A few weeks ago, on a whim, I tagged a public Google+ post with my location. I did it as a personal documentation measure, so that I could go back and remember where I took the photo of the pneumatic tube system from the 1950s that I thought my media history-inclined friend would get a kick out of. But something unexpected happened: a complete stranger, having found my post using the “public/nearby” feature, commented on my post, sharing his memories and experience how the tubes were used. A week later, after I posted about a surreal bike accident, people in the neighborhood where it happened commented alongside my friends to wish me well. Looking online, I saw numerous descriptions of similar uses and it got me thinking about what makes the experience Google’s Public/Nearby feature so different from those of Twitter and Foursquare (I don’t really actively use Facebook at all, so I can’t comment on Places).
Part of the difference, of course, is the publicness of the content in Public/Nearby. My “shouts” on Foursquare are viewable only to my friends (unless shared through Twitter or Facebook). My location-tagged content on Twitter, while potentially public, is accessible if you’re looking at my feed, making the information very much personal in that sense.
Twitter and Google+ share the fact that you append location to content, rather than appending content to location, as with Foursquare. In that sense, Google+ and Twitter are primarily organized around people rather than places*. For Twitter, however, location is an added layer of data on a piece of content, but it is isn’t an organizing factor. So, if you look at your friend’s location-enable tweet, you can see where they were when they shared that information. However, you can’t see all tweets from your follow-list that have been shared in a given location. The location of tweets gives more information, but it doesn’t change how that information is encountered.
For both Foursquare and Google+, on the other hand, location can be a primary organizing structure for accessing, sharing, and classifying information. However, in Foursquare, the definition of “location” is based on defined venues, however flexible the spatial parameters around those venues might be (consider the many “moving target” check-ins to extreme weather conditions). If you’re sitting in a cafe, you might look at the public information associated with the cafe, or the cafe counter, or that neighborhood, or the nearby park, or a cab driving by, but you cannot see it all the information within the area around your position.
What makes Google+’s location features unique is the fluidity of the role of location data. It can, like twitter, be another layer of information about a post, but it can also, like Foursquare, serve as the organizing structure for accessing and producing information. But unlike Foursquare, if you hit the “public/nearby” feature in Google+, you get all the information shared publicly in a given area around your position. In sharing information, it’s structure of appending location data to content encourages more user-focused content, in the manner of Twitter. However, in allowing location to also be an organizing factor Public/Nearby uses place as a means to access information like Foursquare. To put it in overly simple terms, it feels as if Twitter uses people to organize information about people, Foursquare uses place to organize information about place, and Google+’s Public/Nearby feature uses place to organize information about people.
Another potentially interesting, but far more difficult to untangle distinction, emerges if we think (very broadly) about space versus place. I don’t want to get into the complexities and nuances of the space/place relationship, but for the purposes of this post think of spaces as generally a geographical area and place as a specific space imbued with value and meaning that is, as Marc Augé defines it, “relational, historical and concerned with identity.” In that sense, whereas Foursquare emphasizes not only places, but particular places (given their policy of regulating “duplicate” venues), Google+ is more spatially-inflected, grouping information in relation to a given geographical parameter regardless of the boundaries and definitions of the places within it. But the space of Google+ nearby/public is not an undifferentiated space, but a position-specific one full of information and discourse. In that sense, we might think of it as a placed space — defined by the physical area but articulated as “relational, historical and concerned with identity.” Again, this doesn’t go anywhere near the complexity of space/place relations, nor does it take into account the technological functions of how Google+’s GPS system determines spatial parameters. Just some beginning observations on how different technologies shape our encounters of/in spaces and places.
I’m also curious if there’s other location-based services that address/define spaces and places in different ways, so would love to hear about your ideas and experiences.
*At least, in how I use Foursquare. As with Twitter or any other platform, different groups and individuals may use the tools in different ways, resulting in different experiences.
