Monday, April 18, 2011

Types of Geotargetted Information

Last week, I was presenting on my research on geotargetted information delivered via mobile devices. I claimed that mobile applications were revolutionary in their ability to detect a user's location and then return content about that location.

Humans have a long history of delivering information pertaining to a location at the specific location. So I was careful not to claim they were the first such medium to do this. But I do think mobile devices (including GPS devices) are only medium other than humans that can customize the content based on the user.

The scope of geotargetted information can range from the country to the building level. Generally, this type of technology strives for content geographically relevant from the exact location (footprint) of users to a few blocks in their vicinity.

Below is a list of sources both that are permanently affixed to a location (or move seldom) to one's that can pass through a location.

I've included sources still used today and some historical ones (including phone booth directories, remember those?). The messages that these media convey can range from the simple (e.g. one-word territory marker or a sale ad) to the complex (e.g. lengthy histories or narratives). Although some of my examples below are used largely for advertising and are not exclusively used for geotargetted information, they do have potential for other forms as well.

Permanently situated sources (or semi-permanent):

  • signs or notes (e.g. store signs, trail markers, etc.)
  • posters (sanctioned or non-official
  • graffiti
  • plaques (e.g. on building, in cement, on pole)
  • plaques directing to call specific phone numbers (e.g. per murmur project)
  • street signs, lamp post signs
  • phone directories in phone booths
  • info or help desks/booths people (e.g. at a mall, museum, visitor centre)
  • electronic directories or guides
  • billboards
  • media facades
  • sandwich boards
  • screens and monitors
  • sculptures
  • flags

Transient sources:

  • word of mouth
  • walking tours (e.g. lead by guide)
  • audio tours
  • books, e-books (e.g. guidebooks, history books, novels)
  • guestbooks
  • maps, atlases, chartspamphlet (e.g. local sites)
  • personal memories
  • newspapers (local or otherwise)
  • GPS devices
  • website (whether accessed via a mobile device or laptop)
  • geocoded user-generated content (e.g. photographs, tweets, reviews)

I'd love to know of any further examples, case studies, or research in this area.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Update on My Research Plans

Yesterday, I presented for my faculty an update on my research status. It includes my intended research topic and plans.

I got some great feedback and even more things to read and even more angles to consider. I was originally very keen to examine how a given mobile application/site's interface and interactions affects usage and could possibly be improved. I've been encouraged to focus on advancing theory more so than any possible applied findings. But two of my panelists, both professors at iSchool encouraged me to continue with an applied focus too.

The presentation here as a stronger focus on the background theory and possible contributions therein.

To see the speaker notes, click through to the actual full presentation on Google and click to open the speaker notes pop-up.

Any suggestions thoughts would be great.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Mobile Experience Innovation Centre

The Mobile Experience Innovation Centre (MEIC) held their inaugural annual general meeting this week in Toronto.

MEIC began as a research project in 2007 at OCAD University and has grown now to be an independent, non-profit organization that fosters research and industry development of mobile technology and media in Ontario.

The meeting was precided by the incomparable and apparently never-exhausting Sara Diamond, OCADU's president. She clearly takes a particular interest in the area based on her ongoing championing of MEIC and her regular presence at mobile events.

Over the years, MEIC has lead research projects, sponsored events, and supported start-ups. But it now appears poised to grow into a major force in the Canadian and international mobile sector. Other than a vision to support the sector in Ontario, MEIC has the required level of partnerships (and funding) from a variety of government, education, major corporations and start-ups to actually achieve their goals.

Personally, I'm glad to see MEIC's continued presence. I've been attending MEIC events for over a year as they have consistently offered great speakers and timely topics. There are other tech groups that meet in Toronto, but I've found that they are usually an excuse for non-stop schmoozing with no original discussion and often not even a speaker. So I have found MEIC refreshingly relevant and focused.

