Locative Social Media: blurring the boundary between online and offline worlds

Integration of location-based services (LBS) on social media have reshaped the relationship between online actions of social media users and physical life in offline world. Hinton and Hjorth have explored the convergence of mobile, social and locative media and proposed that the convergence of mobile media with social and locative technologies has created new places sitting in between online and offline worlds (2013, p.125). “Instead of us understanding our world in terms like online and offline, the physical and virtual, we are increasingly engaging with a reality in which the physical and virtual are merged to some degree” (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.126). In other words, with physical locative information being shared on mobile social media, the boundary between virtual and real life of social media users has been significantly blurred. Thanks to the innovated development of mobile technology, the incorporation of locative interfaces on mobile social media, the boundary between online and offline worlds is significantly blurred,  in terms of users’ virtual self-identity on online social networks, the ways of interactions among users and perceptions about places.

Transition of Self-Identity Construction 

Locative social media blends the physical places to original online identity of social media users, which brings about the transition of virtual self-identity. Geocoded data on social media are intentionally selected by social media users on various purposes, which more or less reveal individuals’ patterns of daily mobility, experiences of particular places, and social practice related to certain places in real world. On the one hand, the online displays of users’ mobility in places represent particular aspect of self-identity to others, which breeds digital expressions of “Spatial self”(2014, p.5). According to Schwartz, the conceptions of spatial self as a byproduct of mobile social media usage or an aggregation of geocoded data shows only a fraction of its precise connotation, because spatial self refers to “intentional socio-cultural practices (both online and offline) of self-presentation that result in dynamic, curated, sometimes idealized performances of who a user is, based on where they go” (2014, p.5). By using locative programming interfaces on social media platforms, people are entitled to construct spatial self through annotating their digital location datas. On the other hand, it is also rational to say that the emergence of locative interfaces on social media contributes to the integration of physical location data in user’s virtual self-identity construction.

Currently, locative interfaces on social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare have transformed the traditional way of presenting user-identity through textual and visual aids. Geolocated posts, tweets, check-ins or other forms of geographical visualizations that map patterns of mobility of our social media users have become integral proportions of building up personal social representation on social media. The location-based social media Foursquare even stimulates their users to check in by offering rewards, making disclosure of location an appealing activity in the process of online self-identity construction.

屏幕快照 2015-05-28 下午8.29.07

Global Foursquare Check-ins of May 28, 2015. Photo credit:https://foursquare.com/infographics/500million.

To sum up, locative interfaces on social media serves as a digital instrument complementing to realization of performances of spatial self in real world, while offline physical mobility provides geo-social resources for online identity construction. The locative social media essentially makes the development of social identity more integrated and coherent.

Reforming Relationships with Human and Places

With innovations of mobile communication technology, smartphones have become a social network tool used in anytime and anywhere. The application of LBS Public practices of archiving locative data on social media bond certain networks among users on the basis of personal narratives of physical mobility. The assess to Augmented Reality (AR) even provides the location-based, real-time and interactive mobile media experience for users. Layar, Google Ingress, Star Guide are some pioneers in this field.

These locative mobile technologies contribute to the formation of geo-social networks and people’s rethinking of places in the convergence of online and offline world. The “hybrid spaces” defined by Adriana de Souza e Silva created social situations that people being in various distances are connected (2011, p.86). These hybrid spaces place social media users and their social connections both at the center of social world as well as the center of understanding of physical world (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.126), meaning that the relationship among social media users and their conceptions of place have been reframed.

Social Networks

The announcements of personal locations helps to develop interpersonal connections characterized by similar geographical patterns in real world. With the online exhibition of individuals’ actions in physical places, communications would be generated to disclose specific social networks that feature in collective geographic patterns. Farman proposed that the emerging demographic of the most used social networks has much to do with our homophily (2012, p.72). Homophily was defined by boyd(2011) as the “practice of connecting with like-minded individuals”. Thus, locative interfaces probably breed homophily from a variety of comments and conversations in regard to certain locations. For example, when users on Foursquare exhibit their presence on specific restaurants, other people online could connect with them through location-based conversations and interactions. Facebook location map also provides users an opportunity to talk with people moving around certain geographic realms.


Therefore, social networks among strangers become commonplace because of their similar location traces. Besides, the application of locative social media is likely to augment interactions within particular networked communities. Through showcasing online locative data to offline networked acquaintances, the interpersonal relationships which are already built up are probably strengthened. Geocoded photographs on social media practice is an aspect of sharing location data on social media which significantly combines the locative interfaces with traditional modes of online communication. These geocoded photographs even increase the possibility of forming or strengthening social networks based on geographic characteristics.

Public Perception of Places

Besides, locative social media has exerted great influence on changing public perceptions of places. First of all, the distinction between place and space lies in their definitions. According to Harrison and Dourish’s definition, “space is the opportunity; place is the (understood) reality” (1996, p. 69). Liao and Humphreys further explained that “Space can be thought of as the more abstract term that describes the broader three-dimensional (3D) realm in which we live, whereas place is more socially constructed” (2014, p.3). In Hinton and Hjorth’s analysis, place is argued as a space operating across levels of imagined and lived, social and physical (2013, p.126).

foursquare_explore屏幕快照 2015-05-28 下午8.00.19

The incorporation of location-based services on social media like Foursquare and Jiepang in China, as being discussed, highlights that the place is not just a geographic or physical location but rather reflects cultural, emotional and psychological dimensions (2013, p.127). Locative social media that utilized for tracking and sharing life experiences in specific locations remake meanings for these places. In this way, public understanding of places have encountered an evolution facilitated by collective responses to certain locations.


The newly rise of augmented reality (AR) technology on mobile social media should never be neglected in its influence on public perceptions of places. Layar is one of the most popular mobile AR applications. It allows users to create content and communicate about particular places especial historic sites like Tiananmen Square through augmentations. Users explore the real-world environment and generate a variety of new meanings of physical locations, which changes the way of understanding physical places.

In conclusion, by connecting the online and offline worlds, the application of LBS on mobile social media has brought substantial and significant changes in users’ construction of self-identity, building up geo-social networks and perception of places. Certainly, unsatisfactory issues like privacy and


boyd, danah. “White Flight in Networked Publics? How Race and Class Shaped American

Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook.” Digital Race: An Anthology. Edited by

Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Harrison S and Dourish P (1996) Re-place-ing space: the roles of place and space in collaborative systems. In: Proceedings of the 1996 ACM conference on computer supported cooperative work, 1996 (CSCW ’96), Boston, MA, 16–20 November, pp. 67–76. New York: ACM Press.

Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media. Sage.

Gordon, E., & e Silva, A. D. S. (2011). Net locality: Why location matters in a networked world. John Wiley & Sons.

Farman, J. (2012). Mobile interface theory: Embodied space and locative media. New York: Routledge.

Foursquare, Global Foursquare Check-ins of May 28, 2015, retrieved from https://foursquare.com/infographics/500million.

Liao, T., & Humphreys, L. (2014). Layar-ed places: Using mobile augmented reality to tactically reengage, reproduce, and reappropriate public space. New Media & Society, 1461444814527734.

Schwartz, R., & Halegoua, G. R. (2014). The spatial self: Location-based identity performance on social media. New Media & Society, 1461444814531364.

Jingyi He    440460910


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