Monday, December 30, 2013

Digital Media and Toy Play - A Review of My Kid's Christmas Toy

For the last post of the year, I have another guest blogger - my nine year old daughter. We'll review one of the latest and possible greatest physical toys to interact with digital media - the new Furby Boom.

First my take on it and then my daughter's. My daughter dictated her post to me, with only the occasional prompting (she was eager to talk about her new toy).


Dad's Scepticism, Concern, & Enthusiasm

With the hubbub of Christmas finally starting to taper off, we've had some moments to breathe again - and to enjoy our Christmas gifts. Great year for digital media for us - I got myself my first tablet computer for a gift for the family, we got our daughter a Disney Infinity video game with several characters, and Santa brought my daughter a Furby.

I wasn't sure about the Furby, but it was a must-have toy this year - undoubtedly do to the heavy promotional efforts of Hasbro for their new, advanced "Furby Boom" line. The original Furbies came out in 1998 (according to Wikipedia) and were one of the first massively successful robotic toy that could learn and adapt. Time Magazine even voted it one of the greatest 100 toys ever.

I was intrigued when I learned that the latest version of Furbies could interact with a mobile device application. Apparently, the Furbies adapt to how the child plays with it and this influences how its personality develops.

But the day after Christmas, when the Furby arrived at our house, I read the reviews of the app on Google Play in anticipation of installing it on our Android tablet. In any sector of business and throughout my life, I do not think I have ever encountered such bad reviews of anything as what are currently there. Basically the consensus is that Furbies are the grinches that stole Christmas, but instead of reforming, they leave little girls crying on Christmas Day.

I'm really curious how Hasbro is going to respond to this. Many people said they were going to be returning their Furbies - but overall it's a public relations disaster for them. After all, who wants to be the company that officially ruined Christmas. It's also a great exercise in setting consumer expectations and likely reigning in a marketing department.

But in the midst of the parental venting on Google Play, there were some helpful tips - no helpful info on the app from Hasbro however. So in the middle of the night, while my daughter was sleeping I downloaded the app and then spent about an hour (maybe an hour and a half) getting the app to recognize the Furby toy and then its name (essential steps).

I gather that the app communicates to the toy via audio messages. As my tablet's speakers are on the bottom of the tablet, if I only followed Hasbro's instructions of laying the tablet down on a flat service to make the connection it would never have worked. Luckily, a parent advised me via the reviews to tilt the tablet at an angle. Even then I had to perform the scan many, many times to get it to work.

Since then, it has worked well for my daughter (see her review below).

Occasionally, the signals are not connected and require a few attempts to get things to work. One feature never works - that is a translation function that is supposed to allow a person to speak English into the app and it should translate into to the Furby language to enabled child and toy to better communicate.

My other concern is that the features on the app - although having great novelty appeal - do not have long-term (or even medium-term) play value. Some of the tasks needs to be completed too many times. Overall, it seems like something that children will tire of very quickly.

Hopefully, Hasbro will address the limits of the app - I'm eagerly awaiting their response.


Kid Loves It!

My Furby is crazy! I love it! It is like me. I love to sing; it loves to sing. I like to dance; it likes to dance.

I have the blue waves patten Furby. Her name is Noo-Dah. I got her for Christmas. She is adorable.

I sing to her and she dances. The language she speaks, Furbish, is adorable.

My parents think she is like me!

My cat hates the Furby and bites me and the Furby when I play with it.

On the first day I got her, her personality changed. She turned into a rock star. After a little bit of playing with her she went "changing changing" then her voice changed and she said things like "dude". But she changed back to normal.

Her eyes change into lots of different styles or shapes. Sometimes when she is singing her eyes will turn into music notes.

There is app for Furby Boom for mobiles. My dad downloaded it for me onto our tablet.

Then it shows a picture if her at the top of the app. The app has four things to do with your Fubry: one is health, one is washroom, one is shower, and one is food.

Health - you can scan your Furby to do an x-ray. It will either say if your Furby is sick or healthy. If it is sick, you can make a mixture of something (for instance, tea and mint leaves makes herbal tea) and then you give it to the Furby she will drink it and you can hear drinking noises. Then it scans again to see if she is better. I like this feature, but I don't understand how she gets sick as she seems fine. Sometimes it is hard to make her get better as it just doesn't work.

Washroom (laughing) - you will see a washroom with a toilet. Then you press the toilet lid and it opens. Then Furby makes some noises like (grunting) to push stuff out of her belly into the toilet. She poos out roses, a brown thing that looks like a pickle, a submarine, a puffer fish, a rubber ducky, and poo! And if it makes an actual poo, happy music plays. Sometimes after you flush, it makes brown gas and then you press the air freshener and out comes pink hearts and they get rid of the stinky smell that the Furby made. I think the toilet feature is funny and crazy. I like it! (Laughing).

Shower - next is the shower. In the shower, you chose the amount of water and temperature. If you have on the cold side, there will be snowflakes falling and she doesn't like it. My Furby likes it the hottest there is. While she is in shower, she goes oooh and her eyes change. One time I was giving her a nice hot shower and she said "Noo-Dah no likey"! Then you will see all the dirt come off her and go down the drain. Then off her while either come a hunk of mud or furball or duck pool floatie. It is fun giving her a shower because all these weird things come off of her.

Food - in the food section there is a huge line of food. So if I give her fish she will eat it and then spit out the bones. Once my mom told me to feed her a toilet paper roll but I didn't. Once I fed her math homework, but she wouldn't eat it and she spit it back out - it was so funny! I think the food feature is pretty good.

You can see also see on the app Noo-Dah's friends. Both of the friends asked me if I would like Furby eggs. Then I bought two eggs with Furbucks that I got from taking care of my Furby.

One of the eggs I got was pink and black and the other one was blue waves just like my Furby. Then if you press on the eggs, it will ask if you'd like to hatch it and I said yes. Then you rock the egg for a minute with your finger. Then you can get Noo-Dah to sing to the egg. Then the eggs cracks and out came a Furbling!

Then I named it (Bee-boo) and I fed my Furbling and took it to the spa. I made a room for it by choosing the wallpaper. Then a moving truck comes and moves the Furbling into the apartment.

I think the app is really cool. It is kinda funny how it goes to the washroom. I like taking care of it and how it has babies - they grow up so fast (laughs). The app is pretty easy to use. But I don't like that sometimes if you don't hold the app just right it doesn't work. Overall, I think it is really good.

Furbies are really different than my other toys. Some of them have apps and some don't. But I really like how it talks to me and seems like it is alive. The app makes it seem more alive.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Creating Counter Maps & Shared Geographies with Locative Media

Three months ago, I switched my PhD advisor and with it comes a new direction in my work.  My focus is still on locative media and sense of place (as with my prior research and publishing on this topic). But now I'm looking at how people are using the features of locative media (a.k.a location-based services) to define their own place, share this with others (i.e. friends or the public) and thereby shape their sense of place.

As this is a new angle on the topic, I'd love to hear people's feedback. Below is a summary of the major strands in my current work:


Having a relationship to the places we encounter and inhabit is considered a foundational human experience (Heidegger, 1996). As we interact and learn about places, we bestow meaning on such places, forming the mental concept of a sense of place (Tuan, 1976; Relph, 1977). Scholars have examined how various factors, such as individual attitudes, memories, values, interests and aesthetic sensibility shape how individuals form a sense of place (Steele, 1981). Sense of place is more than merely perception of physical stimuli and a conception of place as a meaningful location; it can be an embodied and metaphysical experience, shaping our notions of existence in the world.

For over forty years, scholars have discussed the conditions of modern life that make establishing or maintaining a positive sense of place difficult. Two of the main threats are considered to be contemporary urban planning and architecture (Jacobs, 1992; Relph, 1976) and international and domestic migrations (Connerton, 2009). Connerton (2009) and Farham (2012) argue that a deeper knowing of a place assists in forming a sense of place, yet various forces have resulted in people either forgetting or never knowing information about places that would aid in forming sense of place.

