Location-based services (LBS) and social media are reframing the concepts of place and lived spaces through the lens of user generated content. The practice of participation and participatory surveillance on social media platforms allows users to navigate lived spaces by consuming and creating content via connected mobile devices. At a micro level the content being created can enrich the end user experience, however at a macro level the content can be used by media outlets to generate revenue (aligned with advertising) and by governments to develop urban spaces. This article examines the growing interplay between the creation/use of collaborative content and capitalism.
Increased access to convergent technologies – most notably mobile media – has equipped users with tools to broadcast their lived experiences via social media, to friends, family and anyone else that can access similar technology. This broadcasting is most commonly done via major social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but extends to an array of lesser known platforms like Foursquare, Periscope and Yelp. A recurring feature across each platform is the ability to share geographic location data to accompany user broadcasts, a simple yet complex feature that is transforming how people engage with shared spaces. The pervasive nature of LBS social media is best summarised by Hinton & Hjorth (2013) who state:
“Moving beyond printed maps, mobile digital devices now frame and mediate our ability to traverse, experience, share and conceptualise place. This shift appears to have a range of consequences for our relationships to place, intimacy, privacy, time and presence. Locative media shapes, and is shaped by, a variety of factors such as culture, age and temporal differences (p. 122)”
While LBS provides a fun and functional feature to social media platforms, the accumulation of location data is becoming increasingly valuable. As it captures an incredibly insightful data set that depicts how people engage with public places and spaces. A project that demonstrates how such data can be used is the Livehoods Project (2012), which analyses social media check-ins and tweets (via Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook) to conceptualize the structure, dynamics and character of a city. All data that is captured is categorised, ranked and time stamped, then overlaid on a city map. Data clusters within similar geographical boundaries form a ‘LiveHood’, unlocking an intimate understanding of how people encounter places and spaces within an urban landscape.
To demonstrate how insightful the LiveHoods project is, below is an example taken from the LiveHoods map of downtown San Francisco. Each dot on the map represents social media activity, clicking on a dot reveals the nature of the activity, then groups all related check-ins and tweets in that immediate area to form a ‘LiveHood’. The first image demonstrates how the project ranks the most popular places visited and unique things done in that area.
Image credit: LiveHoods San Francisco
The second image breaks down the aggregated data further, categorizing the composition and time frame of all activity.
Image credit: LiveHoods San Francisco
This collation of data via locative social media platforms highlights the concept of produsers – where the production of ideas takes place within a participatory and collaborative environment, fracturing the boundaries between producers and consumers allowing all participants to be users as well as producers of information and knowledge (Bruns, 2006, p.2). In the instance of LiveHoods, the production of information and knowledge does not return a direct benefit to users, but instead has the potential to return an indirect benefit via urban planning, infrastructure and community projects conducted by local governments who access the data.
SeeClickFix (2012) is a mobile app that has recognised the potential of this data within the framework of citizenship and authority. Using the technological affordances of connected mobile devices, SeeClickFix is a communications platform for citizens to report non-emergency issues (i.e. graffiti, potholes, damaged street signs, litter), and governments to track, manage, and reply – ultimately making communities better through transparency, collaboration and cooperation.
The app uses the locative functionality of mobile devices to accurately pinpoint the location of an issue, this is then coupled with written details before being sent via email to the respective local authority. Users can also search and monitor other issues within an area using the mapping feature and vote up an issue in an effort to escalate a resolution – promoting civic engagement with lived spaces.
The secondary and more importantly capitalist function of SeeClickFix is a paid solution offered to governments that provides additional layers of data, to monitor, manage and analyse how citizens interact with shared places – this solution is offered to assist with community and infrastructure planning.
Video Credit: ctwebnet via YouTube
While these examples showcase the civic effect of LBS social media, locative data and content broadcast on platforms like Foursquare, Yelp and Instagram highlight how user generated content (UGC) is becoming increasingly influential and integrated into everyday life. Users are now equipped to access and contribute content about an array of experiences, from dining to shopping to nightlife. Transforming users’ seemingly simple broadcasts into social beacons for others to reference when navigating lived spaces and experiences.
As more users adopt and contribute to these services the richer the content becomes, providing a living database of collective intelligence, enhancing the service and the lifestyles of its users. This form of participation builds upon the concept of produsers and aligns with Bruns (2006) other concept of produsage, which is defined as “the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvements”(p. 2). In its infancy LBS social media was arguably focused primarily on creating a fun service that showcased the power of mobile devices, with the creation of a feasible business model being the secondary focus.
However as the LBS landscape matured, established social media platforms (Twitter & Facebook) integrated locative functionality into their offering, marking a recognition of the benefits of marrying UGC with location data. Although considered late adopters of locative functionality, it demonstrates how these platform’s business model played a key role in product development. This was observed by Wilken (2014) who states “Facebook’s approach has been a cautious but deliberate one, aimed at getting users accustomed to location sharing prior to ‘monetizing’ this data’ (p. 1088).
This statement reinforces the value of UGC content on LBS social media and displays an acceptance that these platforms are legitimate sources for commercially viable content. Plus, supports the concept of Digital Capitalism where “telecommunications advancement has brought previously unseen economic and ideological capital to business transactions” (Inman & Corrigan, 2000, p. 2).
Insert Storyful (2015), a company that uses advanced technology and journalistic expertise to find amazing content that newsrooms, brands and video producers can quickly turn to their advantage. Put simply Storyful aggregates and scans social media platforms to find, verify, manage and distribute social media content for use by media brands. In the case breaking news Storyful enables media outlets to quickly publish verified content – verification is achieved by using location data, date and identity extracted from the social media platform. Storyful embraces, encourages and capitalizes on the concepts of produsers and produsage, providing a working model of the benefits of collaborative content.
Video Credit: Storyful via YouTube
Whether bite sized or long form, user generated content overlaid with location data is an extremely valuable asset. It can enhance end user experiences, dictate urban planning and generate revenue for major media outlets. Regardless of the end product, locative social media mobilizes users within a collaborative landscape and produces a trail of monetizable data.
Bruns, B (2006). Towards Produsage: Futures for User-Led Content Production. In Sudweeks, Fay and Hrachovec, Herbert and Ess, Charles (Eds.), Proceedings Cultural Attitudes towards Communication and Technology (pp. 275 – 284), Tartu, Estonia: QUT ePrints
Hinton, S & Hjorth, L (2013). Understanding Social Media. London, UK: Sage
Inman, J.A., & Corrigan, D.S. (2000). Computers and the Future of Humanities: A Brief Introduction. The Journal of the Midwest Language Association, 33(2), 1-5.
Wilken, R (2014). Places nearby: Facebook as a location-based social media platform. New Media & Society, 16(7), 1087-1103