Assessment 3 · Uncategorized

‘Location-based Augmented Reality (AR) technology and online-offline social communications

Yongfang Zhang

Student ID: 450433715

Kai Soh

Thurs 12pm – 3pm


With the advent of smartphones, social media become more mobile, contributing to a convergence of locative, social and mobile technologies, such as location-based services (LBSs), within these electronic device (Hjorth & Hinton, 2013). These technologies have changed the way of communication by reconceptualising the term of community, and have especially blurred the boundaries of virtual and physical communications (Wellman, 2002). This article will look at how location-based social media changes the way people interact and communicate online and offline with the cases of “AR red envelopes” and “Gathering five lucky cards” launched by Alipay, a branch of Alibaba Group, in China.

Location-based services and Augmented Reality

All over the globe, Location-based services (LBSs) can be found in many electronic devices and social media has become indispensable part of our daily life (Hjorth & Hinton, 2013). LBSs are usually been used for navigation, planning, and information delivery (Liao & Humphreys, 2015). With the widespread uses of smartphones, LBSs have expanded to other applications with various functions and experiences. Hjorth & Hinton (2013) points out that with the use of LBSs, social media forms a new way of understanding of space and the creation of places.

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology which integrates the real world into the virtual environment and can be seen as a branch of LBSs since it also uses the location to promote the applications (Liao & Humphreys, 2015). The attributions of AR are mainly three-dimensions, real-time, and interactive, providing a new understanding of interactions and experiences. So it’s not just about augmented space but also the experiencers as well as their feelings towards this technology (Liao & Humphreys, 2015).

‘Location-based Augmented Reality red packets’ campaign


The red envelopes, traditionally, were handed out by elderly people to young generations to show love and express blessings in Lunar New Year. It can be also used among friends in other occasions such as weddings (Fu, 2016). Nowadays, with the development of mobile technology, the widespread use of social apps such as QQ, wechat, have extraordinarily changed the way people process this custom, which transfers from offline to online platforms. Collecting virtual red envelopes has been increasingly pervasive in people’s life across China until 2017 (Fu, 2016). Based on this trend, Alipay, the biggest Chinese third-party online payment platform launched ‘AR red packets’ activity based on LBS technology in December 2016.

This resource retrieved from:, showing how players use AR virtual red envelope in Alipay to find red packets.

The users of AR live-action red packets automatically or deliberately choose a location which reflects in AR world to hide virtual red envelopes on phones, and then upload a picture with clues. People who hide these virtual red packets share these message of clues with players who want to track them. They use app to find and scan the clues and the virtual red packets will appear on phone screens (lin, 2016). Players can use ‘find a AR red packet’ button to locate red packets in near 100 – meter area. In the meantime, LBSs can deal with specific tasks with highly efficient and useful ways (Liao & Humphreys, 2015). So other organizations, companies can use this function to attract people to find red packets near their stores or addresses, enhancing their influences and stimulating interactions between them (merchants and customers).

Alipay aims to use this activity inspired by the Pokémon Go to enhance its sociality and encourage people to transform from totally online to online-offline social interactions and communications. This ‘AR red envelopes’ activity allows both elderly people and young generations to interact more frequently and create a new form of expression of intimacy (Hjorth & Hinton, 2013). For example, I played it with my families and friends in New Year festival, hiding and seeking red envelopes with each other with just phones. It’s almost like ‘hide-seek’ game with much fun, letting every individual to participate in and get closer to each other, especially when you meet strangers or new friends sometimes. In the meantime, Alipay’s AR campaign has imposed huge impacts on business marketing as well as customers, generating new business opportunities by creating new places and space for company leaders and new experiences for customers.

“Five lucky cards collection” activity


Followed by LBS-AR technology, Alipay soon launched “Five lucky cards collection” campaign in Lunar New Year 2017. Actually, they had launched similar activity in January 2015, but 2017 activity added some new features: Except old rules, users can also use LBS-AR technology and play “Ant Forest Game” to collect lucky cards (Federico, 2017).