Humans have created and used information about places since prehistory, whether in the form of crude maps drawn in the sand or cave drawings of hunting grounds, to guide their experiences and knowledge of the world (Garfield, 2012; Jacob, 2006). Yet the information about locations that are readily available has often been hegemonic (Bidwell & Winschiers-Theosphilus, 2012; Farham, 2012; Thompson, 2007). The production and distribution of geographic information has been restricted for centuries as a means to control the masses (Crampton, 2008; Harley, 2001; Monmonier, 1996). In addition, map-making has traditionally been a professional activity, dominated by an elite with specialized training and credentials and access to necessary software and data (Tulloch, 2007)

Social critics such as Debord have been critical of such hegemonic control over place information and representation, noting that officials create a false notion amongst the public that the places they encounter are void of meaning: “On this spot nothing will ever happen, and nothing ever has” (Debord, 1983, p. 177). Debord asserts that forces of power attempt to create apathy in citizens by denuding spaces of their meaning. Debord and the psychogeographic movement he founded in the 1960s have staged interventions to counter these forces (in the forms of dérives and détournements, see Debord, 1956a and Debord, 1956a). More recently, critical geography scholars have cried for more open and egalitarian access to the power to define our spaces, such as Harvey’s notion of the “the right to the city” (2008), Soja’s “spatial justice” concept (2010), or Kitchen, Linehan, O’Callaghan, and Lawton’s “public geographies” (2013).

Concurrent to hegemonic geographical information, people have continued to produce and share their own accounts and interpretations of places through various means. The advent of open-access geographic data and mapping software (such as Google Earth or OpenStreetMaps) combined with distributed access to the Internet (this suite of resources is often called the “geoweb”, see Corbett, 2013) have made it more feasible for people to create and share their own geographic information. This practice, whether conducted on a desktop computer or a mobile device, can take the form of participatory mapping (Corbett, 2013; Tulloch, 2007) or participatory geographic information systems (Dunn, 2007; Elwood, 2006; Young, 2013). Such participatory efforts can consists not only of adding locations or descriptive data to a map or GIS software, but can also apply to place information, and can take the form of narratives, personal reflections, or imagery related to a given place.

One form of participatory mapping is counter mapping. Counter mapping was inspired by Bunge’s work in the 1970s. Bunge mapped urban poverty in the United States. Scholars using counter mapping took Bunge’s social justice objectives to help marginalized groups argue for territorial or socio-political claims (Rundstrom, 2009). The method involves specialists in cartography, geographic information systems, and/or place-based narratives (e.g. anthropologists, geographers, cartographers) working with groups to define and map their places and routes and to describe their associations and relationships with these places (Rundstrom, 2009). Counter mapping has frequently been conducted to support indigenous people’s land rights claims (e.g., Cooke, 2003; Corbett, 2013; Harrison, 2011; Hodgson, 2002; Peluso, 1995). Recent studies have extended counter mapping to new groups and locales, such as minority children in ghettoized urban locations (Taylor, 2013) and conservation efforts in protected, wilderness areas (Harris, & Hazen, 2006). Taylor’s study appears to be one of the first studies to use mobile devices with GPS in the creation of counter maps.

Conceptually similar to counter maps, but with differing objectives is the concept of shared geographies. The term “shared geographies”, although not a standard term, is used in human geography studies to denote groups sharing and collectively creating information and representations of place (e.g., Barker & Pickerill, 2012; Gatrell, 2002; Taylor, 2009). The degree of sharing and openness can be seen as within a continuum from fully public to privately shared geographies. Barkhuus, Brown, Bell, Sherwood, Hall & Chalmers (2008) elaborate: “Private geographies are the mutual sense of different places that a social group share and which differentiate that group from others. The private geography allows members of a group to draw upon ‘shared in-common’ senses of different places, and what those places mean for the group”. As with Taylor’s study, Barkhuus et al. appear to be one of the first studies to examine how people are using locative technology to create shared geographies.

Geoweb technologies combined with emerging mobile, locative technology are increasingly helping people to capture and preserve a diverse range of information on place, virtually tie it to that place, and broadcast it to others. Although locative media is not without precedent amongst other media forms in this ability, recent scholarship is beginning to identify the unique aspects of locative media. The defining aspect of locative media is its ability to recognize its physical location and customize user experiences and content accordingly (Brimicombe & Li, 2009). Locative media also offers the possibility of a multiplicity of content and of ubiquity of access (Farham, 2013). Schianchi in her work with locative media (2013) identifies two of its unique qualities: 1) its ability to subvert physical laws, such as gravity and portability, and 2) its ability to subvert property laws, such as copyright, territory, and access. Farham has examined how locative media by brining the virtual and physical together for people has created a new form of embodied sense of place (2013). Despite the increasing growth in the use of mobile locative media (Zickuhr, 2012), the role of this technology may have upon our relationships to place has not been fully studied.

Locative media has been shown to provoke new interpretations and relationships with place through creative and playful interaction with place (Hjorth, 2011; Lemos, 2011; McGarrigle, 2010) as well as artistic interventions (Lodi, 2013; Schianchi, 2013). It is also increasingly being seen as a means to counter hegemonic representations (de Souza & Hjorth, 2009, Gazzard, 2011; Hjorth, 2011; Farham, 2012; Lapenta, 2011; Shirvanee, 2006).

Through the creation of shared geographies and counter maps via locative media people are able to create and share their own information and representations of their spaces in powerful and meaningful ways. Such acts may have the potential to shape a person’s relationship to their places and ultimately their sense of place.

This leads to my research questions:
  1. How do people use locative media to create counter-maps and shared geographies?
  2. How, and in what ways, does such use of locative media affect an individual’s sense of place?
As I mentioned, I'd love to hear people's reaction to this topic and to get any suggestions for useful literature or groups using locative media in this way.


Barker, A. J., & Pickerill, J. (2012). Radicalizing relationships to and through shared geographies: Why anarchists need to understand indigenous connections to land and place. Antipode, 44(5), 1705–1725.

Barkhuus, L., Brown, B., Bell, M., Sherwood, S., Hall, M. & Chalmers, M. (2008). From awareness to repartee: Sharing location within social groups. In Proceedings of the Twenty-sixth Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 497–506). New York, NY: ACM.

Bidwell, N. J., & Winshiers-Theophilus, H. (2012). Extending connections between land and people digitally: Designing with rural Herero communities in Namibia. In E. Giaccardi (Ed.), Heritage and social media: Understanding heritage in a participatory culture (pp. 197–216). New York, NY: Routledge.
Brimicombe, A., & Li, C. (2009). Location-based services and geo-information engineering. Chichester, UK: Wiley.
Connerton, P. (2009). How modernity forgets. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Cooke, F. M. (2003). Maps and counter-maps: Globalised imaginings and local realities of Sarawakʼs plantation agriculture. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 34(2), 265–284.
Corbett, J. (2013). “I don’t come from anywhere”: Exploring the role of the geoweb and volunteered geographic information in rediscovering a sense of place in a dispersed aboriginal community. In D. Sui, S. Elwood, & M. Goodchild (Eds.), Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge (pp. 223–241). New York, NY: Springer.
Crampton, J. W. (2008). Will peasants map? Hyperlinks, map mashups, and the future of information. In J. Turow & L. Tsui (Eds.), The hyperlinked society: Questioning connections in the digital age (pp. 206–226). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Debord, G. (1956a). Theory of the dérive. (K. Knabb, Trans.) Situationist International Online. Retrieved from
Debord, G. (1956b). User’s guide to détournement, a. (K. Knabb, Trans.) Situationist International Online. Retrieved from
Debord, G. (1983). The society of the spectacle. Detroit, MI: Black and Red.
De Souza e Silva, A., & Hjorth, L. (2009). Playful urban spaces. Simulation & Gaming, 40(5), 602 –625.
Dunn, C. E. (2007). Participatory GIS -- a people’s GIS? Progress in Human Geography, 31(5), 616–637.
Elwood, S. (2006). Critical issues in participatory GIS: Deconstructions, reconstructions, and new research directions. Transactions in GIS, 10(5), 693–708.

