Saturday, November 23, 2013

Creating Counter Maps & Shared Geographies with Locative Media

Three months ago, I switched my PhD advisor and with it comes a new direction in my work.  My focus is still on locative media and sense of place (as with my prior research and publishing on this topic). But now I'm looking at how people are using the features of locative media (a.k.a location-based services) to define their own place, share this with others (i.e. friends or the public) and thereby shape their sense of place.

As this is a new angle on the topic, I'd love to hear people's feedback. Below is a summary of the major strands in my current work:


Having a relationship to the places we encounter and inhabit is considered a foundational human experience (Heidegger, 1996). As we interact and learn about places, we bestow meaning on such places, forming the mental concept of a sense of place (Tuan, 1976; Relph, 1977). Scholars have examined how various factors, such as individual attitudes, memories, values, interests and aesthetic sensibility shape how individuals form a sense of place (Steele, 1981). Sense of place is more than merely perception of physical stimuli and a conception of place as a meaningful location; it can be an embodied and metaphysical experience, shaping our notions of existence in the world.

For over forty years, scholars have discussed the conditions of modern life that make establishing or maintaining a positive sense of place difficult. Two of the main threats are considered to be contemporary urban planning and architecture (Jacobs, 1992; Relph, 1976) and international and domestic migrations (Connerton, 2009). Connerton (2009) and Farham (2012) argue that a deeper knowing of a place assists in forming a sense of place, yet various forces have resulted in people either forgetting or never knowing information about places that would aid in forming sense of place.

Humans have created and used information about places since prehistory, whether in the form of crude maps drawn in the sand or cave drawings of hunting grounds, to guide their experiences and knowledge of the world (Garfield, 2012; Jacob, 2006). Yet the information about locations that are readily available has often been hegemonic (Bidwell & Winschiers-Theosphilus, 2012; Farham, 2012; Thompson, 2007). The production and distribution of geographic information has been restricted for centuries as a means to control the masses (Crampton, 2008; Harley, 2001; Monmonier, 1996). In addition, map-making has traditionally been a professional activity, dominated by an elite with specialized training and credentials and access to necessary software and data (Tulloch, 2007)

Social critics such as Debord have been critical of such hegemonic control over place information and representation, noting that officials create a false notion amongst the public that the places they encounter are void of meaning: “On this spot nothing will ever happen, and nothing ever has” (Debord, 1983, p. 177). Debord asserts that forces of power attempt to create apathy in citizens by denuding spaces of their meaning. Debord and the psychogeographic movement he founded in the 1960s have staged interventions to counter these forces (in the forms of dérives and détournements, see Debord, 1956a and Debord, 1956a). More recently, critical geography scholars have cried for more open and egalitarian access to the power to define our spaces, such as Harvey’s notion of the “the right to the city” (2008), Soja’s “spatial justice” concept (2010), or Kitchen, Linehan, O’Callaghan, and Lawton’s “public geographies” (2013).

Concurrent to hegemonic geographical information, people have continued to produce and share their own accounts and interpretations of places through various means. The advent of open-access geographic data and mapping software (such as Google Earth or OpenStreetMaps) combined with distributed access to the Internet (this suite of resources is often called the “geoweb”, see Corbett, 2013) have made it more feasible for people to create and share their own geographic information. This practice, whether conducted on a desktop computer or a mobile device, can take the form of participatory mapping (Corbett, 2013; Tulloch, 2007) or participatory geographic information systems (Dunn, 2007; Elwood, 2006; Young, 2013). Such participatory efforts can consists not only of adding locations or descriptive data to a map or GIS software, but can also apply to place information, and can take the form of narratives, personal reflections, or imagery related to a given place.

One form of participatory mapping is counter mapping. Counter mapping was inspired by Bunge’s work in the 1970s. Bunge mapped urban poverty in the United States. Scholars using counter mapping took Bunge’s social justice objectives to help marginalized groups argue for territorial or socio-political claims (Rundstrom, 2009). The method involves specialists in cartography, geographic information systems, and/or place-based narratives (e.g. anthropologists, geographers, cartographers) working with groups to define and map their places and routes and to describe their associations and relationships with these places (Rundstrom, 2009). Counter mapping has frequently been conducted to support indigenous people’s land rights claims (e.g., Cooke, 2003; Corbett, 2013; Harrison, 2011; Hodgson, 2002; Peluso, 1995). Recent studies have extended counter mapping to new groups and locales, such as minority children in ghettoized urban locations (Taylor, 2013) and conservation efforts in protected, wilderness areas (Harris, & Hazen, 2006). Taylor’s study appears to be one of the first studies to use mobile devices with GPS in the creation of counter maps.

Conceptually similar to counter maps, but with differing objectives is the concept of shared geographies. The term “shared geographies”, although not a standard term, is used in human geography studies to denote groups sharing and collectively creating information and representations of place (e.g., Barker & Pickerill, 2012; Gatrell, 2002; Taylor, 2009). The degree of sharing and openness can be seen as within a continuum from fully public to privately shared geographies. Barkhuus, Brown, Bell, Sherwood, Hall & Chalmers (2008) elaborate: “Private geographies are the mutual sense of different places that a social group share and which differentiate that group from others. The private geography allows members of a group to draw upon ‘shared in-common’ senses of different places, and what those places mean for the group”. As with Taylor’s study, Barkhuus et al. appear to be one of the first studies to examine how people are using locative technology to create shared geographies.

