Filtering by Category: Locative Media

The non-adoption of location-tracking in the family

"A Case Study of Non-Adoption: The Values of Location Tracking in the Family" by Vasalou, Oostveen and Joinson is a paper that is going to be presented in a week or so at the CSCW 2012 conference. It deals with the use of location-tracking by parents to monitor where their children are when outdoors. Based on a large- scale survey of 920 parents from the UK, the researchers show that this technology concurrently supports and threatens parental values.

A quick summary of the results:

"Families do not use location tracking: Only 1.7% parents reported using this technology with their children (implementation stage). (...) A significant number of parents, over one third of our participants, were not aware these technologies existed (...) Values are the motivating force in the adoption of location tracking: Our findings inform the technology adoption literature by showing that contrary to previous work, demographics (e.g. age and gender) did not predict adoption. (...) A small group of parents, 16%, were favorable toward location tracking (persuasion stage). Location tracking was seen as a tool to reduce uncertainty by providing constant information about children’s movements (uncertainty reduction category). More generally, parents’ accounts show that location tracking technologies are understood to be ‘preventive innovations’ that have the ability to reduce the risks facing children. Despite their positive attitudes, however, it is noteworthy that parents had not adopted these systems. (...) Parents do not need location tracking: The control provided via location tracking was considered to be a threat to self-direction and trust (trust and self direction category). Parents wanted to preserve their children’s ability to freely explore their environment without being judged"

And, interestingly, this last bit about declarative location ("checkin-in" in the Foursquare parlance) caught my attention:

"Systems that feature spontaneous location disclosure (e.g. checking-in) might be more reflective of this web of values and behaviors. By weakening the power relationship previously established through one-directional control, spontaneous location reports can give choice to children and nurture a sense of responsibility as well as honesty without stifling their freedom and autonomy"

Why do I blog this? Following the appropriation of location-based services, I am often surprised by the discourse that surrounds the use of such platforms. Articles such as this one, backed by data, are relevant in the sense that it shows the current usage and perspective in a specific context.

"Walk your movie": An interview with the founder of "Walking the Edit"

Once in a while, I enjoy conducting interviews with the interesting people I encounter in my work. This time, I discussed with Ulrich Fischer, founder of Walking the Edit, a very intriguing locative media application that allows users to “walk a movie” : your recorded walk will be translated into a movie through our iPhone app'.

Nicolas: Can you describe what "Walking the Edit" is and how you came up with this idea?

Ulrich: Walking the Edit is a mobile application that empowers the user to compose a unique and surprising movie based on existing audiovisual fragments, through the act of walking. It works the following way: The user generates his movie with the help of an iPhone app that translates in real time the form of his or her path into a narrative playlist of previously geolocalized media files. First comes the active experience where the user (walker) hears the sound of the movie (walk and listen), then comes the reception where it is possible to watch the resulting personal movie (watch and listen). Stories of-from-about-with the territory: the practice of "walking of a movie" is an open and playful way of interacting with the audiovisual memory of our surrounding environment and everyday life. By mixing our immediate reality with feeds and data coming from the digital space (the mobile internet), we create a so-called "augmented reality". The project "Walking the Edit" opens an alternative path to this hybrid territory, by reducing the data-worlds into an artificial construction that is a story-line. One story out of many potential others: the past of the place you are interacting with is (re)combining itself to deliver a new, contextual and unique story that belongs to your present.

This concept is based on following thoughts, desires and intuitions:

  • The importance of the database (and by extension, of the metadata). On the road of creating an artistic/knowledge object (a movie, a text, photographies etc), there always exists a place filled with material that becomes both the fuel and the horizon of the messages and stories we create. In order to deliver a message, we reduce the complexity of this place by filtering / cleaning it down to a singular and specific object that we can present and share with the public. Nowadays, this place is called a "database"; a few years ago, we where speaking about the editing bin or the atelier. We still have the working place (that can be called atelier) but we also interact with this virtual place filled with digital content. Basically (I'm not considering creativity yet), the concern is storage, accessibility and usability – but what differentiates the virtual place (our database) from the real place (our atelier) is that the limitations and possibilities of the database are very different from the atelier. Let me give two examples: the database has a priori no time and space limit, the outputs of the database can be multiple and infinite. Even if this seems obvious technically speaking, we still use the database as if we where working in our atelier. What comes out of our atelier is a single object (say, a movie of 90 minutes), and after that, the atelier is not used anymore (the rushes are left in the dust). In order to make another movie, we build up another atelier, and so on. In other words, we use the digital space as if it was only the extension (or a copy/paste) of our physical space – and we miss the main point. For me, the main point is to consider every asset as a unique form that can live it's own life, outside of the projects and objects we, as authors, want to place them in. Why does this picture, this sequence have to be used only in this particular way in that specific movie ? Why do we present only a little percentage of our content, even if a lot more can be of interest to some people? There are many open questions (that will certainly lead to many different answers that will change over time), but one thing is certain: data without metadata will hardly survive. The value does not lie in the created object itself, but in the use (evolution, experience, transmission) of it. And without metadata, there is no use (at least in the digital world). The project "Walking the Edit" tries to use those metadata with an artistic approach: by linking data together, based on words, concepts and values. In a way, the project can be seen as metadata driven storytelling.
  • The author – spectator relation. This is not something new to the digital age, but every person is sometimes active (creating something) and sometimes passive (being a spectator). For many reasons (derived from the available tools and techniques, from the economic system etc), the world we come from is focused on a strong separation of both attitudes. Copyright, Intellectual Property on one hand and costs on the other helped to make the revenue streams easy and protected for some happy few. Now that the hardware industry (but software is not so far away either…) made it possible to use a very common gadget like a smartphone to create, edit and share content (and this is only one example), the vertical relationship between the author (on the top) and the spectators (on the bottom) is loosing it's balance to become more horizontal. But even if the walls disappeared, this will not mean that there will be a tsunami of new creators who will take the resources, ideas and place of the existing ones. Creation is still a painful and long road that not many are willing to go through. The chance we have today is that it is possible to decide in a very adaptive and evolving way, for each project individually, the relationship between those who give and those who take. Given that those who take might want to give the object / experience further to another person, a chain reaction is created, that is not only virtual, but real (based on exchanged data). In a way, it is like creating a discussion, where somebody is the host, takes care of the ambiance, the scenography, the storyworld, and invites people to discuss, interact, create within this space that does not have to fit the rules of our "first world". What is basically different here, is that we are not in mass media anymore (like TV or cinema), because the value created is not based on the main story of the "one to many" but on the specific story (stories) of the "one to one", or even of the "many to one". Finally, what counts is not who has the "final cut" (who is the author in the classical sense), but how it is possible to let each individual create his or her own personal relationship to your content (from a very active attitude to a passive position) - and to open up the appetite to come back, to bring others in...
  • Images are not limited by screens and closed forms (like movies, exhibition rooms etc). For me, the main issue of bringing images to life (by sharing them with another person) is not the resolution and the technical capacities of the viewing system but how we use the underlying technology (the medium). In fact, it is simple: there are linear and non linear devices. If the content is on a tape or film (linear medium), the use is dictated by time: there, definition and protection from the outside context does matter (cinema has a huge screen and big walls). Of course, there are some variations (DVD's in installation mode as an example), but basically, the issue is the same. Everything is decided and mastered in advance, the object is given and closed. Now, if we take the non linear devices (as computers are from the ground up), we could play a linear movie as we could navigate in a open and random way on the web. The fact that we use computers (and more and more mobile computers like smartphones and tablets) to play linear content is a heritage that will not vanish – but questions the quality of immersion in a given story or universe. Watching "Avatar" on an iPhone (or even an iPad) is not the same as seeing it in a movie theater; still, many people do it that way, but they do it often in a multitasking mode. The movie is "embedded" in and interacts with a given context (a train travel, a conversion on a chat), so there are potential new links created between the linear content and the open and non predictable outside world. One could ask the question if the final result is not an addition of two things, but more a subtraction, where the two scales (the outside complex reality and the linear artificial experience) are not compatible and competing one against the other. Personally, I'm very skeptical about today's trend to deliver the same content on every device, regardless of the context and the human need to embrace and re-appropriate his living ground (that the digital datasets are part of). For me, it is important to let each user decide of his own use of the digital world within space (scale, distance and speed) and time (duration, rhythm and dynamic), with the ability to manage the storage (his memory) by turning on or off the record function (read, or read/write).