Elwood, S. (2010). Geographic information science: Emerging research on the societal implications of the geospatial web. Progress in Human Geography, 34(3), 349–357.

Farman, J. (2012). Mobile interface theory: Embodied space and locative media. New York, NY: Routledge.
Garfield, S. (2012). On the map: A mind-expanding exploration of the way the world looks. New York,  NY: Penguin.
Gatrell, J. D. (2002). Policy spaces: Applying Lefebvrian politics in neo-institutional spaces. Space and Polity, 6(3), 327–342.
Gazzard, A. (2011). Location, location, location: Collecting space and place in mobile media. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 17(4), 405–417.
Harley, J. B. (2001). The new nature of maps : Essays in the history of cartography. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Harrison, R. (2011). “Counter-mapping” heritage, communities and places in Australia and the UK. In J. Schofield & R. Szymanski (Eds.), Local Heritage, Global Context: Cultural Perspectives on Sense of Place (pp. 79–98). Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Harris, L., & Hazen, H. D. (2006). Power of maps: (Counter)-mapping for conservation. ACME: An International e-Journal for Critical Geographies, 4(1), 99–130.

Harvey, D. (2008). The right to the city. New Left Review, (53), 23–40.

Heidegger, M. (1996). Being and time. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Hjorth, L. (2013).  The place of the emplaced mobile: A case study into gendered locative media practices. Mobile Media & Communication, 1(1), 110–115.

Hodgson, D. L. (2002). Dilemmas of counter-mapping community resources in Tanzania. Development and Change, 33(1), 79–100.
Jacob, C. (2006). The sovereign map. University of Chicago Press.
Jacobs, J. (1992). The death and life of great American cities. New York, NY: Vintage.

Kitchin, R., Linehan, D., O’Callaghan, C., & Lawton, P. (2013). Public geographies through social media. Dialogues in Human Geography, 3(1), 56–72.

Lapenta, F. (2011). Geomedia: On location-based media, the changing status of collective image production and the emergence of social navigation systems. Visual Studies, 26(1), 14–24.

Lemos, A. (2011). Pervasive computer games and processes of spatialization: Informational territories and mobile technologies. Canadian Journal of Communication, 36(2), 277–294.

Lodi, S. (2013). Spatial art: An eruption of the digital into the physical. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 19(2). Retrieved from

McGarrigle, C. (2010). The construction of locative situations: Locative media and the Situationist International, recuperation or redux?. Digital Creativity, 21(1), 55–62.

Monmonier, M. S. (1996). How to lie with maps (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Peluso, N. L. (1995). Whose woods are these? Counter-mapping forest territories in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Antipode, 27(4), 383–406.

Rundstrom, R. (2009). Counter-mapping. In (R. Kitchin & N. Thrift, Eds.) International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

Relph, E.  (1976). Place and placelessness. London, UK: Pion.

Taylor, K. (2013). Counter-mapping the neighborhood on bicycles: Mobilizing youth to reimagine the city. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 18(1-2), 65–93.

Thompson, C. (2007). Smile when you’re lying: Confessions of a rogue travel writer. Ney York, NY: Holt.

Tulloch, D. L. (2007). Many, many maps: Empowerment and online participatory mapping. First Monday, 12(2). Retrieved from

Schianchi, A. (2013). Location-based virtual interventions: transcending space through mobile augmented reality as a field for artistic creation. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 19(2). Retrieved from

Shirvanee, L. (2006). Locative viscosity: Traces of social histories in public space. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 14(3-4). Retrieved from

Soja, E. W. (2010). Seeking spatial justice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Steele, F. (1981). The sense of place. Boston, MA: CBI Pub.

Taylor, B. (2009). “Place” as prepolitical grounds of democracy: An Appalachian case study in class conflict, forest politics, and civic networks. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(6), 826–845.

Tuan, Y. (1977). Space and place: The perspective of experience. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Veronesi, F., & Gemeinboeck, P. (2009). Mapping footprints: A sonic walkthrough of landscapes and cultures. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 15(3), 359–369.

Young, J. C. (2013). The spatial politics of affect and emotion in participatory GIS. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(4), 808–823.

Zickuhr, K. (2012). Three-quarters of smartphone owners use location-based services. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mobile Apps & Sites Usability Top 10 Tips

This Thursday is World Usability Day, so in honour of that I thought I'd share my top ten list of mobile website and application usability tips.

My tips are just the tip of the iceberg - but surprisingly frequently missed. As with all digital media usability issues, Jakob Nielsen is the definitive source.

Mobile Usability Top Ten Tips:

  1. Mobile deserves its own design - shrunken web is not acceptable
  2. Load quickly 
  3. Reduce or avoid images on main pages 
  4. Simplify navigation 
  5. Make buttons BIG
  6. Condense text - either by writing shorter copy or chunking up into paragraphs
  7. Make most common info very easy to find (e.g., phone number, directions, event listings) 
  8. Have only horizontal or vertical scrolling, not both
  9. Make input easy  - user input is difficult on mobile devices (other than touching) when possible do things for the user automatically and minimize / avoid the need to type in anything
  10. KISS - Keep it simple stupid - this is almost always true in all user experiences but in the reduced display of mobile devices and challenging user input, this maxim is even more true
I realize that user testing is rarely down in digital media production, and of course it's always necessary. But considering how absolutely awful and impossible to use some mobile websites and apps are, it often seems like even the developers haven't tried out their designs on a device. And I don't mean test them out on tablets as the user experience on these are much better than on tiny smartphones. Try it out all mobile designs on a mobile device that's a couple years old - as this is what a lot of customers are using. 

And if in doubt, consult a professional. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Online Dating Basics: Know Your Rights

I know many people who have used dating websites. Although dating websites often don't get the respect they deserve (well, Ashley Madison doesn't deserve respect) for their commerical and social success. I know many people who have used online dating with mixed results. Unlike offline dating, people don't talk a lot about the ins and outs of online dating widely nor has the practice permeated our popular culture for everyone to have developed some streetsmarts about it.

So even though online dating has been around since at least the 1990s, it can still feel like navigating through the wild. Or so I've heard, as I've been with my spouse since I first got an Internet connection - and she will probably wonder why Ashley Madison is now in my browsing history.)

A friend has an matchmaking business focusing on helping people navigate the world of dating websites and online courtship. She recently posted on her company's blog, Junia Blog, fundamental tips for online dating to form an Online Dating Charter of Rights. She has kindly allowed me to repost it here:


A lot of the people I talk to seem easily frustrated by their dating website experiences. I often think that’s because they're worrying about matters that really should not concern them. In this yenta's opinion, some clarification is needed around some pretty basic issues. I'm drafting an Online Dating Charter of Rights so that we can all stop wasting time on the unproductive behaviours that lead to internet dating burnout.

You have the right to remain silent.
Opinions on the matter vary, but I don't write back to people who don't interest me. Not for myself, and not on behalf of my clients. Even if they seem really really nice, or have clearly taken some time to craft their message to you. On the few occasions I've bothered to write a nice let-down message, it's bitten me in the ass and fast. Unless you think they'd be perfect for someone else you know, just don't bother. It’ll save everyone time in the long run, even the person you’re rejecting. You also have the right to refuse to answer any question that makes you uncomfortable. You can choose to ignore it, or you can simply say, "I'd rather not share that with you right now, if you don't mind" and carry on nicely, if you like everything else that's happened so far. But you are never obligated to respond, ever.

You have the right to know what you like.
Do you prefer tall women? Are you utterly opposed to dating a police officer? Do non-drinkers make you as nervous as raging alcoholics? Have you got lots of male friends with goatees, but couldn't stand the thought of kissing one? Well, go right ahead and say it! There is utterly no point to being coy about these things. But make sure that you say it nicely, and not in the threatening "you'd better not send me a message if" fashion that so many people seem to employ online. Stating your preferences as a warning, like a bitter Buffalo border guard on the graveyard shift, doesn't exactly invite others to get friendly with you. In my work I have sometimes avoided messaging potential matches because even though my clients did fit their criteria quite nicely, the way the candidate laid out his or her parameters was simply off-putting.