Geoweb technologies combined with emerging mobile, locative technology are increasingly helping people to capture and preserve a diverse range of information on place, virtually tie it to that place, and broadcast it to others. Although locative media is not without precedent amongst other media forms in this ability, recent scholarship is beginning to identify the unique aspects of locative media. The defining aspect of locative media is its ability to recognize its physical location and customize user experiences and content accordingly (Brimicombe & Li, 2009). Locative media also offers the possibility of a multiplicity of content and of ubiquity of access (Farham, 2013). Schianchi in her work with locative media (2013) identifies two of its unique qualities: 1) its ability to subvert physical laws, such as gravity and portability, and 2) its ability to subvert property laws, such as copyright, territory, and access. Farham has examined how locative media by brining the virtual and physical together for people has created a new form of embodied sense of place (2013). Despite the increasing growth in the use of mobile locative media (Zickuhr, 2012), the role of this technology may have upon our relationships to place has not been fully studied.

Locative media has been shown to provoke new interpretations and relationships with place through creative and playful interaction with place (Hjorth, 2011; Lemos, 2011; McGarrigle, 2010) as well as artistic interventions (Lodi, 2013; Schianchi, 2013). It is also increasingly being seen as a means to counter hegemonic representations (de Souza & Hjorth, 2009, Gazzard, 2011; Hjorth, 2011; Farham, 2012; Lapenta, 2011; Shirvanee, 2006).

Through the creation of shared geographies and counter maps via locative media people are able to create and share their own information and representations of their spaces in powerful and meaningful ways. Such acts may have the potential to shape a person’s relationship to their places and ultimately their sense of place.

This leads to my research questions:
  1. How do people use locative media to create counter-maps and shared geographies?
  2. How, and in what ways, does such use of locative media affect an individual’s sense of place?
As I mentioned, I'd love to hear people's reaction to this topic and to get any suggestions for useful literature or groups using locative media in this way.


Barker, A. J., & Pickerill, J. (2012). Radicalizing relationships to and through shared geographies: Why anarchists need to understand indigenous connections to land and place. Antipode, 44(5), 1705–1725.

Barkhuus, L., Brown, B., Bell, M., Sherwood, S., Hall, M. & Chalmers, M. (2008). From awareness to repartee: Sharing location within social groups. In Proceedings of the Twenty-sixth Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 497–506). New York, NY: ACM.

Bidwell, N. J., & Winshiers-Theophilus, H. (2012). Extending connections between land and people digitally: Designing with rural Herero communities in Namibia. In E. Giaccardi (Ed.), Heritage and social media: Understanding heritage in a participatory culture (pp. 197–216). New York, NY: Routledge.
Brimicombe, A., & Li, C. (2009). Location-based services and geo-information engineering. Chichester, UK: Wiley.
Connerton, P. (2009). How modernity forgets. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Cooke, F. M. (2003). Maps and counter-maps: Globalised imaginings and local realities of Sarawakʼs plantation agriculture. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 34(2), 265–284.
Corbett, J. (2013). “I don’t come from anywhere”: Exploring the role of the geoweb and volunteered geographic information in rediscovering a sense of place in a dispersed aboriginal community. In D. Sui, S. Elwood, & M. Goodchild (Eds.), Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge (pp. 223–241). New York, NY: Springer.
Crampton, J. W. (2008). Will peasants map? Hyperlinks, map mashups, and the future of information. In J. Turow & L. Tsui (Eds.), The hyperlinked society: Questioning connections in the digital age (pp. 206–226). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Debord, G. (1956a). Theory of the dérive. (K. Knabb, Trans.) Situationist International Online. Retrieved from
Debord, G. (1956b). User’s guide to détournement, a. (K. Knabb, Trans.) Situationist International Online. Retrieved from
Debord, G. (1983). The society of the spectacle. Detroit, MI: Black and Red.
De Souza e Silva, A., & Hjorth, L. (2009). Playful urban spaces. Simulation & Gaming, 40(5), 602 –625.
Dunn, C. E. (2007). Participatory GIS -- a people’s GIS? Progress in Human Geography, 31(5), 616–637.
Elwood, S. (2006). Critical issues in participatory GIS: Deconstructions, reconstructions, and new research directions. Transactions in GIS, 10(5), 693–708.

Elwood, S. (2010). Geographic information science: Emerging research on the societal implications of the geospatial web. Progress in Human Geography, 34(3), 349–357.