Nicolas: With such a technology, the role of movie/documentary directors and producers shift a little. This may of course worry them but there's a lot to gain. How would you describe the possibilities?

Ulrich: What changes, is the power balance between content producers (may they be small authors or big companies) and the spectator, as described above. Cinema production was always a teamwork, but now in the team there can be active spectators (who get involved in the project over crowdfunding strategies for example). The question is what place will those newcomers inherit ? How is it possible to manage a growing community through the whole process of the project, without loosing the overall vision?

As for the fears that come up with those changes (they are basically not the same in the EU as in the US, based on the differences in the financing system), they are mainly economic (for the little players remains the question of how to finance the creative work and for the big players the question of who will get the main part of the new revenue streams.) but also artistic (loosing the symbolic of the "final cut", how to face and appropriate the new technological and conceptual possibilities?). Cinema took about 20 years to "deliver" itself from the theater (see the koulechov experiment). How long will it take for the cinema to deliver itself from old habits and recipes that come from a period that is over? Today's cameras are not video or cinema cameras anymore, but little computers with one eye and two ears (and many other sensors); the whole workflow is file based, we are working in a system that is completely non linear. Nevertheless the whole industry is acting as if the produced material was still on celluloid and artificially backing frontiers and limitations within the distribution process. The "tragic" story of the music industry is still in the minds, there could be a lot to loose if nothing is done. Transmedia projects, connected and smart TV's, social TV and so on: there are a lot of things in the air, and the air is hot and buzzy. The crucial issue, dramatically speaking, is the following: either internet can be managed (in the way TV stations manage their content and their audiences in the broadcasting world), or it's the end of TV stations as we know them. Le roi est mort, vive le roi!

And concerning what there is to be gained from the spectator's point of view, more or less everybody sings the same tune (but the roads that lead there can be very different):

  • user engagement (based on interaction possibilities, the spectator gets to an emotional connection to a brand, a story universe)
  • content dissemination and distribution by the users through their own network (they make free publicity of a product)
  • content creation from the user (on the model of Facebook, where the value is created by the users)

Seen from the perspective of the big players, those goals can appear cynical (the users taken for salad); but from the perspective of the creators, the same mechanism can lead to open imagination, stimulate intellectual curiosity, invite emotions to come up, etc. Putting them in opposition is an extreme simplification – in fact, what happens in reality is far more complex, because strategical choices (visible through marketing) are now embedded within the narration strategies. Form and content are jointly telling choral stories, the virus of marketing has eaten itself through to the ADN of the content.

The actual technological innovations that influence the creative possibilities are following:

  • collaborative teamwork taken a step further (with a lot of questions to resolve), no limits in space and time
  • open forms and hybrid mutants, that change over time (what you see is not what you got before)
  • exploring new territories and imagining new rules, playgrounds and communities (sometimes the whole web 2.0 looks like the far-west with the promise of a new society)

And last but not least, for the documents themselves (if we "think" one second from their perspective): the promise of multiple comebacks, surprising coming-outs, "organic" combinatoric, chain reactions etc… Images have still a lot to say (outside of the movies where they are backed in).

Nicolas: What does it means in terms of narrative and scenario writing? How can you plan for a certain level of coherence and control (that directors may be unwilling to give up)?

Ulrich: The question of control often comes back, especially for specialists. May they be artists, intellectuals, scientists: their professional credit would be at risk if they loose control of the process and the result. What comes up now in addition to the control of the creation process and result, is the question of controlling the way a user comes into interaction with your content – in other words: how would it be possible to master or control the user ? What may seem like a coup d'état, is in fact the same will pushed a step further: you (should) know what is good for your audience (or somebody has to decide on the kind of content that will reach a particular group of people). The range is obviously very broad from large liberties within a framed coherence to a guided behavior within a reduced liberty. For the end user, the control question is less important.