You have the right to expect a picture.
There is absolutely no reason, at this point in history, for anyone to be ashamed of the fact that they are online dating. If you are, you probably shouldn't be doing it. I don't care if the person promises to send pictures later on. You’ve got a picture up, why don't they? (Please tell me you have a picture up.) Worried their mom/boss/neighbour/ex is going to see it? Well, just what are they doing there themselves? Seriously, the people who don’t have pictures online – or who only share pictures of animals, cars, or cartoon characters – are hiding something. I don't know what it is, but I guarantee you won't like it. Don't bother with these paranoid Luddites because they're probably married anyway.

You have the right to change your mind.
After one message, after three messages, after twelve. (Please don't let it get to twelve messages before you meet somebody though. See below for more clarification.) You don't have to answer any questions you don't like. You don't have to come up with excuses as to why you didn't write back immediately, or jump on the offer of a meeting. It's really important to trust your instincts when it comes to online dating. It's not "shopping for people," but when you're at the pre-meeting stage, you are allowed to hit pause, rewind, or erase at any point. Most dating sites have a "hide" or "block" feature; use it if the person doesn't take your backing away well. While it's preferable to be upfront about it and not just disappear on someone you've been messaging, if they've done something to upset or offend you, you owe them nothing.

You have the right to request a meeting.
If you've been messaging back and forth with someone, and things are going reasonably well, then it does not make sense to keep playing pen pals. Three messages sent and three received is about as many as I feel comfortable with before I start to get antsy, and too much literary foreplay can result in greater disappointment if the real-life encounter is a bust. Why wait? Unless your schedules are mutually very crazy, there's no reason to prolong that coffee (even though you know I don,t suggest coffee). You’ve all heard of the Catfish thing by now, right? Well, this is just how it starts.

You have the right to keep looking.
There is no such thing as "exclusively messaging." Anyone who tries to glean whether you're also chatting with other candidates – on the same site, or others you may be using – is best avoided. Even after you've met in person. I advise all of my clients to avoid any suggestion of exclusivity before at least a couple of weeks (and several good dates) have passed. (Note: this is true no matter what you personally get up to on a first date!) If the person you're seeing immediately expects you to disable your profile – or does this to their own – after a successful meeting, I don't think that's a good sign. I think it's needy, impetuous, and demonstrates a lack of discernment that could lead to relationship problems in the future. You both need to approach the situation with care, and taking yourself offline every time someone turns your head makes you seem flaky. It'll be noticeable to other users, too.

I’m now opening the floor to comments. What other internet dating rights (or responsibilities) do people need to respect? And as always, be sure to visit to learn more about my work and available services.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hashtag Hell!

I have nothing against hashtags in theory - they are a great way to distinguish tags. And I love tagging - in fact I have tagged 1000 articles with my tag "net news" for bookmarking on Delicious and to share the stories I find particularly interesting and useful about Internet and digital media. These items are then displayed on the left of this blog (----> check them out ---->).

The thousandth article tagged was a story highlighting Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Falon's parody of insane tagging practices on social media. Their video really describes one of many reasons why I dislike Twitter.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

I Wonder What the App Developers Were Thinking?

Every year, we take our daughter to an amusement park to celebrate her birthday.  This year we went to a nearby amusement park, Canada's Wonderland, after the summer break in the hopes of avoiding jam-packed crowds and endless lines. We didn't.

We went the past couple of years and have always found it difficult to find one's way around the park. There are almost no way-finding aids such as signs in the p0ark. Even the mountain in the park central that used to be a reliable landmark for years is no longer visible from much of the park.  So we rely on the paper map that Wonderland distributes (at the front gate). The map is more of a stylish map with a high-level artistic rendering and listings of restaurants and shops.  It's not great for finding the rides as, for example, the entrances to rides are never indicated on the map and are often difficult to locate.

Considering that one wants to get in the maximum number of thrill rides and that easily 80% of one's visit (even on a good, less-busy day) is spent waiting in line (there are lines even for the men's bathroom). Time is of the essence and thus the need to plan an optimum route and get from ride A to ride B in the shortest amount of time possible is essential.

My daughter passed a height restriction milestone recently so she was now able to go on some wild rides. My wife hates rides, so I've had a thrill ride drought lasting decades.

So it was clear that this year pre-planning our trip was mission critical.

Our first stop was Wonderland's website to read up and prioritize the rides. Their website is good but not fantastic. I tried to download their mobile app based on a QR code they provided. But once I scanned the app instead of commencing my anticipated download of their app it took me to their mobile website and a pop-up message said I should download their app. When I clicked it nothing happened. It would have been easier if they just linked to the app on the various app stores.

Their mobile website is actually pretty good - and would serve the needs of most visitors. I'm a big proponent of the mobile Web, particularly when does not need to interact with a business/service very frequently. Most apps that people download never get used more than a couple times and the habit of endlessly downloading apps is not sustainable for users - so eventually we are all going to have to embrace the mobile web.

But the app promised to have GPS Enabled map, which I thought would be invaluable and would be difficult to do with only a mobile website. So I had to go to my device's app store and find the official app (annoying - as they should have had a link to it in the first place and it's difficult to find the official one).

After installing the app, I realized it is not significantly different from their mobile website. Mostly, it offers brief static content - most of which is useful, if not spectacular. The have an events feature that doesn't appear to work as it has pulled up nothing for September or October (despite at least a couple of events that I know are occurring). There is a "Friend Finder" feature that seems promising (as I frequently lose track of my wife) but they have no description of what it is anywhere and one need an individual and their friends PIN numbers before it can be used.

But the worst disappointment is the map function. Granted, they do have their illustrated map, which is handy as users can look up an attraction and have it flagged prominently on the map. But it has flaws: it's not completely accurate, it does not the ride entrance, and it does not zoom to a high level. Despite the claim that it is "GPS Enabled" it does not indicate where one is in relation to the desired attraction, as one expects with GPS-enabled maps. I can't see any GPS functionality whatsoever and it doesn't even have a manual way to highlight the route between two points.

Of course, there is even more they could be doing with their app - not only with maps such as showing where the nearest snacks or bathrooms are or where one parked their car - but also buying tickets to their attractions that cost extra, or delivering geo-targetted promotions.

What I'd like most is an excellent planner feature that would let me plan my day on their website and then view it on their app in a timeline or map. I'd also love it if they had dynamic information on the wait times so that I could hustle to a ride with short lines and avoid those with killer waits. Hell, since no matter what I'm going to be waiting for a long time - at least give me some content to pass the endless time!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Exploring the World of Geocaching

A couple weeks ago, I decided to start geocaching. I have always liked hiking and exploring plus I figured geocaching was an interesting way to engage with my research interest on locative technology and people's playful interactions with place via their mobile devices.

Briefly, geocaching is activity wherein average people across the world hide a box (cache) which contains a log book and possibly trinkets. The cache hider then enters the geocache's GPS coordinates and description  into an online database. The people like me try to find them the caches on their GPS device or smartphone using the location coordinates. Then the finder goes online to log the find and share their story.

There are various versions of geocaching and sites, but the most commonly used one is Geocaching,com. The site also has best introduction on the topic. 

I've now found four geocaches in three different cities and used both my mobile device and two different GPS devices (Garmin and TomTom) so I feel enough of a non-muggle (yes, they use that term as much as I hate it) to comment on it.

Applications and devices
I am in limited budget, so when I noticed that the official geocache mobile was $10, I was nonplussed. $10 is one of the most expensive mobile apps that I have encountered and it is a lot to fork out for someone just trying out geocaching.

So I found a free open-source app for Androids- c:geo. For novices, c:geo is not the simplest app to use but once one gets more familiar it becomes easier to use. Now, I like using it so much, I can't see why anyone would pay $10 for the "official" app.

The activity
I like going for walks and hiking and don't need much motivation beyond some pleasant scenery to get me going (although a good pastry at the end certainly doesn't hurt). But I thought geocaching might add a dimension of fun to a hike, engage my daughter, and possibly learn something about a location. I also thought it might make going for a walk in a dull or nondescript location more enjoyable.

