Session 3: Locative/social media
Location-based social media increasingly mediates social and interpersonal interactions in urban settings. Such practices become coded in software representing both the log and content of social interactions and the location to which they relate. Therefore a digital “cloud” of social interactions becomes embedded into the physical reality of the city, of its neighbourhoods, public places, cafés, transportation hubs and any other location identified by social media users (by user-initiated “check-ins” or by the content that they generate, such as photographs) and by the tools they use (for example, through automatic geo-tagging). Two sets of issues to be investigated are emerging: firstly referring to how such localised interactions are populating the algorithms and infrastructures provided by the software: how are the platform of location-based social media framing people’s perceptions and identifications of locations? How is code both facilitating and representing a set of social interactions relating to various spatial configurations? A second set of issues regards the re-materialisation of such cloud of interactions in the physical world: could it be made somehow perceivable and/or tangible in the physical world by the way in which certain environments are designed?
Overall, could new approaches to urban planning and environmental design become concerned with accommodating and facilitating these social interactions as they do so by supporting in-presence, analogue ones?
This paper will attempt to define and discuss these issues drawing both from interaction design and human-computer interaction literature on physical/digital interactions and from two preliminary empirical studies of location-based social media use in two cities.
Feeling place in the city: strange ontologies, Foursquare and location-based social media
Leighton Evans, National University of Ireland Maynooth
Certain instances of the use of location-based social media in cities can result in deep understandings of novel locations. The contributions of other users and the information pushed to users when in particular locales can help users rapidly attune themselves to places and achieve an understanding of the place. The use of a computational device and location-based social networking to achieve this understanding indicates an alteration in the achievement of placehood using computational technology. Practices and methods of understanding place can, in some situations, be delegated to the device and application. This paper explores how the moment that place is appreciated as place (that is, as a meaningful existential locale) can be reconciled with the delegation of the epistemologies of placehood to a computational device and location-based social media application. Drawing on data from an ethnographic study of Foursquare users, the phenomenological appreciation of place is understood as co-constituent between the device, application and the mood of the user. Code and computational devices are contextualised as a constant foregrounding presence in the city, and the engagement of the user, device, code and data in understanding place is a moment of revealing that is co-constituent of all these elements. This exploratory paper engages Peter Sloterdijk’s theory of spheres as a framework to understand how these four elements interact, and how that interaction of elements can orient a user to a revealing of the city that can be understood as a phenomenological revealing of place.
Cultural curation and urban Interfaces: Locative media as experimental platforms for cultural data
Nanna Verhoeff, Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University
My contribution is concerned with the way in which urban interfaces are used for access to cultural collections – whether institutionally embedded, or bottom-up, participatory collections. Designed in code and exploring affordances of new location-based and/or mobile technologies for urban space-making, these interfaces are thought to be powerful tools for ideals of participatory urban culture. I propose to approach these “projects” as curatorial machines, as urban experimental laboratories for cultural data. This entails a threefold perspective, on curation, on code, and on principles of creative (sometimes artistic or playful) experimentation.
For this, we may remind ourselves of the curatorial project of museal and archival institutions, of preserving, and “caring” for the object, as well as creating new contexts for the object and providing access for an urban public – a field which is very much in transition as a result of current ambitions for new public engagement and ideals of participation, pervasive in all socio-economic and political regions of contemporary culture. Simultaneously we witness the current interest in the principles of data curation as the care for, interaction with, interpretation and visualisation of digital data, as the datafication and codification of culture invades all corners of urban life. Design of interfaces is central in how we can access, work with, and make meaning with digital culture. Departing from the concept of dispositif in the analysis of interfaces, I propose to bring together the fact that the interfaces are coded and designed, to (playfully) experiment with their affordances.
In my approach to this intersection of datafication of, and the proliferation of interfaces for “culture”, I aim to develop heuristic tools for critical evaluation of this phenomenon, broadly bracketed as [urban interfaces] as interfaces of cultural curation.
A Window, a message, or a medium? Learning about cities from Instagram
Lev Manovich, Computer Science, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Over last few years, tens of thousands of researchers in social computing and computational social sciences started to use available data from social networks and media sharing services (such as Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram) created by users of mobile platforms. The research uses techniques from statistics, machine learning, and visualization, among others, to analyze all kinds of patterns contained in this data and also (less frequently) propose new models for understanding the social. The examples include analysis of information propagation in Twitter, predicting popularity of photos on Flickr, proposing new sets of city neighborhoods using Foursquare users check-ins, and understanding connections between musical genres using listening data from Echonest.
In my talk I will address a fundamental question we face in doing this research: what exactly are we learning when analyzing can social media data? Is it a window into real-world social and cultural behaviors, a reflection of lifestyles of particular demographics who use mobile platforms and particular network services, or only an artifact of mobile apps? In other words – is social media a “message” or a “medium”?
I will discuss this question using three recent projects from my lab (softwarestudies.com). The projects use large sets of Instagram images and accompanying data together with data science and visualization tools. Phototrails.net (2013) analyzes 2.3 million photos from 13 global cities to investigate how different kinds of events are represented in these photos. The project also investigates if the universal affordances of Instagram app (same interface and same set of filters available to all users) result in universal digital visual language. Selfiecity.net (2014) analyzes the distinct artifact of mobile platforms – selfies. We compare thousands of selfies to see if cultural specificity of different places and cultural is preserved in this genre. Finally, our third project compares Instagram photos taken by visitors in a few major modern art museums, asking if photographs of famous works of the art differ depending on what these artworks are and where they are situated.