What counts more is the facility of use, the immediate value that comes out of the use, and of course the fun and entertainment linked to the experience. But when a user feels that he is being manipulated and that the promised freedom is fake, it can break the relationship based on trust. The balance between the necessary control from the authors and the desired liberty for the users is very difficult to get right. The good news, is that today we can fine tune over time and tailor this balance for each specific user – but only if we shift the control and mastering focus a little bit.

Ideally, the main focus should be on the starting points, the paths and not only on the end results; the attention should be on each little "content brick" (taking it as an independent piece) and the whole system (establishing a cartography of the content and the mechanics of the logic that will filter the content). We are coming from a practice where those content bricks only matter when they are visible within a controlled object (a movie, a song, a text etc), which in turn is more important than the control over the whole project. In short, we use to focus a lot on manufactured objects (the goal) and not on the project (the road); if we change to focus on the project, then we should be able to produce objects that are not only presenting the destination, but share moments and situations of the path. So it is not replacing one thing with another (cinema is out, mashup movies is in), but "simply" adding new values, new objects to the existing ones.

As the creator is not alone anymore (but in an open conversation with other creators, with his audience and users), he has to share his choices and inform others within the creation process. It can be done in multiple ways, but when dealing with digital data, it comes down to describe the data and answering the main questions (who, how, why, when, where etc). This moment, which is technically not very difficult, is emotionally challenging: the author has to show his cards, share information, and, in a way, share power. It is the price to pay to build up new relationships between the content producer and the content user, where the common goal is to find a viable balance and cycles between giving and taking, manipulation and liberty, reading and writing.

Nicolas: A big chunk of the movie industry is somewhat focused on photorealism and 3D, I find that your project offer an orthogonal way to innovate. Can you tell us more about how the role of meta-data (such as location coordinates) in content production?

Ulrich: In a way, the basic question that drives industrial innovation is: how can we sell (again, more) ? 3D is perfect to invite, persuade and force the end user to buy a new TV set, and as there is not enough 3D content around, there is a big pressure on content producers to deliver their new production in 3D (on the way they have to invest a lot of money to make quality 3D). The move of the industry towards 3D and high-definition comes not from the content producers, but from the hardware manufacturers like Sony, Panasonic etc. I see it a bit like the last dance of the dinosaurs before the comet of software ends up hitting our planet: the impact may seem slow from our point of view, but looking from a bigger perspective (from the dinosaurs perspective), it's happening very fast. The survival formula is perhaps not "grow and grow, get bigger and eat the other big ones to be the master" anymore; but instead "connect, link, eat and digest the data of others to become essential". We still have to use hardware, but now with a smartphone / tablet we have enough hardware power in our pocket to manage the biggest part of our digital life. The connectors that "drive" the Human-Computer interactions are not those cables that we have to sort out anymore (where is my HDMI-DVI adapter ?) but the software bridges (can I talk with your API ?). In a way, it's good news: we can finally come (back) to the manipulation and interaction with the content, all together. The digital space is not (only) a technological firework, full of spectacular forces (like 3D) and serving our need of mastering our own life (how to go as fast as possible from point A to point B, getting the cheapest restaurant on the way), but it is like life itself: complex, living it's own unpredictable life, becoming what driving forces in humanity plant within it.

Metadata are not as sexy to talk about as 3D, there is nothing to sell directly (data and metadata have no value per se, only their use makes them valuable). People know that metadata are very important, but the road to produce quality metadata is very boring: you have to tell the machine what you know about the data ("All about Data"); also, you can simulate some results, but it's only a preview of one state among many others. For the moment, the main usage of metadata is the control of the data (ah, the control again): find, filter and monetize are the core functions and uses of metadata. But we forget an important part of metadata by reducing them to this objective and functional role: metadata can tell stories (about the data they belong to, but also between datasets). Stories are subjective, that's not very 01, that's human, but hey, who build up those incredible calculators ? Humans need images and stories to frame the complexity of our world, giving a small illusion that we understand it.

Nicolas: Thanks a lot Ulrich for the very detailed answers!

Subjective subway map

"Mon plan du métro de Paris" by Pierre Joseph is an interesting representation of the author's memory of Paris:

Why do I blog this? Maps based on people's recollection of souvenirs and past experiences are always insightful. They tell stories about the person's subjectivity, what count for certain individuals and what is left out of the picture (metro lines/stations...). The use of the same graphical code as the real subway makes it even more intriguing than hand-drawn map as it give an awkward perspective on the city itself (see the real map below). In addition, the different between the two maps highlight the person's perspective in a very coherent way.

When on the field, I enjoy asking informants to draw maps of their mobility patterns. It'd be curious to expand this method to such kind of representation too.

A study about mobile phone location data and recommendation systems:

People who played with location-based recommendation systems may have been confronted to a common issue: when you start using the application, you do not necessarily have a "location history" (no list of past "check-in" if we translate this in the Foursquare idiom), hence it's difficult to get relevant recommendations. This phenomenon has been called "the mobile cold-start problem" in this paper. This academic article written by Quercia et al. for the IEEE ICDM 2010 conference addresses this problem in the context of mobile recommendation systems, apps that can identify patterns in people’s movements in order to recommend events and services. The researchers investigated how social events can be recommended to a cold-start user based only on his home location. They conducted a quantitative study to investigate the relationship between preferences for social events and geography. They tested a different set of algorithms for recommending social events and evaluated their effectiveness.

Some excerpts of the results that caught my attention:

"In a situation of cold start (user preferences are unknown), recommending geographically close events produces the least effective recommendations, while the most effective recommendations are produced by recommending social events popular among residents of a specific area. (...) Interestingly, there are geographic areas that are more predictable than others, and this does not depend on the number of residents we consider in each area. We are trying to obtain sociodemographic data for Greater Boston to test whether sociodemographic factors such as income and inequality would explain those differences. If that would be the case, to produce effective recommendations, one would then need to complement real-time mobile data with historical sociodemographic data.""