So in most of these regards, geocaching is a hit with my me and my family. If you are going to go on a hike anyway, it definitely adds to one's enjoyment and is not a distraction.

My daughter enjoys the hunt for the cache when we are close, but mostly she's in it for the treasure contained within. From my small sample, this has been a bit of a bust as half our geocaches we found were empty or had essentially garbage (business cards, broken stuff, etc.).

I really like the "Earth Cache" type that I did as I learned a lot about the difference between geodes, vugs, and other cavities.  But to log it the cache, one needs to have a portable black light. I hate it when people set up such ridiculous and frankly elitist requirements to any activity (as really who owns a portable black light). So if this is any reflection of the requirements allowed for Earth Caches then this isn't really for me.

I've heard that people are competitive about the amount of geocaches they find. This element of the activity doesn't appeal to me. But I do like the ability to log one's finds and have that as a personal travel log.

It is rewarding to find a cache after a difficult search, all the while not trying to clue the muggles into what you are doing.  On our last geocache (in Peterborough, Ontario), the cops pulled up beside us and waited for us to leave. I'm not sure what trouble they thought a couple with a young kid were going to get into.

I didn't really like using a GPS device as it provides so little information beyond the location. I want to know about the context of the cache, other people's comments, and ideally background information about the area of the cache's location. So I'm not going to buy a GPS handheld device.

My smartphone app does offer this background info nicely. But with roaming costs being what they are (exorbitant), I doubt I'll do it much beyond the major metropolitan areas where my coverage is included in my existing package. For this reason, I'd like to see more geocaches in my city than is currently available.

My daughter and I enjoyed geocaching and will likely do it again (during the few months of agreeable weather we have in Ontario, of course). And as I mentioned, if I'm going on a hike/walk anyway, I may check it out to see if there is a geocache en route.

Overall, I would like more playful ways to find the cache then just plugging in coordinates and then go. I'd also like to see more information about the cache's context than seems commonly provided.

I'm new to this, however, and maybe there are solutions to my problems or workarounds? If so, please let me know.

Related activities
In researching this article. I uncovered many other activities that use locative technology to encourage physical explorations whether finding objects, (via QR codes), solving clues or puzzles to find a location, or various other games fostering playful interactions with the world.  I've compiled a list of location-based games on Delicious, but here's a good article highlighting ten GPS-related games.

These sound appealing to me and would likely be a hit with my kid, so I want to try some of these out. There are so many though. Anyone have any recommendations?

Monday, July 01, 2013

My Snapshots of Canada

In honour of Canada Day today, I wanted to do a special post to honour my country. I normally update my list of Canadian Who's Who of Digital Media, but there hasn't been many changes since last year.

Now that Flickr has increased its upload limit, I decided to share my favourite photos I've taken from my various trips across this country (since getting a digital camera at least). So here are my favourites snapshots of Canada on a map and in thumbnails:

See in fullscreen mode

Nature BreakBAPS Shri Swaminarayan MandirSunwapta Pass,  Icefields Pkwy.ParkwoodOntario - Parkwood National Historic SiteBritish Columbia - Hatley Castle, Victoria
Performance artJapanese Garden, Royal RoadsChair of the BoredSanta's Village, BracebridgeThe FallsJasper National Park
Conducting a colour symphonyAscensionTutshi River CanyonHarbourfront CurvesBrick MachineryFalling for the Maid of the Mist
John A. MacDonaldCathedral GroveTerrace Beach Cove, UclueletPrince Edward Is. - O'LearyPainterly sunset and B.C. coastFlatiron Mural
Canada, a set on Flickr.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Putting Locative Technology In Its Sense of Place - Presentation

Today, I presented at IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society on my research on locative media and sense of place. 

Below is my presentation. To access my speaker notes click the gear-like icon on the bottom right.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Putting Locative Technology In Its Sense of Place

I'm presenting on my research with locative technology and our relationships to place at the IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society this Saturday (June 29). Here's the highlights of my paper:

As we interact and learn about places, we bestow meaning on such places, forming the mental concept of a sense of place. Mobile devices and location-based services (LBS) may alter our everyday relationships of place. This paper reports on an exploratory survey study conducted on the elements that comprise sense of place and the role of (LBS). It was found that sense of place arises from diverse information sources, is multimodal and individualistic. Findings also suggest LBS can improve sense of place by enhancing people’s familiarity, personal engagement, and social connection to place. Respondents also identified barriers to their use of LBS.

Whether a newcomer or a long-time resident of a given place, experiencing a place in cognizant fashion results in a sense of place. Sense of place can be created anew from a first time encounter or be continuously renewed. Heidegger argues for the primacy of direct experience of the world as a way of knowing, as he states “space can only be understood by going back to the world” [1, p. 105]. This view formed an experiential basis for future place scholars, such as Relph [2], Tuan [3], and Seamon [4].

Humans have created and shared information about place since prehistoric times, often in the forms of crude maps or oral narratives [5]. As technology evolved, information about place could be more readily documented and shared more broadly through such media as books, maps, pamphlets, photographs, films, and websites. Current information and communications technology, however, is making it easier to access information about a given place while at that particular place. Although the term LBS is still relatively recent, Brimicombe and Li offer a definition of LBS noting that it delivers “data and information services where the content of those services is tailored to the current or some projected location and context of a mobile user” [6, chap. 1.1). LBS have grown in number and popularity over the last three years [7].

People are using mobile devices to learn about the places they frequent, but prior studies have not fully examined how using such technology affects people’s everyday lives and their relationships to place. This paper reports on a small-scale, survey study exploring the role of information and LBS in shaping sense of place. Four research questions were posed:
  1. What is the nature of relationships people have to places?
  2. How do people use information in forming a sense of place?
  3. How do people use mobile devices in relation to place?
  4. What is the potential of LBS to improve sense of place? 
To articulate humans’ relationship to their surroundings Tuan notes, “What begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value” [3, p.6]. The scale of what this term encompasses, however, is often vague in place discourse; it can be a country or a corner of a room [3]. Cresswell [8] notes that place is a spatial unit that is perceived by an individual as bounded by unifying traits.

The aspects of a place from which meaning arise for us can be summarized as self, others, and environment [9]. Sense of place is the meanings an individual has toward a place [e.g., 2, 8, 10]. Such meaning can be comprised of personal feelings or memories, involving the sensual, aesthetic, experiential, or affective, and any associations or characterizations of place received or perceived by an individual. Sense of place arises from the physical and representational aspects of a place, such as the natural and built setting, inherent and transactional sociocultural factors, and utilitarian, affective, and hedonistic experiences. Sense of place is both a mental end-state and a process in flux changing based on one’s new place experiences, information, or perspective.

Sense of place has been studied in various disciplines and found to have numerous benefits. From a social perspective, sense of place has been found to lead to place attachment [11, 12]. Place attachment is seen as not only central to one’s identity [11] but it also assists in the formation of a sense of community [13] and aids people in caring for and protecting their places [14] of particular importance in heritage conservation and urban planning.

The importance of studying the role information and representation of place in the formation of sense of place is of particular importance to ICT practitioners and scholars. After all, to apprehend and then comprehend our world we must perceive information available about the physical world directly through our senses and indirectly through the accounts of others. Relph [2] and Tuan [3] are critical of the value of accounts, but their claims are not supported by empirical evidence. In contrast, one study of a LBS prototype found that people valued the place accounts of others and wanted to draw upon “the experiences of others rather than starting from nothing. In this way they are adding to the continuity of other peoples’ stories as well as enriching their own” [15, p.288]. Gay argues that “A system that includes social maps and annotation of space with notes allows users to leave traces in physical space that would otherwise have no record of who was present and what went on before” [16, p. 13]. Stewart, Hayward, Devlin, and Kirby [17] found people’s individual goals and profiles affected their use of geotartetted information, classifying people from those who actively want geotargetted information to those actively avoid it.

