Fangqi Yan 460421177
Thursday 12pm, Fiona Andreallo
The convergence of social media and locative technologies is having significant impact on relationships to people and place. Through a variety of social media, people using locative and mobile media are creating new ways of thinking about intimacy and places. The growth of locative media is changing society as well as reflecting changes in the society by connecting online experience with offline experience (Hjorth, & Hinton, 2013). Trying to follow the lead of Pokémon Go, China’s technology giant Tencent launched location-based augmented reality activities ‘Pass the Olympic Torch’ and ‘AR Red Envelopes’ as a feature within its instant messenger app QQ. This article will use these two activities as case studies to analyse how mobile locative media changes cultural practice and the way we socialise and interact with media.
Locative Technologies and Social Media
Location-based services (LBSs) are changing understandings and visualisations of place, and relationships to intimacy, time and presence (Hjorth, & Hinton, 2013). Place, a space invested with emotional meaning, is mediated by new technologies and redefined by social, locative and mobile media (Hjorth, & Hinton, 2013). Although rooted in geographic space, these new forms of places, ‘hybrid’ spaces, blur the boundaries between online and offline, virtual and physical (Hjorth, & Hinton, 2013).
Augmented reality (AR), a technology that mixes the real environment with the virtual, is considered as a specific subset of LBS (Liao, & Humphreys, 2015). Different from traditional LBS, mobile AR has been theorised as a technology that can further complicate the relationships to place through delivering specific visual displays that combine real and virtual content (Farman, 2012) (Liao, & Humphreys, 2015). The visual, interactive, and real-time nature of digital augmentations offer fundamentally new ways of experiencing and encountering place (Liao, & Humphreys, 2015).
Since place is more socially constructed, hybrid spaces become localised as social connections enhance places with meanings. As Hjorth and Hinton (2013) pointed out, factors such as culture shapes, and is shaped by, locative media.
QQ Augmented Reality Activities
Tencent launched its location-based augmented reality activities on its messaging platform QQ for the first time in 2016, by pulling virtual world and real world together through geo-localisation.
The ‘Pass the Olympic Torch’ activity was online during the Olympics from 25 July to 22 August 2016. Based on QQ big data, part of users who have greater social impact were able to receive fire and become torchbearers through ‘brushing’ feature. Users could also light the torch through ‘QQ-AR Scanning’ feature. After scanning the identification chart with LBS information from a torchbearer successfully, the three-dimensional image of QQ Penguin would appear in augmented reality and light the torch. A torch logo would be displayed next to the profile photo of all users participate in the torch relay. The route for QQ torch relay included six cities, respectively, Athens, Beijing, Seoul, Sydney, Paris and Rio. Each time the fire is passed, the user can earn points that can help unlock view the AR animation for the next city (Graziani, 2016).
The ‘AR Red Envelopes’ activity which allows users to collect virtual red envelopes took place during the Spring Festival from 20-24 January in 2017. Total 425 million red envelopes were set in the country by QQ together with 20 celebrities and dozens of brands. Through this feature, users could see a distribution map. The phone camera would be turned on automatically after clicking a red envelope. Three envelopes would be showed to the user by QQ God of Wealth and users could choose one. Users were also able to leave a red envelope in a certain place for others and were allowed to specify whether it is available to everyone or just to their social media contacts (Wang, 2017). The location of the red envelope and an invitation could be sent to the user’s contacts through social platforms such as WeChat. The finders must go the place where the AR red envelope was placed in order to collect it.
These two features soon became national activities after their launch. More than 100 million users participated the ‘Pass the Olympic Torch’ in 26 days, 258 million users participated the ‘AR Red Envelopes’ in 5 days and 15.2 million individual AR red envelopes were sent (“QQ day red envelope on the first day: 10 hours 127 million to participate in user innovation record”, 2017). In this process, QQ enabled users to create a new Olympic and Spring Festival experience through LBS and AR technologies.
Mediated Interaction and Locality
Location-based media blends social relationships with geography and creates new forms of intimacy and different contexts for the expression of intimacy (Hjorth, & Hinton, 2013). Take ‘AR Red Envelopes’ as an example, it is the remediation of red envelopes that are given during Spring Festivals. While red envelopes are usually given out by the elder to the younger generation, or vice versa, social media introduced new practice of distributing virtual red envelopes to contacts and groups such as friends and colleagues. This interpretation of the traditional practice, therefore, creates a new form of intimacy.
Although QQ augmented reality activities are nationwide, it is reflective of local. As technologies produce new types of networked interactions, the local continues to play a vital role in sociality. In ‘Pass the Olympic Torch’, the identification chart which users must scan to pass the torch is integrated with LBS information so that face-to-face interaction rather than screenshots is required for users. In ‘AR Red Envelopes’, in order to collect a red envelope from a friend, users must go to the designated location physically. Similar to Pokémon Go, it is more about interacting with people in specific spaces than doing so online.
The online interaction, though mediated by technologies, is rooted in real-life social networks. The ranking list in ‘Pass the Olympic Torch’ which shows how many people have passed the fire and how many cities have been unlocked, to some degree is a ranking of social impact which is determined by one’s social capital. While people share their achievements on social media platforms, a narrative of the person and a social public is created.
Hybrid Space and Culture Intimacy
The convergence of mobile, social and locative technologies creates hybrid space which blurs the physical and digital spaces (Liao, & Humphreys, 2015). Maps link space with place, where place is not only a geographic or physical location, but also reflects cultural and emotional dimensions (Hjorth, & Hinton, 2013). While people are collecting or hiding red envelops in cities via mobile AR, the technology is allowing individuals to reengage and reproduce the public space. These interpretations of locations ultimately alter users’ relationships to those places (Liao, & Humphreys, 2015).
Although the idea of QQ augmented reality activities is very much based on the wildly popular Pokémon Go experience, its success lies in the adaptations to traditional culture. The giving of red envelopes during Chinese New Year is a tradition among the Chinese people (Zhang, 2017). Augmented reality technology is redefining this tradition for the digital age. As users participate in the ‘AR Red Envelopes’, they share a set of cultural intimacies. QQ, as a tool for establishing online communities, mediates interpersonal intimacies. In this way, mobile AR is shaping, and being shaped by, our conceptions of place and locality.
Look through the two activities, traditional customs such as torch relay or giving out red envelopes are given new meanings via mobile and locative media. By using AR technology, augmented content is put onto physical locations and creates new types of engagement. Through this offline-online-offline process, the relationship between being online and being offline has shifted and common sociality is amplified.
Discussion and Conclusion
Mobile AR applications are extensions of traditional LBS in ways that it combines real and virtual content interactively and in real-time. The mode of ‘LBS + AR’ connects online experience with offline experience and creates new forms of intimacy. Although mediated by technologies, social interaction is still the core concept of all these activities. Users are inserting their own narratives of place and shaping their relationships through online practices. These characteristics of location-based augmented reality applications highlight the commercial potential of the technology. It can be foreseen that location-based AR will further complicate the relationship between people, space and commercialism.
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