As part of my 2011 resolutions, I’m making an effort to blog again, even if what I post will necessarily be significantly more abbreviated and less in-depth by virtue of time constraints.
Last March, I wrote Social Suicide’s digital savvy — the boutique menswear retailers decided to demonstrate their appreciation of the value of their fans social networks by letting the level of digital buzz dictate a dynamic sale rate for their winter clearance.
They’re continuing to play and experiment in the digital space, linking social capital to purchasing in interesting ways by turning their products into facebook profiles:
Finally, every jacket shipped is already a member of Facebook. It’s anonymous profile is in turn a member of a closed Facebook Group along with every other Holidaze jacket. Use it or loose it, it’s a way of networking which we’ve invented but have no idea where it will go…!
While it’s still unclear what they intend to do with these profiles, or how much control the jacket-buyers will have over them, it is a pretty novel way showing how your product serves as a form of social capital, providing both symbolic and literal access to an exclusive affinity group of culturally (and aesthetically) like-minded individuals.
Plus, I love how there’s a foil-lined pocket meant to cut-off phone signal, so that you can go off-grid with a gesture. Yet another way the company shows a whimsical, yet thoughtful approach to how our material lives interact with our digital ones.
So, I’ve been a little lax on blogging the past few weeks. Part of it is that I’ve been working incredibly long hours during the week, and spent the last three weekends in a row shuttling back and forth between NYC and Cambridge, MA for a series of very interesting events (more on that in a bit). But another big part of it is that I’ve been making something of a life transition: as of this week morning, I’m working as a Digital Brand Strategist in Weber Shandwick’s NYC headquarters.
It’s quite a change coming from the academic world and a series of mercenary consultancy gigs into the world’s leading PR agency, though a really thrilling one. I’ll have to wait until I’ve been there a bit longer before I can reflect on the adaptation process. All I can say right now is that, having always worked in shared spaces, you are hyper-aware of how decisions that are natural in office environments (like whether or not to close my office door) transforms your space and work mentality.
Altogether a very exciting development, and should lead to a much needed new layer to my thinking.
I hope to get back to blogging regularly again once I get settled, though I suspect that it will take some time to really hit my stride with how frequently I will be writing more lengthy, involved pieces. But in the immediate future, please look forward to a recap of the three great events I attended at MIT the last three weeks. First was the Comparative Media Studies 10-year anniversay, where I sat on a panel about media globalization with Aswin Punathambekar, Ana Domb, Orit Kuritsky, and Jing Wang. Then the weekend before last, I moderating a panel on “Running the Tubes” at ROFLcon, which featured a fascinating group of speakers that run the “behind-the-curtain” social and commercial infrastructure of your LULZ, including Jef Sewell (Despair.com, Amplifier), Aaron Peckham (Urban Dictionary), Larry Oji (OverClocked Remix), and Pete Hottelet (Omni Consumer Products). Finally, last weekend, I attended the always fantastic Convergence Culture Consortium retreat, where super smart folks presenting on everything from Swedish indie labels to transmedia lions (the lion is metaphor . . . I think) to how piracy can save media business models.
So once I get my bearings, keep an eye out for that, along with the long-promised thoughts on geolocation and public space.
A couple of dramatic developments in the world of media and technology from the past couple of weeks. First, the release of the iPad, which has everyone speculating about the future of media, publishing, advertising, and the mobile web. And second, the introduction of Transmedia Producer as an official Producer’s Guild of America credit, which has both its proponents and detractors (though most are positive, with reservations).
Much of the buzz around both these things tends to focus, quite rightly, on their potential, and what they mean for how we’ll come to use, consume, and produce media in the future. But more than just pointing us towards the future of media, both these developments are symptomatic of a shift that’s already very much underway.
Moreover, each serves as evidence of the importance and cultural relevance of the other. What greater potential is there for the iPad, after all, than as a transmedia device — as something that allows us to coordinate, integrate, and marshall together different narrative pieces scattered across different formats and platforms? But the inarguable potential for synergy between the iPad and transmedia storytelling triggered a lot of scattered thoughts on the implications for what transmedia will be as it becomes less of an exception and more and more the baseline for our media experiences.