Empirical studies, however, that specifically examine how accounts impact the formation of sense of place could not be found. There are studies that demonstrate how sense of place can be transmitted or discerned through mediated accounts.[18, 19]. The work of anthropologists, such as Ryden [20], has examined how people use a variety of genres and media forms to share and interpret sense of place, but Ryden studied this at a cultural level rather than at the individual level.

Accounts and experiences of place are often transient and invisible. Emerging technology can reveal elusive yet geographically relevant information [21] and thereby may be able to improve people’s sense of place. Current LBS have a diversity of information sources, genres, and modalities as well as interactive and user-generated content features that offer the potential for deep and diverse information and experiences of and with place. In one study [22] researchers observed and interviewed LBS users and found that people virtually annotated place with their life events, fostering place connection. Locative media, through features as point-of-interest ratings and reviews and proximal and category searches, facilitate users’ ability to see, learn from, and act upon the experience and advice of others. Studies of LBS usage have found that people use it for such social navigation [23, 24].

Schwarzer, however, cautions on how LBS can be both an advantage and a disadvantage:
“Our sense of place is augmented by information wired from the World Wide Web. Part of the information comes from media conglomerates. Much of it streams at us from our social networks and online acquaintances. The information allows us to peruse unseen depths of the place we’re in. We have the opportunity to gain a better or different sense of place anywhere we travel within the network’s reach. … We approach, apprehend and adjust to the world around us by carrying another world with us. We stroll with a docent at our side, answering our every query. Everyday place is curated like museum space, the most banal streetscape brought to comparative life… [17, para. 25].”
Although Schwarzer raises concerns about the implications about how LBS may affect sense of place, there is a dearth of empirical research on the role of LBS in relation to sense of place.

To investigate this research problem a web-based survey was conducted. The questionnaire included 21 questions, 6 of which were open-ended and 15 which were close-ended. Recruitment used convenience and snowball sampling. Using Dey’s method of qualitative data analysis [26], data were first coded based on categories established from literature and as emerged from the data. Categories were further refined using Dey’s method of splicing, splitting, linking, and connecting categories. The quantitative data, being predominantly nominal was analyzed to discern response rates, frequency and percentage totals.

The findings and discussion are organized based on the four research questions.

A. Research Question 1: What Is the Nature of Relationships People Have With Places ?
When asked “Sense of place refers to the meanings and feelings people have for a place. Are there any places for which you have a strong sense of place?” 96.2% of respondents indicated they had such a place. The high response rate to this question suggests the pervasiveness of sense of place.

Respondents were instructed to check any of eight characteristics of place that “makes a place meaningful to you”. These characteristics had been identified from place literature. Table 1 shows the percentages and number of respondents who checked each characteristic.


Characteristic Percentage of respondents Number of respondents
Past personal experience 79.5% 62
Physical qualities 76.9% 60
Social dimension 75.6% 59
History 65.4% 51
Familial connection 57.7% 45
Cultural significance 57.7% 45
Usefulness 53.8% 42
Spirtual connection 34.6% 27

Three out of the eight characteristics were reported by more than 75% of respondents: personal experiences that occurred in a given place (79.5%), aesthetic qualities of the place (76.9%), and social dimensions that have or continue to happen at the place (75.6%).

Participants also noted how these characteristics work together to create sense of place. When asked to “describe a place or places in which you feel a strong sense of place”, one participant connected various qualities:
“The first place that came to mind is the big flat rock behind the family cottage in Muskoka. From that rock nothing could be seen except trees, ferns, and sky. Sometimes a boat could be heard in the distance, but during the week the lake was usually pretty quiet. All sorts of pretend games were played on that rock. Secret trysts with boyfriends were held there.”
The importance of personal experience can best be demonstrated from another participant’s response to the same question:
“Another place with a strong sense to it is an ordinary intersection up along the airport strip, where I was told ‘I love you’ for the first time, in the romantic sense. The relationship the words went with is long since over, but the spot is still very dear!”
This response also illustrates that the qualities of sense of place, particularly those involving personal experience, are often unavailable to others but are nonetheless important to participants. Overall, these findings confirm that various elements comprise sense of place and that the interplay of these elements varies across individuals.

B. Research Question 2: How Do People Use Information in Forming a Sense of Place?
Several questions were asked about the information sources and processes people use to learn about places. When asked how they “learn about the features, history, or social dimensions” of a place they previously identified as meaningful, respondents reported using multiple information sources (almost half reported using two or more sources) and different types of information sources. The most frequently reported source was word of mouth (24 respondents), followed by print material (18), television and film (11), and the Internet (7). The use of a variety of information sources about place is best reflected by this answer:
“By physically being there [a forest] and feeling the ground beneath my bare feet, by feeling the warm breeze on my (mostly) bare skin. By using all my senses. The history of the place I obtained by reading tales of the first peoples of Canada, by learning the lore of the area through talking to others, and by imagining what it must have been like to have been a Native North American.”
A subsequent check-box question asked respondents “When do you consult the following sources of information when visiting a new place” and to check whether they used a source based on visit duration with options for “short visit (less than 1 day)”, “extended visit (more than 1 day)” and “never”. Social network / word of mouth, websites, and pamphlets were among the top five mediums for both short and extended visits. Consistent with place literature, many people value the information about place gathered from one’s social network. Social networks were identified as the most popular information source for short visits at 71.1% (54 respondents) and the second most popular at 78.9% (60) for extended visits.

Over 50% of respondents (37) reported using a mobile application when visiting a new place, with 40% of this total using it for short visits (28) and 30% (21) for extended visits. Mobile applications may be more popular for short visits than long visits as they are well-suited to providing information useful in daily lives such as location or contact information and may not be used as extensively for extended visits (such as vacations) due to high data roaming costs charged by mobile carriers.

When asked if “having access to information (regardless of source) while at a given location is valuable” all respondents agreed or strongly agreed. Overall, respondents can be seen to use various information sources to learn about a place, which add “layers of information” to their sense of place.

C. Research Question 3: How Do People Use Mobile Devices In Relation to Place?
When asked if they had “discovered something new and valuable about a place via their mobile device”, 62.5% (40 respondents) indicated they had. The larger the device screen used (e.g., tablet versus smartphone) increased positive responses, indicating the improved user experience of tablets may play a role.

Many respondents (86.3%) reported using their device to access at least one function in the past month. At the high end, 84.1% reported finding proximal businesses or services, reading local news (74.1%), finding nearby sites (67.7%), and reading information about their location (66.1%). The leading place-related functions used by respondents are directions and proximity searches for nearby businesses or events. Reponses such as “The location of a gas station when you are low on fuel is valuable information” or simply “It helped me get un-lost!” exemplify this functionality and its value to respondents.

As LBS applications become more commonly used, it will be interesting to see whether people will also start using other types of information that LBS can provide, such as historical and multimedia content, which received the lowest usage responses. Although “history of location” was reported by the lowest percentage of respondents, that some people were using mobile devices to seek historical and other factual place information, as reflected in the following comment:
“During a business trip, I saw a historical structure in the distance. Once I had Wifi access, I looked it up via Google Maps. Once I knew the name of the structure, finding out more information on it was easy.”
More pragmatically, some respondents are using their mobile device to find factual information about a place beyond directions, as exemplified by this comment:
“I found out recently not to use a public car park ... after dark. The Foursquare entry had a tip that car thieves were targeting the car park.”
Mobile devices are more than just information seeking devices, as they also enable the ability for users to record and share their own experiences and information about places. When asked if they had “used a mobile device to record notes, opinions, or memories of a place”, 40.6% of respondents replied that they had done so. These respondents were asked to elaborate on how this affected their place memories. Their responses fell into the following categories: improved recall (75.0%), encouraged personal reflection (20.8%), enabled sharing place experience (20.8%), and enhanced place experience (12.5%). One respondent put it simply as he/she was able to “strengthen the moment” of their place experience, while another provides more detail:
“The process of inscribing your thoughts on a place while at that place is very useful in concretising your thoughts on that place. I think the practice of reflecting on the place to compose an entry requires a thinking about that place, and an ordering of thoughts about that place that gives meaning to the place.”
These findings offer support for the ability of mobile devices to enable a person to engage individually and socially with a place. Mobile devices are thus seen to offer dimensions of place information and interaction that have the potential to affect one’s sense of place.