And this bit about the data themselves is relevant too:

"To infer attendance at social events, one needs large sets of data of location estimations. Often such sets of data are not made available to the research community, mainly for privacy concerns. Such fears are not misplaced, but they gloss over the benefits of sharing data. That is why our research agenda has been focusing on situations in which people benefit from making part of their private, aggregate data available. This paper put forward the idea that, by sharing attendance at social events, people are able to receive quality recommendations of future events."

Why do I blog this? Working on the user experience of location-based services, I've always been curious about recommender systems and the problem designers face developing them. What's so fascinating is that they are based on basic and somewhat intuitive ideas about the way city-dwellers behave. Studies about their usage often reveal the complexity such systems.

Talk about location-based applications and serious games

Today, I made a quick trip to Lyon, to give a talk about location-based applications in the context of serious games. The talk was made with Mathieu Castelli, that P&V readers may know because he was one of the founder of Newt Games which created the first commercial location-based game: Mogi. Slides from the presentation are available on Slideshare:

[slideshare id=10277326&doc=2011-sge-lyon-111122140737-phpapp01]

The discussion at the end of the panel revolved around the fact that there's definitely a return of location-based games nowadays.

User study about check-in usage in Foursquare

Performing a Check-in: Emerging Practices, Norms and ‘Conflicts’ in Location-Sharing Using Foursquare by Cramer, Rost and Holmquist is an interesting paper presented at Mobile HCI2011. It's basically a user studies of Foursquare usage, based on in-depth interviews and 47 survey responses, about emerging social practices surrounding location-sharing. Some excerpts I found relevant to my own research in location-based services:

"Users appear to share with both smaller and much larger audiences than imagined. Sharing is sometimes only a byproduct, with ‘check-ins for me’, checking in for rewards, gaming and becoming the mayor, points and badges, life-logging, diversion and voyeuristic uses unimagined in most of the previous location-sharing systems research. A check-in is not always motivated through the desire to ‘perform’ or enhance ones self- presentation. However, performative aspects as in do appear to play a large role in shaping interactions. The roles of spectators and performers are reflected in our participants’ attitudes toward check-ins; and awareness of these roles affects their behavior.

We saw users adapt their check-ins to norms of what they perceive as worthwhile check-ins - and that they to a certain extent expect others to do the same. Many participants checked in at what they perceived as more interesting places and in some cases tried to minimize annoyance to others that may result from check-ins that they thought would appear uninteresting. Both the co-present audience observing the physical act of checking-in and the distant audience that (may) see the resulting check-in is considered. We also see the service, and its ’super users’, sometimes serve as an (disapproving) audience and not only a system to be operated. "

Why do I blog this? These results echo with a similar study we conducted internally last year. What I find relevant in understanding the usage of check-in is simply that I became an important alternative to automatic detection of users' location. On this very topic, the paper conclusion is worthwhile as it describe the the intrinsically rich value of check-ins and their implications for contextual data collected by sensors:

"our results represent a major shift in the use and perception of location-sharing services. While it may seem that the check-in’s introduction mainly addresses technical issues (including limited battery life and localization limitations), it actually gives the user new ways to express themselves, while at the same time mitigating problematic issues such as privacy. More speculatively looking to the future, our results perhaps may turn out to hold not just for location sharing, but for all kinds of mobile systems that sense and report a user’s context. While many previous user-adaptive mobile systems have relied on automatic and continuous detection and presentation of the user’s state, future users will be used to the social and performative model that foursquare and other check-in based systems represent. Rather than be constantly tracked, users will selectively share their sensor data, be it physiological readings, locations, activity sensors, orsomething else. "

"Beyond Locative: media arts after the spatial turn"

BEYOND LOCATIVE: MEDIA ARTS AFTER THE SPATIAL TURN is a panel at the upcoming ISEA 2011 conference in Istanbul. Chaired by Marc Tuters, it will feature talks by Tristan Thielmann, Mark Shepard and Michiel de Lange:

"In 2006 Varnelis and Tuters published "Beyond Locative Media", which discussed the emergence of locative media as "the next big thing". Five years on, with the ubiquity of iphones, locative media has become banal. Locative media had been much anticipated within the media art world, notably at the ISEA conferences in 2004 & 2006 after which it entered popular culture as a trope in William Gibson's last two novels. Yet while it may have faded from the avant-garde, there is a thriving locative discourse in academic journals, associated with the "spatial turn" in media studies. This panel considers the role of locative media in the arts and humanities discourse. The aforementioned text framed locative media in terms of neo-Situationist tactics which sought to actively imagine an alternate city. While locative practitioners did not share the oppositional politics of their net art precursors, one can not help but wonder if some greater potential for the medium has not perhaps been foreclosed by a participatory culture that suggests little more than reconfiguring ideas from past."

Why do I blog this? 2011 is surely an interesting moment to pause and wonder about these questions. As mentioned in Mark Shepard's abstract of his talk:

"While some would attempt to recuperate the term for discourse in the arts and humanities, looking for the "beyond", "after" or "post-" Locative in an attempt to theorize an historical period of media art practice in order to lay claim to "the next big thing", others might argue that it's time to simply FORGET Locative Media - that the creative, theoretical and aesthetic possibilities of location as contextual filter have been exhausted - and that in order to engage the broader and more subtle nuances of contemporary urban, exurban and rural environments, new approaches to context are necessary."

Those are good issues to consider.

Locative media, lessons learned in the pas few years

Yesterday, I was at ZHDK (design school) in Zürich to give a talk and a workshop about locative media to students from the CAST department. My speech dealt with the lessons learned in the last ten years of locative media design and deployment. See the slides below: [slideshare id=8277975&doc=zhdk2011-nicolasnova-110611024437-phpapp02]

Thanks Martin for the invitation!

Tensions between #gamification elements and location-sharing in #Foursquare

At the recent workshop on Gamification and game design elements in non-gaming contexts at CHI 2011 in Vancouver, there was an interesting paper about Foursquare entitled Gamification and location-sharing: some emerging social conflicts. The paper reports various observations on conflict that appeared between gamification elements (supposed to drive user engagement) and other usage motivations for location-sharing. The results are based on users interviews, surveys and ongoing analysis of real-time ‘check-in data’ involving 20 active foursquare users from Sweden, The Netherlands and the US.

