet
  2. Hypertext - interlinking of digital text and media, predicted by Vannevar Bush in the 1940s, developed by Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart in the 1960s
  3. Email - invented in the 1970s and is the bedrock of Internet-based communications (honourable mention to Hotmail for making email more accessible in 1996 by offering the first free web-based email service) 
  4. Domain Name System (DNS) -  gives us the ability to use plain language web addresses
  5. MUDs (Multi-User Dungeon/Domain) - the first form of networked games, developed in the late 1970s and is the precursor to modern forms of collaborative and online gaming such as Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) 
  6. Archie - first Internet search engine (for FTP sites), developed at McGill University in 1990
  7. World Wide Web (WWW) - Tim Berners-Lee creates the ultimate digital medium in 1991
  8. Mosaic - user-friendly browser launched in 1993 that accelerated the popularity of the Web by displaying images and text together
  9. Netscape's Initial Public Offering - the browser's phenomenal IPO propelled Internet development and usage
  10. Secure Socket Layers - Netscape's encryption system, developed in the mid 1990s, helped make the web secure enough to allow e-commerce and e-banking to flourish
  11. Travelocity - one of the first victims of e-business were travel agencies (who books in person anymore?) and Travelocity, which launched to consumers in the mid 1980s via CompuServe, was one of the first online travel booking sites
  12. Internet Movie Database (IMDB) - launched first on USENET in 1990, IMDB was one of the first websites to popularize user-generated content, in the form of user ratings and reviews, thus being Web 2.0 years before the concept was created (honourable mention to for also being one of the first UGC sites and one that encouraged more lengthy and collaborative content)
  13. - widely popular website, launched in 1995, that was among the first to create what we now know as a social networking site (way ahead of Friendster, in 2002,  and MySpace, in 2003)
  14. GeoCities - launched in 1995, popularized personal web publishing by offering free web hosting and  customizable homepages (honourable mention to Blogger with its 1999 launch it was one of the first and most popular web publishing tools and helped create the blog genre))
  15. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - these guidelines, first published in 1999 by the W3C, have done more than anything else to enable websites to be accessible to people with various abilities 
  16. Wikipedia - launched in 2001, two huge contributions: 1) open access to encyclopaedic information and 2) breaks down barriers of official knowledge by allowing anyone to participate in its creation
  17. Delicious - launched in 2003, the social bookmarking site became possibly the first instance of folksonmies, that is collaborative user tagging of information objects (in this case bookmarks)
  18. Streaming and downloadable media - from listening to the radio or watching video live (such as Victoria's Secret's annual fashion show, the first majorly successful webcast), to downloading music MP3s from Napster or iTunes, to watching videos on YouTube or through IPTV - the Internet has  fundamentally changed our media consumption and purchasing (or lack thereof) behaviour
  19. Mobile Web and Internet-enabled mobile apps - mobile apps or mobile-friendly webpages have enabled ubiquitous access to the Internet, surpassing desktop access since 2008
  20. Open-source software and standards - free programming languages, such as HTML, JavaScript, and XML (hence AJAX), and software, such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP and Perl (hence LAMP), have made it financially possible for anyone to build and host their own websites, breaking down prior elite forms of media production and distribution
  • Open access publishing - the Internet made it effective to share information freely and widely, with resulting open access journals, such as First Monday (about the Internet) 
  • Internet porn - legendary driver of online development and adoption
  • Forums and chat rooms - excellent new forms of multi-person communication
  • Recommendation systems - using our collective data to help identify things we may like, the music site Pandora is an excellent example of the power of this, the Netflix Prize contest helped propel development in this area
  • Google - revolutionized search engines and the first great online-only company
  • eBay & PayPal - perfected microsales and consumer-to-consumer commerce
  • VoIP & Skype - no more long-distance telephone charges
  • Craigslist - the first widely popular online classified website that assisted in the demise of newspapers
  • Foursquare - the first geosocial network and location-based service to hit critical mass
  • Internet of Things - everything will soon be wired to the Net from cars, refrigerators, and closets
As you can see I had a hard time, limiting myself to 20.

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on what should be on the list (or off), and any corrections, such as missing predecessors or international developments that set the trend.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Geosocial Networking: Check Out What's Happening With Check-ins

This week, I had the opportunity to guest lecture for a great class on social networking at the University of Toronto. I spoke about how new technologies were facilitating geosocial networking, that is people connecting and sharing place-based experiences via their mobile device.

I've been studying this for over two years and I'm an avid user of the ultimate geosocial app, foursquare. So I was excited to speak on this topic.

I'll give a brief summary of the main themes I addressed in my presentation.

I wanted to begin the presentation by having the class get a Swarm badge (earned for a mass check-ins at a location) from foursquare. But problems with the tech highlight that this field is not mature and profound user issues remain. For one, the lecture hall was in a basement of UofT and my network connectivity was the pits.  When I finally could connect to foursquare, the app would not accurately find my location (it pulled up locations within an approximate 20 block radius).  So I had to do a manual search for the building, but foursquare could not find it by the common, short version of the name of Alumni Hall. I had to exit the building to find out the proper name of the building and then enter it in full, i.e. Muzzo Family Alumni Hall.  Finally, once I was able to check-in (15 minutes later) I asked the class of over 50 people how many of them had foursquare and only a handful did. Surprisingly, few of the class appeared to be using any geosocial apps. Considering that according to Pew only 4% of US people were using foursquare or other similar geosocial apps, the low uptake shouldn't be that surprising except that young people have the highest rate of adoption of such mobile and social tech.