D. Research Question 4: What Is the Potential of LBS to Improve Sense of Place?
Of the 28 respondents who used a LBS, 72.4% answered the question “How have location-based services affected, or not affected, your sense of place”, with responses indicating LBS usage had improved their sense of place. One response describes this improvement as resulting from the easy, ubiquitous access to geographically-relevant information that LBS facilitate:
“They [LBS] have let me learn more about a place, quickly, while I am there - which has provided a greater depth of knowledge and let me ‘commune’ with interesting places more.”
Another response captures the individual and social elements of sense of place:
“Location based services have, by bringing other peoples’ social gazetteers into consideration, made a sense of place easier to achieve. The ability to explore what is around me through LBS and to not only stand in relation to those places but also to assess them through the social gazetteers left by other users does allow a sense of place to develop in even the unfamiliar, and the process of making such inscriptions in the LBS database strengthens my own sense of place...”
Four themes surfaced from responses to this question as shown in table 2 (some responses included more than one theme).


Themes related to LBS and sense of place Percentage of respondents Number of respondents
Improves familiarity or knowledge of place 45.4% 10
Aids social connection 38.0% 8
Improves appreciation of place 27.2% 6
Fosters sense of belonging or connection to place 19.0% 4

To meet the needs of users improvements to LBSs or mobile technology in general are needed, as less than half of respondents (47.3%) indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied with information provided by LBS. Respondents were asked “What can be done with mobile technology to improve your ability to learn about the places you encounter?”. Over 60% (47) of respondents offered suggestions, with five categories receiving the most responses: better or more content (31.9%), improved user interface and features (25.5%), improved personalization features (21.2%), greater geographic coverage of content (17.0%), and lower network carrier costs or roaming fees (14.8%). Despite barriers, the overall findings suggest that LBS play a role in sense of place and may be able to improve it.

This study provides groundwork for understanding the various elements that comprise sense of place and how LBS can address these. This study supports findings from place scholarship in affirming that sense of place arises is individualistic and is a continuous and active process. The survey confirmed the importance of personal experience as a valuable means to form a sense of place, as posited by place theorists. This study contributes to place scholarship by specifically identifying the role information plays in sense of place. Participants were found to draw upon a diverse range of information sources and media. Information was valued in forming a sense of place. Among participants using LBS, they indicated that it augments their current experience of place, enhances their sense of place, and improves their place attachment.

Greater understanding of the role LBS play in sense of place can assist in fostering a better understanding of user motivations and interactions. This can be used to contribute to the delivery of improved application interfaces and to the provision of more fulfilling and socially-relevant user experiences. Mobile, locative technology that captures and preserves a diverse range of information on place, virtually ties it to that place, and broadcasts it to others, can help people feel not only more informed but also more connected to their surroundings.

Aspects of locative media, such as its rich features to engage users with place, multiplicity of content, spatial awareness, and ubiquity of access have the potential to transition locative media from its initial focus on way finding to fostering deeper relationships to the everyday places we encounter. For LBS to meet the place-related needs of users, this research has identified the following recommendations for LBS apps:

  • allow personal experience to be recorded privately and publicly
  • offer personalization features
  • consider affect
  • draw upon various information source types (e.g. videos, text, photographs)
  • offer different types of information (news, accounts, events)
  •  ensure content is available across many locations

Despite claims that mobile technology mentally removes people from their physical world [27], this study offers evidence of the potential of LBS to positively impact people’s relationships to their places.


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[2] E. C. Relph, Place and Placelessness. London, UK: Pion, 1976.
[3] Y. Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1977.
[4] D. Seamon, A Geography of the Lifeworld: Movement, Rest, and Encounter. London, UK: Croom Helm, 1979.
[5] M. Corson and E. Palka, “Geotechnology, the U.S. military, and war,” in Geography and Technology, S. D. Brunn, S. L. Cutter, and J. W. Harrington, Eds. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 2004, pp. 401–427
[6] A. Brimicombe and L. Chao, Location-based Services and Geo-information Engineering. Chichester, UK: Wiley, 2009.
[7] K. Zickuhr. “Three-quarters of smartphone owners use location-based services,” Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 2012.
[8] T. Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.
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[13] A. Williams, P. Kitchen, L. DeMiglio, J. Eyles, B. Newbold, and D. Streiner, “Sense of place in Hamilton, Ontario: Empirical results of a neighborhood-based survey,” Urban Geo., vol. 31, no. 7, pp. 905–931, October 2010.
[14] J. Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York, NY: Vintage, 1992.
[15] J. Paay and J. Kjeldskov, “A gestalt theoretic perspective on the user experience of location-based services,” In Proc. of the 2007 Australasian Comp.-Human Interaction Conf.. Adelaide, Australia, 2007.
[16] G. Gay, Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 1–62, January 2009.
[17] E. J. Stewart, B. M. Hayward, P. J Devlin, and V.G. Kirby, “The ‘place’ of interpretation: A new approach to the evaluation of interpretation,” Tourism Mgmt., vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 257–266, June 1998.
[18] C. Buchanan, “Sense of place in the daily newspaper,” Aether: The J. of Media Geo., vol. 4, March 2009.
[19] T. Rantanen, “The new sense of place in 19th-century news,” Media, Culture & Society, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 435–449, 2003.
[20] K. Ryden, Mapping the Invisible Landscape: Folklore, Writing, and the Sense of Place. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1993.
[21] A. Gazzard, “Location, location, location: Collecting space and place in mobile media,” Convergence: The Intl. J. of Res. into New Media Tech.,vo. 17, no. 4, pp. 405–417, 2011.
[22] L. Humphreys and T. Liao, “Mobile geotagging: Reexamining our interactions with urban space,” J. of Comp.-Mediated Comm., vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 407–423, 2011.
[23] M. Bilandzic, “A review of locative media, mobile and embodied spatial interaction,” Int. J. of Human-Comp. Studies, vol. 70, no. 1, pp. 66–71, 2012.
[24] L. Evans, “Location-based services: Transformation of the experience of space,” J. of Location Based Services, vol. 5, no. 3-4, pp. 1–19, 2011.
[25] M. Schwarzer, “Sense of place, a world of augmented reality,” Design Observer Group, June 8, 2010.
[26] Dey, Ian, Qualitative Data Analysis: A User-friendly Guide for Social Scientists. London, UK: Routledge, 1993.
[27] K. J. Gergen,The challenge of absent presence.” in J. E. Katz and  M. Aakhus, Eds., Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk, Public Performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 227-241.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Blogging is the Best Revenge

I love the Internet! I'm so glad to work and study this field for so many reasons.  It really has made publishing much more open and egalitarian. And it has finally given consumers some power when companies treat them like crap.  Yes, I'm not above online revenge and it tastes sweet!

A few months ago I was moving to a new place. As everyone who has moved there is an infinite amount of work to do, and dealing with transferring one's utilities should be the least of one's challenges.  Well, as I blogged about dealing with Bell Canada to get our phone, TV, and Internet hooked up was living hell - see my post Dealing with Bell Canada is Like Having Broken Glass Ground Into My Eyes.

Without exaggeration not only did Bell easily waste 40 hours of my life during an incredibly busy, stressful period while I was on hold trying to get them to hook me up, but they also treated me with an incredible amount of disrespect and unprofessionalism. Bell, it turns out uses the euphemisms of "transferring a call" to hang up on customers and "following up" as forgetting and ignoring someone in perpetuity.

Big and small companies nowadays get the power of social media and try to do some "community outreach" or rather damage control. Not Bell apparently as they seem oblivious to the power of word-of-mouth.

As I was having problem-after-mindnumbing-problem with Bell, I told them I would be blogging and tweeting about my experience and telling all my social network never to deal with Bell.  My blog has some following and turns up decently on Google for key terms. Regardless, Bell should care what is being said about them online, yet at no time have they ever attempted to contact me or set things right.