Coming together in Time: Transmedia and Simultaneous Experience
Matt Dawson’s provocatively suggestion that the iPad could be a really robust remote control that would let you manage, annotate, and expand upon your TV viewing in real time. This first bring up the interesting idea of transmedia components that are meant to be experienced simultaneously. Transmedia is premised on the distribution of narrative threads through and across multiple platforms, but the implicit assumption is that the experiences would take place at different times, that the different pieces, while deeply integrated and reciprocal, are nevertheless meant to be experienced individually. What the ipad signals is perhaps a shift from the popular perception of transmedia as expansion (leading to the central-property/peripheral extension dichotomy that transmedia producers and thinkers often push against) towards one of layering. I’ve previously discussed transmedia stories as intertexts — not just a story told across text but somehow created in the gaps between, the elasticity of multiplicity. This shift speaks to that same concept, as a metaphor of layers moves us to think not only of a world created through multiple stories, but also of stories told through multiple lenses that build upon one another, adding depth and nuance to the view.
Coming together in Space: What is “trans” about “transmedia”?
The iPad also brings up another interesting possibility. With the creation of various video, magazine, web, and mobile apps that will be native to the iPad, the notion of “across platforms” becomes increasingly ambiguous. Are we still moving across platforms if we watch a movie and read its fanfiction on the same device? What does transmedia move across, if not platforms? These questions make apparent not only how often we conflate platform with delivery technology, but how we’ve taken for granted that formats were defined by how delivery technology shaped the viewing/reading experience.
With devices like the iPad, which are designed to delivery multiple media formats (of course, we always had these capabilities on our laptops, but there seems to be something different between “capable of” and “made for”) it’s more apparent transmedia’s potential isn’t a question of technology or platform, but of creating stories across aesthetic forms and narrative practices, across different creative industry structures that limit and enable their their products differently. That’s why a comic book and a novelization are different despite being both bound, printed matter — the differences in formal storytelling capabilities, the history of the art forms, as well as the differences between novel publishing and comic book industries and audience expectations all determine which stories can be told and how.
More interestingly, I think these changes will have dramatic affects on how we organize different types of storytelling into categories. For so long, forms have been defined by their recording technologies — film, records, television, books. The limits and affordances of those have determined different aesthetic and narrative structures. For the time being, they continue to hold the shape of the mold they were created in, even as those molds are starting to change and dissolve. But that’s changing. Even now, we’re seeing the emergence of genres that are defined in part by how audiences encounter them — transmedia, interactive media, mobile, spreadable — by how they move through culture rather than what devices they’re viewed through.
I’m not rewriting the black-box fallacy (i.e., that we will one day consume all media through a single, universal device). Rather, I’m suggesting that devices like the iPad make more apparent than ever that our media consumption isn’t being consolidated, but rather layered. We won’t be consuming all our media through one device — we’ll be consuming multiple streams of media through multiple platform simultaneously, as part of the same experience, with increasing reciprocity and responsiveness across our many mediated encounters.
So this weekly round-up is a bit different from my usual semi-regular link dump of stuff I’ve been reading. The past couple of weeks, I’ve been lax on blogging the past couple of weeks because I’ve been busy firing my little synapses at issues surrounding the how branding + geotagging/location check-in (e.g. foursquare, gowalla) affect how we encounter urban and public space (and each other within it. It’s quickly turning into a full blown captical-P Project. I’ll start posting some prelimenary thoughts/questions next week, but for now, some of posts, articles, and books that I’ve been drawing on in the initial concept mapping phase.
So, in a way, this is part link-dump, part project-emergence-documentation.
I started thinking about these issues with the recent surge in discussions of brand collaborations with popular geolocation social games, especial with all the chatter in SXSW reports about the rise of location-specific (I know people are using the term geolocation, but I’ve yet to really embrace that tautology) games and social networking tools.