“The lucky cards collection” in 2017 allows participants to use LBS-AR technology, collecting five different types of cards which represent harmony, patriotism, prosperity and strength, friendship, and dedication to work respectively. Except these, they also added two new cards: ‘universal blessing’ and ‘pilfer card’, which can replace any of other card you want and ‘stolen’ other friends’ cards who are in your friend lists on phones. To collect virtual cards, you need physically to go to real places where there have words of ‘Fu’, which usually can be found on spring festival scrolls in buildings’ doors and shops. Then, using phones to scan the ‘Fu’ word to get a virtual card. After gathering five virtual cards, you can get a virtual red envelope which contains some yuan (the maximum can be up to 666 yuan). According to Lin (2016), there were more than 100 million people rewarded totally 800 million yuan in New Year’s Eve in 2017.

Online – offline social interactions and communications

According to Fuchs (2014), The Internet has integrated technological network and social network systems together, which called techno-social system, which people’s daily life extremely intertwined with the development of internet technology, especially facing a convergence of locative, social and mobile technologies. Regarding this, the relationships and interactions between online and offline, virtual and physical, spatial and geographical shift and interpenetrate (Wellman, 2002), forming a new entanglements of social relationships in both public and private sphere (Hjorth & Hinton, 2013).

“LBS-AR red packets” and “Five lucky cards collection” activities launched by Alipay are typical examples of online – offline entanglements with the application of LBS-AR technology, showing how this technology penetrated in social media platforms and influenced our social interactions and communications in a different way, which our community networks are diffuse and overlapping in terms of space and places. Meanwhile, people even don’t know one another whom they interact and communicate. This way has created a new concept of community in which social communications should not be limited to traditional boundaries (Wellman, 2002).


Rather than understanding online and offline as separate part of social communications, mobile technologies such as LBSs, AR in social applications and social networked sites (SNSs) make us involve in ‘hybrid’ spaces and multiple experiences of social interactions, presence of identities, and both physically and psychologically expressions. From previous social media research and LBS-AR red packets cases, we can see a huge potential in marketing with using LBS-AR technology in social media. For business organizations such as Alibaba, such technology can continue to be used to improve company’s sociality and expand their social influences. For individuals, involving in such unlimited networked community could enhance their self-identities and build individualized networks. Not only can organizations build their own brand, but also individuals (Wellman, 2002). For my own work, what inspired me a lot is that we can process LBS-AR based activities or little games to encourage people to involve and interact with our social media campaign in future to reach our aim.

On the other hand, some concerns may also exist, such convergence of virtual, actual life style with extensively used AR technology may make some difficulties to differentiate the reality and virtual world. For example, AR red packets players may feel it is easy to receive and hand out red packets with money to other people, while unconsciously ignoring the true amount of money they put in bank cards which binds with phones. In deed, time and attention are two main barriers to adapt and balance new networked community and lifestyles (Boyd, 2012).

Personally, although mobile technologies such as LBS-AR significantly enrich our public and private experiences with ubiquitous internet accessing. Such technologies, however, complicate our life in many ways, distractions for example. After seeing technologies make people go through experiences with offine — online — online & offline journey, people may get tired with all-pervasive technologies and might like to come back to simple life with less technologies used in unknown future.


Hjorth, L., & Hinton, S. (2013). Social, Locative and Mobile Media. In Understanding Social Media (pp. 120–135). London: SAGE.

Liao, T., & Humphreys, L. (2015). Layar-ed places: Using mobile augmented reality to tactically reengage, reproduce, and reappropriate public space. New Media & Society, 17(9), 1418–1435. doi:10.1177/1461444814527734

Boyd, D. (2012). Participating in the always-on lifestyle. The social media reader, 71-76.

Hjorth, L., & Hinton, S. (2013). Introduction to Social Media. In Understanding Social Media (pp. 1–6). London: SAGE.

Fuchs, C. (2014). What Is Social Media? In Social Media: A Critical Introduction (pp. 31–51). SAGE.

Wellman, B., Boase, J., & Chen, W. (2002). The networked nature of community: Online and offline. It & Society, 1(1), 151-165.

Federico, S. (2017). China’s great hongbao war: Why Alipay has always been the real innovator. Retrieved from:

Fu, B. (2016). Millions of People Are Hooked On This Game Where You Give Money Away. Retrieved from:

Lin, Q. (2016). Alipay Ups the Red Envelope Game with AR. Retrieved from:



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