Some examples of the conflicts described in the paper:

  • "Playing for points vs. ‘nonsense’ venues: A way to gain additional points and mayorships is creating new venues to check-into. However, venues that just have been created for ‘the game’, can also be a non-informational annoyance
  • Mayors & badges vs. privacy & identity management: Mayorships are publically visible on users’ profile, and are also shown to any user checking- in to that venue. This means that mayorships can threaten privacy (...) Some participants worried about getting mayorships or badges that would threaten their identity. Would one want to become the mayor of the cheapest eatery in town?
  • Mayorships vs. ownership: A mayorship appeared to communicate not only identity, but also public ‘ownership’ over a place, which was not always desired.
  • Anti-cheating aka ‘you’re using it wrong’: services employing gamification need to consider which messages their ‘game-rules’ send to users who might have very well appropriated the service in other ways.
  • Inappropriate can be more fun: Multiple participants described 'getting caught' and ‘doing it under the table’. Exactly this social unacceptable aspect of using the service also invoked playful behaviors"

It's interesting to see how their results show that game design elements such as mayorships, points or badges can both engage participants and restrict the use of the service.

Why do I blog this? I'm interested in this sort of frictions as they reveal relevant tensions in users' behavior. Mostly because we've been conducting a field study to understand the usage of Foursquare here in Switzerland. I'm looking forward to see the other results from this research team.

Location-based services updates

Few examples of location-based services that I ran across recently. Bluebrain reactive music based on location As described on The Next Web:

"We had this idea of having the music progress and change based on a person’s location. We decided to release an album that’s also an app with whole melodic phrases that change based on a listener’s location. (...) The most difficult part of making this new album wasn’t the app but writing the actual music,” explains Holladay, “It’s difficult to know what all the variables will be and making sure they all work on a musical level. (...) We spent a lot of time on The Mall in different areas and created zones in parts of the mall for each particular piece. Then we’d write music based on that area in different sections."


"an application that allows you to gather geolocation related information about users from social networking platforms and image hosting services. The information is presented in a map inside the application where all the retrieved data is shown accompanied with relevant information (i.e. what was posted from that specific location) to provide context to the presentation."

Street Pass (Nintendo 3DS)

StreetPass is a curious feature in the new Nintendo 3DS that allows multiple devices to connect with each other when in a certain range and exchange data. As described here:

"StreetPass Quest begins with your Mii trapped in a tower. To escape, you must use Miis you have collected via StreetPass and battle increasingly powerful enemies in turn-based combat. If you haven’t collected any Miis then you’re able to purchase a cat in armour to act as a substitute. You purchase this cat with two game coins, which have been previously detailed. The cat has two attack options: sword and magic. (...) The goal of StreetPass Puzzle is to construct a 3D puzzle. But to complete this puzzle you need to collect pieces by interacting with other folks via StreetPass. The more people you interact with, the more puzzle pieces you gain until you can finally complete the puzzle."

Why do I blog this? just keeping track of recent and interesting developments in the field of location-based applications.

GPS drawings to interpret the urban environment

Drawing with Satellites is a "GPS project" carried out at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture by Chris Speed, Esther Polak, Ross Cruickshanks, Karlyn Sutherland and second year Architecture students. The project led to this intriguing PDF booklet.

The brief engaged participants in exploring "how they might draw the city of Edinburgh". They were asked to do follow various strategies (work with 2 lines, relocate an existing, meaningful route, draw a spiral) which should all be meaningful walking patterns.

In response to this activity, the participated created various drawings represented in the booklet. Each of the drawings correspond to different ways to interpret the urban environment:

  • Social Practices tended to use the habitual journeys of people, whose Edinburgh is defined by professional, institutional and occupational routines. Following people, or carrying out processes that adhere to centers of employment or practice, these works offer an insight into the city as a container for production.
  • Temporal Projects: the GPS receiver tends to concentrate the user on time: the time that it takes to walk routes, the time between way points, the time between partners.
  • Code Controlled: a series of drawings used Code to inform their development. Following rule bases that were developed, written down and then performed across the city, drawings that used Code tended to reveal the city’s structural properties, and less the social.
  • Ludic: the drawings that embody a Ludic quality that negotiated the landscape through amusement and fun."

Why do I blog this? Even after few years following GPS drawing and the locative media meme, I'm still fascinated about its relevance to analyze urban behaviors. What's interesting IMHO is also to put the drawings next to each other and compare them as represented in the picture above.

Back Track : mark it, go anywhere, get back

People talk a lot about location-based services these days. GPS car navigation system is quite mainstream for a while, geosocial services such as Foursquare or Facebook places are more and more adopted, and media attention is still focusing on the promises of location-based marketing (even though users in Europe seem to be wary about them).

However, there is less focus on more niche products based on similar technologies. My neighbor recently lent me one of these curious location-based service. It's called "BackTrack" and can be defined as a "personal location finder". It's advertised with the following elements:

"BackTrack utilizes GPS technology in its most basic format, BackTrack has only two buttons and stores up to three locations – just mark it and forget it until it’s time to return. At the end of the day, select your location and the BackTrack displays direction and distance to travel. Use it to find your car in a crowded parking lot, your treestand or the trailhead, even to rendezvous with your group."

Or, as described in a very succinct way: "AS EASY AS 1-2-3 Mark it - Go Anywhere - Get Back". The idea is quite good and the interface is very basic (2 buttons, very limited information on the display), which makes it quite easy to use. However, getting GPS signals is sometimes very difficult in the narrow streets of Paris and Geneva (where I tested it). Using it "on the way back" to your reference point, the experience is curious, as you do not necessary take the same route: you then walk, look at the display and check how to move around with the compass. It was not that efficient to find my way back to my hotel in Paris but I enjoyed having these sort of "location-awareness" information. It told me how far how I was from my apartment in Geneva when spending one week in Paris. Not very useful indeed but surely evocative and close to what I expect to encounter in the 21st Century. Accessing this kind of information without specific ideas in mind about how it can be useful, that was intriguing.