So I recently checked out my blog's visitor statistics and revenge is mine!  My blog posts detailing Bell's customer service crimes have generated thousands of page views!

I may have gone through hell with Bell, but if I have warned Canadians away from Bell and helped draw public attention to their despicable service then I am smuggly satisfied.

Thank you Internet!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It's Personal with Shoppers Drug Mart

I don't have time to read flyers - print or online. But I do love specials! So I frequently sign up for companies' email newsletters to keep an eye out for good promotions or new products. Most corporate emails, however, are often dull and irrelevant. So I rarely make the time to read them.

Ever since I moved to my prior residence, I relied on Shoppers Drug Mart as the only store available to buy our groceries, health and general supplies (you'd think we lived in the boonies - it was actually mid-town Toronto). I greatly benefited from their Optimum loyalty program (it's kept us happily stocked with electronic goodies: Wii and DS consoles and games, SLR digital camera, HD television, back massager, etc.) So I appreciated their email newsletters to help me save money and maximize my loyalty points.

But since we moved to a new place better serviced by stores, I haven't been closely monitoring my Shoppers' emails. Until recently.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my Shoppers email newsletter was personalized to me.  It wasn't just my name included in the email (which does not make me feel the email is targetted to me). The email was based on my purchasing history and included promotions for items that I'm actually interested in. Granted, book sellers have for a long time been sending me product recommendations based on my purchase history and others who bought similar items.

Shoppers emails were different as: 1) it included items I had purchased in the past and 2) items were on sale!

I was so impressed by this effort, that I contacted Shoppers and asked if they could tell me more about their email marketing, as well as plans for using mobile media.

Tammy Smitham, Vice President, Communications & Corporate Affairs, answered my questions, as follows:

Glen: Recent email newsletters I received from Shoppers are personalized. Is this a new initiative?

Tammy: In late 2012, we began a pilot of personalizing emails with targetted offers to 150,000 customers in Ontario. These offers were based on their shopping behaviours and preferences. For example, if they were a frequent cosmetic buyer they would get an offer with respect to items within cosmetics as well as an offer on the total category and finally we highlight for them relevant offers from that week's flyer based on products they had purchased in the past.

It is a sophisticated process to pull the data and create the relevant offers. It is proprietary technology. We worked with a company called Sagarmatha who specialize in this. They matched the offers with the customer's purchase behaviour. We are starting the roll out in English Canada over 6 - 8 weeks beginning April 2013.

Glen: What has been the response to these emails?

Tammy: The response was excellent. In fact, we saw open rates increase by 1,000 basis points and 50% of those who opened the email bought something featured in the email offer. We also saw an increase in both basket size and trip frequency from those who received the personalized email.

Glen: What are your future plans for personalizing and other innovative uses of email communications?

Tammy: The customer feedback has been very positive and as a result we embarked on a national roll out of these personalized emails beginning in April 2013. Once we reach critical mass (about 1.2 million active email addresses) we will proactively promote this element of our loyalty program. We have over 10 million Shoppers Optimum members but only have about 2 million email addresses so there is tremendous opportunity to grow the program's reach.

Glen: Any plans to enable coupons received via email to be redeemed by mobile device?

Tammy: We are working on a pilot for mobile for our Optimum loyalty program, which should begin later this summer. This will allow members to have a mobile Optimum card. Alongside with that pilot, we are working on making specific offers targetted to them via their mobile device. We hope to roll that out nationally in 2014.

Glen: On the topic of mobiles, can you share any future aspirations for reaching customers via their mobile. (For example, are you considering using geo-fencing?)

Tammy: Our major focus at this time is on making the Optimum card and relevant offers available via the mobile device. We know it is something our customers are demanding.

Glen: I also receive postcards in the mail from Shoppers. Can you discuss your use of old and new media in your media mix?

Tammy: We recognize our customers want to interact with us in different ways - whether it be through our weekly flyer, through personalized emails, via Facebook or through direct mail or our website (we have between 250,000 and 500,000 views of our flyer online per month). Our direct mail programs are also very successful. Given the ability for us to target our customers based on the information we have in the Shoppers Optimum database. We also know that Shoppers Drug Mart customers have greater smartphone penetration at 66% vs the Canadian population at 54% so we recognize that is an important medium for us to be engaged with.

At the end of the day we are focusing on the omni-channel to ensure that our presence is consistent across all mediums to keep our customer engaged with our brand and our offering.

As a PhD student and father with a young family, both my time and finances are constrained. So I greatly appreciate efforts by companies to save me both time and money. Too many corporate, digital marketing efforts don't really get my constraints (which I'm sure many people share). As far as I'm aware, Shoppers recent personalization efforts are among the first in Canada, but I hope they prove a model for other Canadian businesses.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Corporate Blog or Soap Box?

I was reading an interesting blog post this morning from a major international research and consulting company. The blogger discussed a new index their company was promoting to measure people's need for mobile use. I left a comment on how interesting and useful this concept was.

But that's not likely what got me in hot water. My comment also asked how their index of composite statistics of mobile device ownership and frequency and location of access can account for their claimed measure of people's  "expectations" of mobile ubiquity.

In addition, the blog compared findings from "Europe" (not specifying the countries surveyed) versus the United States.  A tiny footnote, however, indicates that findings from Canada were included in the "US" total (did they mean it as like "it's just like between us"?). So I also asked if  their "US" results were indeed compiled from both countries.  I wondered if they were performing "statistical manifest destiny".

Perhaps the bicentennial of the American invasion of Canada during the War of 1812 has inspired Americans to replace their muskets with statistics as their imperialist weapon of choice. Not only is saying results from both countries are representative of only one country misleading, it is also damn offensive! Not that I included my patriotic defence of my nation in my blog comment. I worded my comment rather neutrally (and attempted humorously).

My comment was live on the blog for about an hour and then it mysteriously disappeared.  I provided my email address, but no replies have been forthcoming.

I'm not naming the company as I intend to critique overall blogging practice more so than an individual blogger.

I get how my honest question exposes, in the best case scenario, insufficient detail provided in the original post. I figured a big multinational company would know what they are doing and would be able to respond to my comment with clarification. At worst, my comment publicly identified an Achilles heel, exposing the limits to their new hyped measure and its dubious validity.

So assuming the worst case scenario - is taking down my comment the best response?

From a corporate image and customer acquisition perspective, I can understand the fear that would motivate this censorship. But really, I'm not a stats expert and if I can so easily spot a limit of their work (if this is indeed the case) then many others will undoubtedly notice it too. I'm not a client of this company, but their censorship indicates to me that they are hiding something, that their work is bogus, and they are a bunch of charlatans. The company has lost all credibility with me.

A better course of action would be to let my comment stand, reply to my comment to point out any misconceptions I may have or to argue why they believe their measure is valid, and/or correct the original blog post. For example, I can't see any harm in changing the original post to not claim their findings represent just the U.S.and instead add in two words "and Canada". I think it even broadens the reach of their findings.

As a blogger, I have had several comments that were unfavourable, some even a bit derogatory. The anonymity, ease, and informality of commenting does result in some less-than-ideal comments. It's the nature of the beast. Bloggers, corporate or otherwise, should take comments with a grain of salt (as I believe many readers do) and allow for informality.

Responding to blog comments such as mine can instead be an opportunity to demonstrate expertise, openness, and a human side of a corporation (a sense of humour in such cases goes a long way!). Blog readers do not want to read puff or astroturf (self-published) comments or reviews. Most people don't reply to blog posts, but when they do it is an opportunity to foster lively, positive, and potentially viral discussion.

This all gets at the heart of corporate blogging.  If you don't want to hear from your public and engage honestly with them then don't have a blog. Despite their prevalence, all companies do not need to have a blog. Blogs are not right for every company in every situation.

There are other options: write online articles, publish white papers, distribute infographics, or many other options. To reiterate, BLOGS ARE NOT OBLIGATORY! But if you do one, do it right!