Locative interfaces and social media
by Menglong Zhang
Tutor: Fiona Andreallo
Thursday 12-2pm class
With the rapid development of locative and positioning technology, social media nowadays mostly contain a function of location sharing. The boundary of real life and social networks are becoming more blur, people can use their smartphones to share locations and routes with their friends, it seems like people can use locative social media to see their friends’ footsteps in the real life. And locative interfaces on the social media make people’s networks closer and more interactive.
In terms of the concept of locative interfaces and social media, one key description is that people are keeping make themselves more easy to find and access through networks.(Farman & Jason, 2012) People are using the locative functions on their smartphones to show their locations and primary activities with them. For example, whenever you go to a concert, you can update the location of the concert hall with your ideas about the concerts so it will be easier for your friends to understand what you are doing.
The popularity of locative interfaces relies on the development of smartphones and GPS functions. No matter young or old, smartphone nowadays is the most popular must-have item. The social media on moving devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptop make everyone to become an individual self-media which can release news and share information with each other. The strong functions of smartphones make it can be both platform of new media such as Twitter, Facebook and old media such as TV programs and broadcasting programs via Youtube. And when using digital maps on the smartphones instead of the printed maps, people can navigate routes, share locations and plan trip much easier. In addition to the smartphones, which can be considered as the device supply, the development of GPS is the other key element that contributes to the popularity of locative functions of social media.
Nowadays, location-based service is the most common and basic function that provided by social media, this function makes social media users create much more interaction with each other. There are several different ways that social media present their location-based services, for instance, the basic check-in function on Facebook, which makes users can show their locations; in terms of Instagram, there is a function named Place, when you enter the page, you can choose your new current location or some popular places in the region, and then you can see all of the posts that located in these places. This function makes people could get inspiration and direction when traveling and some useful recommendations as well.
Globally, there are almost three-quarters(74%) of smartphone users get real-time location-based information, (PewResearchCenter, 2012) and the number has been growing with the ownership of smartphone year over year. In addition, in 2012, there were already 18% of mobile phone users use the location-based services through the social media on their phones.
The Microboss on WeChat
WeChat is an emerging social media in these years and it has a large number of users in China. According to the China Statistical Report of Internet Development released by China Internet Network Information Center on Jan 2017(CNNIC, 2017), there are 731 million Internet users in China, and 95% of them use smartphones to access the Internet, and 79.6% of them are using WeChat every day.
WeChat containsmany functions, except the basic communication and entertainment ones, it has a location-based service called People Nearby and it’s very controversy in society for some reasons.
When the WeChat users open People Nearby function, they can see all of the users who have activated this function and browse their profile, in addition, users can choose to see only males or females.
The original attempt of this function was to connect people base on location and make the users have more chance to make friends. However, some of the users use the function in different ways and we can briefly divide them into two parts, for commercial using and sex dating and prostitution.
Nowadays, there are about 15 million WeChat users who are running a personal business on WeChat and they have contributed 360 billion RMB transaction in 2016, and most of them start their business from People Nearby.(Microboss Report, 2016) This kind of businessman is called “Microboss” in China which means they own their small business and are the bosses of themselves. The business on WeChat are various, the users are selling clothing, food, cosmetics and even running some illegal and immoral business such as selling smuggled cigarette and paid essay writing business.
To start a WeChat business, firstly the microboss should upload some pictures of their products to their profile, for example, the food made by themselves, and open the profile to public so that everyone could browse these pictures. Then they will use open the People Nearby function so all of the WeChat nearby users can see them through People Nearby. In addition, they will send a greeting message to these people which may briefly introduce their products. And then WeChat users can contact the microbosses if they want to purchase any products or services, the users can easily pay by digital wallet on WeChat and get their products by express delivery.
In terms of the second use of People Nearby, the sex trade, it is more simple. People who want to conduct sex dating can just upload their selfies and other sexy pictures on their profile and wait for contact from others. Because People Nearby relies on the location-based information, the users from People Nearby could see others’ distance from them so that they can choose any of them to make a sex dating or sex trade.
Legal and ethical issues of LBSs
However, although microboss is very popular on WeChat now, there are still many controversial voices about it because of the legal and ethical issues.
On the one hand, as a kind of digital business based on social media, microbosses don’t have a real store or company, many of them just sell their homemade products and most of the microbosses don’t have any legal business license which means that the products don’t process any legal censor. The products may consist of many safety, authenticity and healthy issues. In addition, some criminals are using People Nearby to defraud
because the digital transaction on WeChat is immediate and doesn’t have any censorship.
Moreover, as mentioned before, there are many paid essay writing services on People Nearby in the other countries, especially face to Chinese students. Let’s take Sydney as an example. When I open the People Nearby on my WeChat, I can easily see many paid essay writing services, almost all of them say the essay would be 100% original and promise to pass. This is a terrible situation that makes scholar plagiarizing easily to access. This use of LBSs has already broken the legal and ethical bottom line in the real life.
The locative interface now is processing a rapid growing on social media. Because of the development of smartphones and GPS, the location-based services can be used in many ways, such as location and route sharing, check-in, information sharing and for commercial use. The LBSs have greatly increased the interaction between users on social media and deliver much more information based on geography. However, meanwhile the LBSs consist of some blurry boundaries that have been already broken by some users, they use LBSs to commit crimes or some other unethical activities. In the future, the LBSs would contribute much more functions and meanwhile, it must be censored more critical to avoid illegal and unethical uses.
- Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media, Farman, Jason, 2012
- Understanding social media, Sam Hinton & Larissa Hjorth, 2013
- Three-quarters of smartphone owners use location-based services, PewResearchCenter, KATHRYN ZICKUHR, 2012
- China Statistical Report of Internet Development 2017, CNNIC, http://www.cnnic.net.cn/hlwfzyj/hlwxzbg/hlwtjbg/201701/P020170123364672657408.pdf
- Microboss Report 2016, ASKCI, http://www.askci.com/news/hlw/20160829/16560857934.shtml