Courtesy of Agent-X Comics (
I've previously blogged about the core concepts and terms that enable geosocial and location-based apps, so I won't go over them in detail. But here are the need-to-know terms:

  • Location-based services (LBS) - mobile apps that target content and interfaces based on a user's location
  • Geolocation - identification of a user's physical location using positioning tech, such as GPS or cell signal triangulation, user self-selection, or a combination of these
  • Geocoding - digital content with referenced geographic location appended to it
  • Geotagging - user-based metadata appended to digital content, often in the form of folksonomies
Geosocial Media 
Most of the forms of digital content that people create and connect over on the Web, known as social objects, are also used for geosocial networking. The most common geosocial media are:
  • Reviews, tips, & ratings (e.g. of restaurants, shops, attractions)
  • User profiles
  • Photographs & videos
  • Games
  • Status updates & comments
  • Participatory maps
Major Players in the Field
Lately, every digital media company is offering geolocative and geosocial functionalities to their services. I've been keeping track of some of the most popular and innovative apps on this blog through my ongoing List of Location-based services.  But here are the major ones:
  • foursquare (the most used of "pure" LBSs) 
  • Twitter (although this aspect is seldom used)
  • Flickr (possibly the largest source of geocoded data due to automatic setting)
  • Loopt
  • Google Latitude
Screenshot of foursquare, showing user tips of nearby businesses.
Social Coordination
From my research, I've found that one of main usages of LBS are for social coordination, that is the ability to find and meet-up with friends or others.  Social coordination takes the following forms:
  • Friends - these apps make it easy to see your friends whereabouts through map-based interfaces, status updates, and place-based check-ins and have impromptu or serendipitous encounters 
  • Strangers - some apps facilitate strangers connecting over proximity and shared interests or dating status
  • Emergency situations - geolocative apps have been used in disaster situations to coordinate rescue, aid, and news- gathering.  Also, a new app from Toronto, Guardly, makes it very easy for people to alert family, close contacts, and police in personal emergency situations
  • Politics - LBS has been used to coordinate protests (e.g. Occupy and G20) and poll monitoring
Social Cohesion
I call this outcome of geosocial media place-based bonding.  Mass check-ins and sharing of place information and tips helps friends and strangers connect. This can be related to an en masse event, such as I observed for Toronto's Pride Festival and Canada Day celebrations, or singular experiences of readings others stories and experiences with a place that they have shared via LBS.

Identity Projection
I also have a subtitle for this, it's "Why no one checks into Burger King or Walmart".  During my research I found that, for the most part, people weren't check-in and sharing the places they are most apt to predominantly frequent, yet they eagerly shared trendy restaurants, clubs, travel destinations, or other seemingly impressive locales. As with other media, people deliberately use the tech to project their desired image of themselves.

Giving Voice
The academic subtitle for this would be "circumventing the hegemony" but no one other than journal reviewers wants to see this. Geosocial media are more than just user-generated content, they provide an effective voice to people with various positive outcomes:
  • Consumer justice and protection - people's reviews and ratings of places are accessed via LBS are easy to access when and where needed
  • Making visible hidden histories - people can annotate their own cities (I use the example here of how the power-that-be in Toronto decided to erect a prominent shrine to Winston Churchill at our City Hall, complete with a huge statue and ample plaques, despite the fact that Churchill had no significant connection to the city or even Canada. What the City has decided not to share is our own history, such as our first mayor and democratic revolutionary William Lyon Mackenzie, that the first China Town was razed to put up our new City Hall, or that it's the location of numerous weddings (including a stranger's that I was spontaneously asked to witness). All this can now be readily shared and virtually attached to the place - despite what is sanctioned by officials.
  • Protests - place has been used to extend the visibility and power of protests, such as during Occupy, G2) protests and the famous Tiananmen Square anniversary protests via foursquare that resulting in China banning it.
 G20 protesters checked in here in solidarity of detainees.
This location was mysteriously removed from foursquare's database shortly afterwards.

Privacy & Surveillance
I think too much is made of this issue, as most of the apps are getting better with their privacy settings and users need to take the time to read privacy policy and set their options appropriately. However, this was raised in the class and amongst my research participants as a major barrier to greater adoption.  Yet, at the same time it is the ability of this tech to facilitate friend tracking, a.k.a. participatory surveillance, that help makes it so popular.

Courtesy of Agent-X Comics (
Most of the geosocial networking and LBS apps are commercial. So they have to make money somehow, even though most users don't often consider this. Advertising and marketing are the only current viable models.  It's great when businesses get it right, such as a local gelato place that recognized via Fourquare that I was a frequent customer and gave me a free gelato. It's less great when I got an ad for a "deal nearby" for a plus-sized women's clothing store. 

These apps are helping us discover new things about our friends and new information about the place we encounter. This is both possible positive and negative outcomes. People appreciate the advice of others and it is a great way to make and decisions about the world. Yet, in an amazing essay by Mitchell Schwarzer, A Sense of Place: A World of Augmented Reality , having our world always curated for us by others may prevent us forming our own thoughts and experiences. I experienced this moments before my lecture as I checked-in to a nearby independent cafe. I thought it seemed great (it had a huge Klimt mural after all), but when I read the reviews I noticed that people had pointed out legitimate problems with the cafe that I had overlooked. I was enjoying myself there until the communal experience changed it for the worse.

Hybrid Space
One of the continual outcomes of this new technology and our geosocial networking is the changing nature of place.  Place is no longer a backdrop to our media usage and everyday activities. Place is now merging with technology and us to create new hybrid spaces.  Dana Cuff calls these new types of places, cyburgs. The resulting changes to our relationships will be fascinating to watch and experience.

For more information and applications on this topic, check out my Delicious Stack on Geosocial Networking.