Farman, J. (2012). Mobile interface theory: Embodied space and locative media. New York, NY: Routledge.
Garfield, S. (2012). On the map: A mind-expanding exploration of the way the world looks. New York,  NY: Penguin.
Gatrell, J. D. (2002). Policy spaces: Applying Lefebvrian politics in neo-institutional spaces. Space and Polity, 6(3), 327–342.
Gazzard, A. (2011). Location, location, location: Collecting space and place in mobile media. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 17(4), 405–417.
Harley, J. B. (2001). The new nature of maps : Essays in the history of cartography. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Harrison, R. (2011). “Counter-mapping” heritage, communities and places in Australia and the UK. In J. Schofield & R. Szymanski (Eds.), Local Heritage, Global Context: Cultural Perspectives on Sense of Place (pp. 79–98). Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Harris, L., & Hazen, H. D. (2006). Power of maps: (Counter)-mapping for conservation. ACME: An International e-Journal for Critical Geographies, 4(1), 99–130.

Harvey, D. (2008). The right to the city. New Left Review, (53), 23–40.

Heidegger, M. (1996). Being and time. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Hjorth, L. (2013).  The place of the emplaced mobile: A case study into gendered locative media practices. Mobile Media & Communication, 1(1), 110–115.

Hodgson, D. L. (2002). Dilemmas of counter-mapping community resources in Tanzania. Development and Change, 33(1), 79–100.
Jacob, C. (2006). The sovereign map. University of Chicago Press.
Jacobs, J. (1992). The death and life of great American cities. New York, NY: Vintage.

Kitchin, R., Linehan, D., O’Callaghan, C., & Lawton, P. (2013). Public geographies through social media. Dialogues in Human Geography, 3(1), 56–72.

Lapenta, F. (2011). Geomedia: On location-based media, the changing status of collective image production and the emergence of social navigation systems. Visual Studies, 26(1), 14–24.

Lemos, A. (2011). Pervasive computer games and processes of spatialization: Informational territories and mobile technologies. Canadian Journal of Communication, 36(2), 277–294.

Lodi, S. (2013). Spatial art: An eruption of the digital into the physical. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 19(2). Retrieved from

McGarrigle, C. (2010). The construction of locative situations: Locative media and the Situationist International, recuperation or redux?. Digital Creativity, 21(1), 55–62.

Monmonier, M. S. (1996). How to lie with maps (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Peluso, N. L. (1995). Whose woods are these? Counter-mapping forest territories in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Antipode, 27(4), 383–406.

Rundstrom, R. (2009). Counter-mapping. In (R. Kitchin & N. Thrift, Eds.) International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

Relph, E.  (1976). Place and placelessness. London, UK: Pion.

Taylor, K. (2013). Counter-mapping the neighborhood on bicycles: Mobilizing youth to reimagine the city. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 18(1-2), 65–93.

Thompson, C. (2007). Smile when you’re lying: Confessions of a rogue travel writer. Ney York, NY: Holt.

Tulloch, D. L. (2007). Many, many maps: Empowerment and online participatory mapping. First Monday, 12(2). Retrieved from

Schianchi, A. (2013). Location-based virtual interventions: transcending space through mobile augmented reality as a field for artistic creation. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 19(2). Retrieved from

Shirvanee, L. (2006). Locative viscosity: Traces of social histories in public space. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 14(3-4). Retrieved from

Soja, E. W. (2010). Seeking spatial justice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Steele, F. (1981). The sense of place. Boston, MA: CBI Pub.

Taylor, B. (2009). “Place” as prepolitical grounds of democracy: An Appalachian case study in class conflict, forest politics, and civic networks. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(6), 826–845.

Tuan, Y. (1977). Space and place: The perspective of experience. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Veronesi, F., & Gemeinboeck, P. (2009). Mapping footprints: A sonic walkthrough of landscapes and cultures. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 15(3), 359–369.

Young, J. C. (2013). The spatial politics of affect and emotion in participatory GIS. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(4), 808–823.

Zickuhr, K. (2012). Three-quarters of smartphone owners use location-based services. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mobile Apps & Sites Usability Top 10 Tips

This Thursday is World Usability Day, so in honour of that I thought I'd share my top ten list of mobile website and application usability tips.

My tips are just the tip of the iceberg - but surprisingly frequently missed. As with all digital media usability issues, Jakob Nielsen is the definitive source.

Mobile Usability Top Ten Tips:

  1. Mobile deserves its own design - shrunken web is not acceptable
  2. Load quickly 
  3. Reduce or avoid images on main pages 
  4. Simplify navigation 
  5. Make buttons BIG
  6. Condense text - either by writing shorter copy or chunking up into paragraphs
  7. Make most common info very easy to find (e.g., phone number, directions, event listings) 
  8. Have only horizontal or vertical scrolling, not both
  9. Make input easy  - user input is difficult on mobile devices (other than touching) when possible do things for the user automatically and minimize / avoid the need to type in anything
  10. KISS - Keep it simple stupid - this is almost always true in all user experiences but in the reduced display of mobile devices and challenging user input, this maxim is even more true
I realize that user testing is rarely down in digital media production, and of course it's always necessary. But considering how absolutely awful and impossible to use some mobile websites and apps are, it often seems like even the developers haven't tried out their designs on a device. And I don't mean test them out on tablets as the user experience on these are much better than on tiny smartphones. Try it out all mobile designs on a mobile device that's a couple years old - as this is what a lot of customers are using. 

And if in doubt, consult a professional.