Besides, what's interesting here is that the idea is very close to a project I blogged about last year, called "Address necklace by Mouna Andraos and Sonali Sridhar:

"“Address is a handmade electronic jewelry piece. When you first acquire the pendant, you select a place that you consider to be your anchor – where you were born, your home, or perhaps the place you long to be. Once the jewelry is initialized, every time you wear the piece it displays how many kilometers you are from that location, using a GPS component built into the pendant. As you take Address around the world with you, it serves as a personal connection to that place, making the world a little smaller or maybe a little bigger.“"

The Address necklace is of course different, more poetic and evocative than the use cases mentioned for BackTrack ("at the mall and stadium parking lots, at the outdoor festival, the park, for travel or you next outdoor adventure")... and you can set the location only one time (which makes it very precious and important).

Why do I blog this? Testing the Long Tail of location-based services is always interesting to sense what sort of insights these devices can bring us. It also helps to show that there are different ways to use such technologies.

User's involvement in location obfuscation with LBS

Exploring End User Preferences for Location Obfuscation, Location-Based Services, and the Value of Location is an interesting paper written by Bernheim Brush, John Krumm, and James Scott from Microsoft Research. The paper presents the result from a field study about people’s concerns about the collection and sharing of long-term location traces. To do so, they interviewed 32 person from 12 households as part of a 2-month GPS logging study. The researchers also investigated how the same people react to location "obfuscation methods":

  • "Deleting: Delete data near your home(s): Using a non-regular polygon all data within a certain distance of your home and other specific locations you select. This would help prevent someone from discovering where you live.
  • Randomizing: Randomly move each of your GPS points by a limited amount. The conditions below ask about progressively more randomization. This would make it harder for someone else to determine your exact location.
  • Discretizing: Instead of giving your exact location, give only a square that contains your location. Your exact location could not be determined, only that you were somewhere in the square. This would make it difficult for someone to determine your exact location.
  • Subsampling: Delete some of your data so there is gap in time between the points. Anyone who can see your data would only know about your location at certain times.
  • Mixing: Instead of giving your exact location, give an area that includes the locations of other people. This means your location would be confused with some number of other people."

Results indicate that;

"Participants preferred different location obfuscation strategies: Mixing data to provide k-anonymity (15/32), Deleting data near the home (8/32), and Randomizing (7/32). However, their explanations of their choices were consistent with their personal privacy concerns (protecting their home location, obscuring their identity, and not having their precise location/schedule known). When deciding with whom to share with, many participants (20/32) always shared with the same recipient (e.g. public anonymous or academic/corporate) if they shared at all. However, participants showed a lack of awareness of the privacy interrelationships in their location traces, often differing within a household as to whether to share and at what level."

Why do I blog this? Gathering material about location-based services, digital traces and privacy for a potential research project proposal. What is interesting in this study is simply that the findings show that end-user involvement in obfuscation of their own location data can be an interesting avenue. From a research point of view, it would be curious to investigate and design various sorts of interfaces to allow this to happen in original/relevant/curious ways.

Geosocial/Location-based services usage according to PEW (#techusage)

The PEW Internet&American life project has a new report about usage of location-based services. As usual, it's mostly quantitative data (phone survey) and it's focused on Americans but it's full of interesting material for people who follow this domain. Before heading to the results, let's stop first at how they define the focus of their research. In this research, they only zero in a specific category of LBS: the so-called "geo-social" applications:

"Location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla use internet-connected mobile devices’ geolocation capabilities to let users notify others of their locations by “checking in” to that location. Location-based services often run on stand-alone software applications, or “apps,” on most major GPS- enabled smartphones or other devices."

This is important because it means that the focus is not on car navigation assistant or smartphone GPS platforms.

Now, about the main results:

  • "7% of adults who go online with their mobile phone use a location-based service.
  • 8% of online adults ages 18-29 use location-based services, significantly more than online adults in any other age group.
  • 10% of online Hispanics use these services – significantly more than online whites (3%) or online blacks (5%).

  • 6% of online men use a location-based service such as Foursquare or Gowalla, compared with 3% of online women.
  • The current number shows little change from the first time this question was asked, in a May 2010 survey, when 5% of adult internet users said they had used such a site."

Some more tables:

Why do I blog this? It's interesting to see the stats for geosocial applications (I'd be curious to compare to broader use of location-based services, such as navigation systems) and the results are fairly in line with my understanding of the situation right now. Important figures to keep in mind when talking about the adoption of such apps.

Beyond treasure hunt: locative games 2010 and the near future

Being interviewed by a French media about the state of location-based gaming, I took this opportunity as a way to frame my recent thoughts about this:

Adoption :(

An important adoption factor for social-locative games is simply... the players: lots of problems described by Dan Hon in his talk "Everything you know about ARG is wrong" can also apply to location-based games: games never have enough players, people who play are not “mainstream”, etc. Above all, the main issue with player is simply the the lack of critical mass... it's never very funny and engaging to play alone. LBGs really suffer from not reaching networks effect, a situation that Kati London in her talk at Where2.0 referred to as "The empty room effect".

Gamification, again

At the same time, it's intriguing to see that game mechanics (in general, but also the one present in early instances of location-based games) have been instrumental in the adoption of a broader category of applications: mobile social software such as Foursquare or Gowalla... which are not games per se. Having lots of discussion with people in the mobile guide/signage/urban discovery/tourism business, it's funny to see how these persons dismiss a service such as Foursquare as being only "a game". Different cultures, different perspectives :) It's also a good occasion for them to dismiss such application as not relevant for their field (to which of course I object that they're entirely wrong).

On the shoulder of "giants"

Interestingly, platforms such as Foursquare (today/tomorrow) or Facebook Places (tomorrow) could be an opportunity to develop third-party games. See for example how City Warfare has been built on top of Foursquare:

"You check into your local pub/coffee-shop/train station using FourSquare (as normal). 2) You open City Warfare in your phone’s browser. 3) You place waterballoons, shoot passers-by with your waterpistol etc. 4) While you are away, those balloons remain where you placed them and will burst when the timer runs out or you detonate them remotely. 5) The aim is to try to get as many people wet as possible. You earn credits which can be used to buy better waterbombs etc."

