Xiaochang Li

October 31, 2011

Previewing Location, Mobile, and How Data Tells Stories at FoE5

This year at FoE, I'll be engaging a panel of great speakers to have a slightly different conversation about location, beyond the usual marketing and technology-focused discussions. With mobile and location-based services on the rise, it is increasingly important think about how these technologies, the behaviors they enable, and the data they produce change how we encounter the spaces we inhabit and interact with one another within them.

As a quick introduction, I wanted to share a little background on our panel:

Tell us a little bit about what you're currently working on and why:

Andy Ellwood: I am currently heading up the business development efforts for Gowalla. We are working with brands and partners around the world as it pertains to the interactions and engagements that our millions of users are creating as it pertains to the stories that they tell about the places that they go.

Dan Street: Hi. I'm CEO of Loku. We bring Big Data tools to Local. You can think of us as a search engine that's specific to local information.

Germain Halegoua: I'm currently working on a few different projects, all related to location or physical place in some way. I'm finishing up a research project about the relationships between vendors and customers over location-based services as well as other social media platforms. I'm beginning to interview people about how they use Google Street View for purposes other than navigation and to examine the participatory cultures that are being formed around StreetView. Mary Gray, Alex Leavitt, and I are working on a project about Foursquare "jumpers" (people who check-in to locations when they're not physically in that location). I'm also working on a collaborative mapping and digital storytelling project that involves bike accidents reported to the Madison, WI Police Department between 2008-2011.

I think it's important to understand what people actually do with navigation and location-
based technologies and the cultures that surround these activities. Frequently, actual
practices tend to differ from intended use, and I think it's important to notice when
and why this happens. All of my current projects deal with social power in some way
(juxtaposing official and vernacular knowledge and experience of place; engaging with
location-based technologies in alternative or oppositional ways; trying to exert control
of customer-vendor relations through location-based technologies) which is a concept
that is under-examined in location-based social media but something that is incredibly
important to understand as more people engage with these systems.

Tell us a little bit about your background and the perspective it brings to your interests:

Andy Ellwood: My background is in sales, most recently selling private jets before jumping into the digital world.

Dan Street: My background is strategy consulting and private equity, in technology and media companies.

Germain Halegoua: My interest in social media and location-based technologies actually stems from studying and participating in documentary film, public access television, and media
activism in NYC. Working on these projects, I observed the ways in which people
harnessed and produced media in order to understand and augment their connection
to local issues, mobilize their neighborhoods, explore their city, and express their social
position within urban space. People have been using technologies to represent and play
with location, and using location to contextualize their experiences, for some time now.
I see activities like "check-ins" and location announcement as an extension of these
mediated practices. Because of my past experiences, I think I'm more apt to think about
a "check-in" as more than "just a check-in," and a lot of my research is driven by the
desire to find out what that means.

How did you first become involved and interested in creating/researching location-based data/interaction/technology? Was there a particular aspect or incident that drew you?

Andy Ellwood: My attraction to tech and digital specifically focused on the ability to take online experiences live and deepen relationships with friends and trusted brands.

Dan Street: I jumped into local both because I care - I'm from a small town, and want to bring some of those dynamics to an urban world - and also because it's a largely untapped opportunity.

Germain Halegoua: I think it might have been when I bought my first cell phone. It was just a bare-bones cell phone with no SMS plan at first (and definitely no apps or web browsing, etc), but it got me thinking about communication, information, and location in a totally different way.

February 22, 2011

Twitter, Gladwell, and Why Social Media's Revolutionary Potential Isn't (Really) About Egypt

[This post originally appeared at canarytrap.net]

Earlier this month, amongst all the frustration, euphoria, and confused wonder surrounding the events in Egypt, Malcolm Gladwell and others got mired in another discussion regarding the relative efficacy of social media in creating political change.

I don't want to rehash the back and forth (some thoughtful opinions here, here, and here), except to say that I empathize with Gladwell's frustration, I really do, but I think that his push-back isn't particularly illuminating or necessary. It's true that some of the over-emphasis on the role of social media runs the risk of overshadowing more considered analysis of the historical context and implications of what happened in Egypt. And I have to admit that seeing some of the twitter and foursquare jokes made me bristle with annoyance briefly (not because they were making light of the situation, but because they made light of the privilege we had, as media and communications professionals in the US, in being able to be cute about it all). Maybe its a function of my youthful optimism, but I think Gladwell does a disservice in validating these strawmen as something worth arguing against.

For me, claims that social media brought forth the revolution in Egypt exist so deep within a territory of techno-narcissism that isn't really even worth refuting. And it's not unexpected -- these technologies are still relatively new. We're still trying to sort out what they can do. If we look at early film and TV criticism, so much focused on the "how" over the "why" in the same way that Gladwell laments, and it didn't prevent the "why" (and the "what") from dominating the discourse as the novelty wore off.

But more importantly, I think his arguments about social media not being relevant to revolutions makes the same awkward assumption as the claims that facebook changed Egypt: that what's compelling about what happened online has everything (or anything) to do with Egypt per se. Maybe because I think of them as dramatically important in totally different arenas, I don't see the emphasis on one or the other in competition with one another for column pixels. Because something significant did happen on and to social media, but to think it was what twitter and Facebook did (or didn't do) for Egypt is to have things backwards. Twitter didn't happen to Egypt; Egypt happened to twitter and is may be transforming how we think about the role of social media in our lives and communities.

Continue reading "Twitter, Gladwell, and Why Social Media's Revolutionary Potential Isn't (Really) About Egypt" »

September 17, 2010

Changing Relationships, Changing Industries (Nancy Baym, University of Kansas)

C3 Consulting Researcher Nancy Baym (University of Kansas) had a busy 2010.

Her new book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, was released by Polity Press in the Spring.

Also this spring, Nancy contributed one of the first C3 Research Memos distributed to C3 Consortium Members. This C3 Research will be made publicly available via the C3 blog in late November of this year.

This summer, Nancy was here in Cambridge as a visiting researcher at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Danah Boyd's Social Media Research Collective.

While here in Cambridge, Nancy was asked to speak at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. Her talk (in the embedded video below) entitled "Changing Relationships, Changing Industries" addresses her thinking on notions of exchange (economic and social) between fans, audiences, the music industry and the independent music scene - specifically in the case of independent Swedish artists and music labels.

Nancy's insights into how the independent music scene by necessity has embraced new media distribution channels and the audience embrace of these new channels, as well as her insights and metrics on the major label music industry as an inadvertent 'loss leader' in the swift dismantling of the top down corporate music hierarchy (which we are now seeing manifest in film and television) were an early influence on what became 2008 - 2009 C3 research on new consumption patterns, new patterns of value exchange, along with innovative ideas surrounding value and worth - specifically the 2008 C3 White Paper on Spreadability, Xiaochang Li's 2009 C3 White Paper More Than Money Can Buy: Locating Value in Spreadable Media, Ana Domb's 2009 White Paper Tacky and Proud: Exploring Technobrega's Value Network and the CMS C3 FOE4 Panel, Moderated by Prof. Jenkins entitled "Consumption, Value and Worth" (panel video here, liveblogging archive here).

Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported
Copyright Holder
The President and Fellows of Harvard College