- Daniel Terdiman reported that Foursquare and Gowalla trumped twitter this year in terms of cutting through the noise of the conference backchannels.
- And the prevalence of location check-ins was one of the biggest take-aways from Jay Baer’s SXSW observations.
- Clement Yueng at Social Media Examiner writes about how businesses can leverage geotagging to build their brands.
- Last month a number of Entertainment and Media brands linked up with Foursquare
- And universities are jumping on the wagon, with Marc Parry at the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing the rise of “virtual graffiti” initiatives.
Location check-in networks therefore have two obvious precedents: display advertising and graffiti culture.
- For display advertising and public space, I’ve been digging into City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York by David M. Henkin, which discusses the way branded communications and marketing transformed public space and how we perceive information as a culture.
- One of the (geographic) sites of interest is Sao Paulo, a city famous for its unique graffiti culture and for banning outdoor advertising. Hector Fernando Burga’s briefly outlines [pdf] a number of papers given at the Decentering Urban Theory conference at UC Berkeley focusing on new productions of urban space, including one by Prof. Teresa Caldeira on the “auto-construction” of Sao Paulo, where citizens engage in slow, collaborative, ad-hoc rebuilding of the city. These and other sites like it reveal “another dimension of place-making” that geotagging and location check-ins also seem to fit into.
- Also on the urban theory front, I’m looking into a classic in the field, Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City.
- And going in the other direction, I’m trying to think of how to situate the geolocation social activities between public and private, and starting with The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, which explores how we encounter the most intimate and domestic spaces.
I should probably acknowledge that my weekly round-ups aren’t so much weekly as they are “periodically,” but it’s a little too late to change now.
- So in honor of the approaching Oscars, the NYT recently released a piece on how shot pacing in films matches our brain rhythms. Interesting observations, but it begs the question: what does this tell us that we didn’t already know? That films written, shot, and edited by human beings have an increasing tendency to suit the pace of how humans think? How is this news to anyone? In the same vein, have some mathematical descriptions of movie composition.
- Moving on: CMS colleague Nick Seaver has a great piece on interactivity of player pianos. He makes great points about mediation and reproduction and other issues that are central to new media concerns, illuminated in a new way. We can only learn so much about new media by looking at it in isolation — it’s by connecting it to the once new technologies that the larger social patterns emerge.
- Oh, and speaking of thought to be obsolete, there may be life for Google Wave yet.
- Clay Shirky entreats us to stop talking about information overload. The problem, he points out, is not too much information or too little attention. Too much information is an old media problem, existing since after the Dark Ages. The issue is that we haven’t mastered the systematic filtering and sorting of this information.
- This Open Net Initiative piece on keyword filtering by Microsoft Bing in ‘Arabian Countries’ reminds us too that solutions for “information overload” in one context can quickly resemble censorship in another.
- And sort of related: insights from a mobile Q&A rising star. Frost & Sullivan has a piece on youth market insights from an analysis of ChaCha. Full disclosure, stuck without a smart phone, if not for ChaCha I may still be lost somewhere in West Texas.
- And what’s with all this bzzzzzzz — AT&T has a new service Buzz.com that some think will actually supplant Google’s offering due to its facebook integration.
And on a last note:
- “You came in with dreams and now you stand with spreadsheets”: Rishad Tobaccowala cuts right to the point at his 4A Transformations talk on incentivizing talent. The three types of wealth — experience, education, and economic — resonated because his emphasis was on wealth as a diversity of these things, not a sheer quantity. I had been spoiled for the first two at MIT — and range of experiences you could have, things you could create was matched only by the immense generosity of the minds around you. In the current economic climate, I’ve yet to see media and advertising industries match that kind of intellectual ambition or reciprocity, though my hope is that speeches like this mean there’s a thaw — not just economically — around the corner.