Socially and economically, I believe MEIC is direly need to foster Ontario and Canada's tech sector. With the lure of the larger markets and buckets of VC down south and successive indifferent governments, Canada's tech sector has not been all it could be. Mobiles really are the next BIG thing, so it is important we create an enviousness that allows academic research to see fruition and for innovation to develop and remain local.

MEIC has already had some success through their mentorship and incubator programs. The AGM offered presentations by two success stories: Guardly and Normative Labs.

Guardly has launched its mobile, security application on iPhone's App store this week (as covered by a good article in TechCrunch, Guardly Watches Your Back, From The Mean Streets Of Toronto). Guardly, in a nutshell, facilitates coordination of officials and friends in the event the mobile user has an emergency. As a parent with a daughter that will no doubt have a mobile device before even reaching highschool, I think there is tremendous value for such an application. I can also see it being popular with caregivers of seniors, the seriously ill, or cognitively disabled people.

Normative Labs also presented on their findings based on their mobile applications the game Red Rover and an app for public-monitoring of surveillance. They found some interesting observation about how people document their world and the role of game-playing in facilitating location-based app usage.

In addition to supporting start-ups, MEIC also has efforts to support the larger mobile sector. One such effort is a report on the status of Ontario's mobile sector for Canada's trade commissioners - which will be of interest more locally as well. More individually, they have events planned for skills training, such as workshops and bootcamps (not cheap, however), and conferences that examine contemporary industry trends and research.

Several working groups were set up at the AGM to cover mobile-related policy, national and international outreach, trends, programs, and start-ups. I signed up for a working group to foster and promote academic and industry research. My research clearly fits well with the goals of MEIC and it's great to have a venue for academic insight to reach beyond the fabled ivory towers, as well as to provide ties to industry that can make use of such research.

I'm hopeful that MEIC will be prove beneficial personally and provincially!

Monday, April 04, 2011


Place is no longer a brackdrop for our information seeking, creation, and sharing. As I have blogged about there are multiple location-based mobile apps. Such apps enable information to be customized based on a user’s geographic position. Various commercial applications and research projects have shown users value geographic relevance in their information seeking scenarios.

For location-based services to function, three components must be in place: 1) the ability to discern a mobile user’s location 2) the ability to discern the geographic footprint of desired resources 3) the ability to determine the geographic relevance of resources to the user's query (e.g. proximity).

Documents and texts from fiction to non-fiction are rich with geographic references whether as subject, setting, or - in all cases - the location of the publication or production. But the geographic details of most information is not explicitly stated - or if it is stated, it is not done so in a manner that is ideal for location-based services.

To make the geographic footprint (i.e. the location on Earth that a document references) explicit, georeferencing presents an optimal solution. Methods such as a keyword or title search, for instance, may not provide sufficient detail. Place names found in text may be ambiguous, antiquated, vague, overly broad, or implied (e.g. the capital of Canada). I believe that georeferencing is therefore essential for location-based services.

Georeferencing is the ability to relate geographic location to information. This may come from a textual reference to place in the body of a document or as a geospatial metadata. Georeferencing can be performed through automation or human effort by information professionals or users.

The online service Flickr offers both types and is a leading source of georeferenced data on the Web. Photographs can be automatically georeferenced through metadata captured by users' digital cameras or smartphone cameras. Additionally, Flickr users can georeference their photographs by adding a place name tag to their photograph or by using a map interface provided to plot the geographic coordinates.

Information professionals can manually georeference information resources adding relevant longitude and latitude metadata, yet this neither sufficiently scales nor does it captures people’s nuanced understandings of place. Existing commercial applications such as Foursquare, Facebook Places, and Gowalla offer a model of collaborative, social systems and interfaces that facilitate large-scale georeferencing.

So as one of my research areas, I'm wondering if such social model would work for digital information sources? This could apply not only to digital libraries or archives but also newspapers, Wikipedia, etc? Folksonomies have proven effective for generating this similar metadata? Would it work for georeferencing?