Location-based game genres

Concerning the challenges and purposes of these games, the types ranges from very focused goals (treasure hunts, people hunting, object collection) to less-defined goals (SCVNGR is interesting in the sense that it lets people defining the challenges). Compared to the past, location-based games have also been influenced by rampant gamification: the emphasis has been made on social comparisons (points, badges, leading boards, etc.)... and of course such games have been included in the toolbox of Media planners and digital communication agencies.

The location-based narrative/storytelling trope has never been huge BUT it less suffered from waves of interest/disillusion. Observers have noted that even standard mobile social software such as Whrrl have implemented collective location-based storytelling. And of course, platforms such as 7 Scenes also offer good possibilities for "mobile storytelling".

Besides games, there has been a surge in the development of "game engines" to enable people to create their own games. See for example what Playground (that we saw at this Lift seminar in Lyon) or Gbanga are doing.

Phones, rather than game consoles

Speaking about platforms, the de facto device for location-based games is definitely the mobile phone. Although the video game consoles such as the Nintendo DS (with games such as Treasure World) or the Sony PSP (with this Golf game), playful location-based activities are fairly limited.

In terms of technologies, the increasing number of smartphones and App stores (such as the Apple Store) have definitely eased the possibility to try and play. It's far less complicated than the past, in which we had to download weird software on Tablet PCs, PDAs and cell-phones with tiny displays + low computing power

In addition, on the sensor side, we will see an increasing use of various data beyond players' location: the usual suspects are of course the number of footsteps (and other accelerometer-based data),... plus self-declared information. Foursquare/Gowalla/Facebook Places check-in are pretty standard here but the use of pictures (taken with a camera) is also common. See for example Foodspotting (which uses "location to augment their own reality-based game").

So, what did we learn?

  • Geolocation is only one kind of data that can be employed and LBG should be framed in a broader context: ARG or pervasive games. Coupled to pertinent and original forms of storytelling and game mechanics, the articulation of data such as location, pictures, SMS, tweets, or the ones generated by touch sensors (NFC on iPhone?), accelerometers, have the potential to lead to curious interactions.
  • In terms of innovation, the video game industry is definitely not the right actor here. Rather digital communication agency, small interaction design boutiques and digital studio who work on interactive fictions seems more willing to push the envelope. Curiously, the new media art community has slowed down on the "locative media" meme. I have to admit that I haven't seen a lot of projects in the field in the 1-2 years (which correlated with the release of "Spook Country by William Gibson).
  • I haven't mentioned Augmented Reality, I don't know what to think about AR and location-based games.

And what are the possibilities ahead?

  • To avoid the empty room problem there is a need to design for single-usage, then for collective usage. We can expect platforms like these in the near future.
  • Focus not only on geolocation but also other types of data. There will be games that combine the different sorts of data that can be captured or collected. Of course the most simple forms of data (self-declared such as check-ins, pictures taken with the camera) are the most likely candidate.
  • Location-based games with scenarios that are too disruptive and complex for daily usage will continue to remain niches. Will people change their route to go to work in the morning? it's a bit unlikely.
  • There is still some room in different urban activities: think about urban sport (skateboard, rollerblade, fixie/bike ride, parkour, etc.). The articulation of location-based games with these types of sport is an original idea that can produce good possibilities.

Foursquare data analysis about users activities

Bitsybot has an interesting set of visualizations about Foursquare usage. Called Foursquare Trends, it shows users' behavior over time by visualizing a week’s worth of Foursquare checkins. Bitsybot is interested in using this to "develop a suite of similar tools to help small brick and mortar businesses understand their micro market landscapes":

Why do I blog this? another type of material that is relevant for our study of Foursquare usage. This type of graph is relevant as a way to show rythms and usage patterns. The example above is based on activity analysis (each activity actually corresponds to a certain set of places).

For us at Liftlab, it's also interesting to compare this to our current musings about spatial occupancy analysis. See for instance Fabien's work about:

"We retrieved a couple of months of records produced by 5 Bluetooth scanners, deployed by the Mobility Service of the city of Barcelona on light poles and traffic poles in the Barcelona city center in the Plaza Catalunya – Puerta del Angel – Rambla – Cathedral area. BitCarrier’s solution aggregated over 4 millions non-unique devices (about 1 million unique devices) into periods of 15 minutes, and we discarded the periods with less than 100 detected devices. The database provided a first understanding of the cyclical nature of passing Bluetooth traffic at the nodes and routes forming a connected graph of sensors."

Motivations for "off the grid check-in" on Foursquare

TechCrunch is generally not a website I follow that much, but there's an interesting article by a Guest Author about "Off the Grid" check-ins on Foursquare. Following up on the blogpost about automatic location capture I wrote last week, I think it's worth having a look at this survey mentioned in the TC article. The survey was about the purpose of using the "OTG" feature, i.e. the possibility on Foursquare to avoid disclosing the location where you checked-in to your contacts. Being "off the grid" however enable to gain points, badges and compete for mayorship. Although the methodology may be a bit rough in terms of sampling (I wonder less about the quantity of peeps who participated than the stratification), here are the conclusions I found interesting:

  • "The single largest reason for OTG was hiding from friends [46%]. People gave a variety of motivations [examples: buying a gift for girlfriend, on a date, avoiding someone in particular, hiding one’s poor eating habits from friends, and seeing a doctor.]
  • 60% of respondents cited the desire to keep track of where they’ve been for their own future reference. (...) your Foursquare History is a flat set of your check ins but the user interest here points to the opportunity for a much more robust feature. (...) loyalty programs and offers; customer acquisition and retention instruments.
  • 34% of respondents used OTG to check into a location that could have been considered confidential or sensitive to their job.
  • Mayor stalking was the surprise motivation for many OTG check ins since they count towards mayorships but don’t display your name associated with the venue.
  • Only 15% of users report using OTG to signal a “check out” — leaving a venue and not wanting to publish location out of concern friends will arrive to find you departed.
  • 26% of people utilize OTG for repeat check ins at a location over the course of a few days (such as a hotel). These could easily be public but collapsed into a single line. Or subsequent check ins might be public, but not published as alerts."

Why do I blog this? Simply because we (Lift Lab) are currently conducting a short user study of Foursquare with both lead users and people who abandoned using it after a while. Our approach is much more open-ended and based on visualization of spatial data (such as the one generated with where do you go). The TC data will allow to triangulate our qualitative data with this quantitative insights.

Location-Based Social Media and the automation bias

Reading this blogpost left me wondering about some companies/people that do not understand the notion of "active check-in" on Foursquare (or now Facebook Places). See for yourself: "The active checkin requirement is one thing holding back location-based social networks (also called “geosocial” networks) from widespread adoption. (According to Forrester, only 4% of Internet users have ever used them.)". It reminds of the opinion about Foursquare stated by this analyst: "It seems like the marketplace has taken a step back 5 years. All of a sudden people seem to be convinced that this kind of technology -- where you have to actually remember to tell people where you are -- is the best thing since sliced bread. (...) The crucial flaw with FourSquare et al., is that it's based around manual push notifications." For this kind of analyst, an explicit interaction (doing a check-in) is perceived as backward and lame. In engineering circles, this sort of argument is highly common and I would refer to it as the "automation bias", i.e. the firm belief in automating whatever human activity that can be transferred to computers/machines (which is grounded in strong positivist ideas about progress obviously). The comments I quoted above do not acknowledge the reason why interaction designers have chosen this solution over, say... CellID triangulation or a nearly magical GPS signal detection. Readers here have certainly read my opinion about this topic here, there (or in French). But I think it's worth repeating the claims here:

  1. Of course, decreasing users' burden is an important adoption factor, I fully acknowledge it. However, automating this can be perceived as a threat by people who feel that they will loose control of their personal data. It can also be problematic for some individuals because this automatic feature will make explicit situations they don't want to make public. Technologies should be "conservative of face" as described by Adam Greenfield some time ago: wherever possible they not unnecessarily embarrass, humiliate, or shame their users. See for example this comment in the original Mashable blogpost: "I go places that I am not always proud of (think Waffle House at 2:30am) and at that point (think less than sober) I can see myself forgetting to turn the auto check-in off. (...) there has to be a better way for it not to be obtrusive, but still controlled.". Letting people doing manual check-in is more respectful of people's habits and, above all, it enable people to lie (which has always been a good adoption factor). This is why the proposition to have an intermediary solution is interesting: " the app would have some sort of pop up/notification that lets you know you are in a check-in-able location"
  2. What is showed in my research: self-reporting one's location has a value in itself. Declaring your whereabouts is not just a piece of information, there is also an intention attached to it. Say I'm in a Bar and the name of this place is sent to my colleague, it's both a statement about where I am and an act of communication that tells others that they can act upon this information (to draw inferences about my availability or my willingness to interact socially for example).

Having said that, the problem is not about the manual check-in but instead, it's about the extent to which people use this feature. I know "checkin fatigue" is important... but doing it manually means that the place where people check-in are more meaningful to others... since Foursquare removed the leaderboards (and hence the incentive to gain as many points as you can), users I have interviewed said that they stopped checking-in everywhere (supermarkets...) and only made their position available when they wanted to meet others or access to certain information. I am curious about this and we are currently launching a user study of Foursquare to understand this kind of issue.

Context-aware applications in 2010

Field research mapping in A'DAM Interestingly, location-based/Context-aware services are more and more present in the press. After the frenziness of 2004-2005 (and less interest afterwards), I see more and more article about the potential role of location and context as the starting point for complex scenarios. See for example the ideas described in this article:

  • "My context device "knows" it's noon. It also knows (via accelerometer data) that I haven't moved from my desk for the last couple of hours. Because it "knows" I have a TBD lunch scheduled for 12:30 (it reads my tagged calendar entries), it will remind me I should leave. As soon as I move the device, it displays the list of places where I had lunch the last couple of weeks. Since most were Italian restaurants, it suggests Chinese or falafel and generates the latest consumer rating of the restaurants offered. At the same time, it also highlights restaurants located within walking distance that will allow me to be back in time for my scheduled 2 p.m. meeting.
  • I am on a business trip to Madrid, have just finished my meetings and have three hours until my flight back to New York. My device "senses" I started moving and "knows" my schedule, therefore it asks me if I prefer to get a taxi to the airport, or if I prefer to stay in the city since the drive to the airport takes about 15 minutes. I choose the second option, slide the "ambient media streams" all the way from "privacy please" to "hit me with everything you've got," and the device offers me all the tourist attractions around me, even a nearby coffee shop that has received exceptionally high ratings (I love coffee). I choose the coffee shop, and as I am drinking my second cup, the device alerts me that my flight has been delayed by an hour and will board through gate E32. I drink another cup of coffee and read from my device the history of Madrid until the next alert updates me that I should call a taxi -- immediately providing me with an application that directly books one.
  • I leave my office to interview someone at a nearby bar. My device "knows" it is a job interview (tagged in my calendar), therefore it automatically Googles the applicant, uploads his resume and image, and then provides me with a summary of the available information found about him from HR, the web and other social sources. As I approach the bar, my device turns itself into "meeting" mode, in which I can view a map that displays two dots approaching each other. As we meet, the device asks me if I would like to record the conversation and send it to HR."

Why do I blog this? I am not sure I am convinced by these scenarios but it's interesting to contrast them with the one we saw in 2004-2005. The move from location to context is interesting because it shows that the former is only a component of the latter. It also acknowledges the importance of taking into account the complexity of contextual information which cannot be limited to mere locational data.

Unlike the 3 stereotypical scenarios we had 5 years ago (friend-finding, location-based ads and geotagged post-its), the ones described here are a bit more complex and rely on the connection between "personalized social/behavioral data" and contextual information (location, time, etc.). Using algorithms, services would then be able to infer different things that can supposedly interest people, especially in urban environments.