Local Search Applications and Urban Public Space: Interfacing Networked Individualism and Tangible Urbanism

Local Search Applications and Urban Public Space: Interfacing Networked Individualism and Tangible Urbanism

Florian Fischer (Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, Berlin, Germany)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/ijthi.2014010103
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Abstract

Applications based on user-contributed geographic information are expected to re-organise the users' everyday dealings with urban space. This article presents findings from an exploratory study about users of the Austrian local search portal Where2be for students. The study applies an analytical framework to reconstruct the interdependencies of local search applications with the users' experience of urban space. Results indicate that Where2be empowers the marginalized student community for tangible appropriations of public space as a stage for identification. As the experience of the city is shaped by fragmentation, dissolution and restructuring of spatial boundaries, Where2be supports new forms of communal relationships by linking people and places. While Where2be is utilized to conceive attached symbolic meanings of businesses, the relevance of distance-driven locational factors, like visibility, might be softened in favour of findability on local search platforms. Results add to groundwork for future research hypotheses, and implications for urban socio-spatial development.
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Aims and Scope

This article presents findings from an exploratory study about the local search portal Where2be.at, operated in Salzburg, Austria. Two general research questions led the study:

  • 1.

    What kind of practices emerge through the use of Where2be?

  • 2.

    How do these practices intertwine with the users’ appropriation of urban public space?

The research questions are aimed at reconstructing and exploring the interdependencies between Where2be and urban public space in Salzburg. The research questions guide the study in order to reveal and re-contextualize how meaning is constructed in the use of Where2be, referring to the users’ conceptions of urban public space.

The key objectives of this article are:

  • 1.

    Elaborate and explore a conceptual and analytical framework to direct future research on the interdependence of geomedia and urban public space (see chapters Analytic Framework and Discussion)

  • 2.

    Develop points of reference for future testable hypothesis about the interdependence of geomedia and urban public space (see chapter Conclusion)

The article introduces the platform Where2be firstly and elaborates an analytical framework to understand the use of local search applications in the urban context. The framework puts local search applications in relationship to urban public space on a basis of reception studies and a concept of social appropriation of space (Lefebvre, 1991; Backhaus & Müller, 2006). It provides groundwork to design the methodology and to analyze the results. Then the article outlines the methodological approach of the study and summarizes and discusses the main findings. Finally, possible limitations of the study are identified and a conclusion is drawn on potential implications and hypothesis for future research.

Where2be

The local search platform ’Where2be – Studentslife in Salzburg’ (http://www.Where2be.at) was established for students to communicate relevant places for quotidian activities in the city of Salzburg, Austria. The platform was initiated within a student project group at Salzburg University. At the time of the study the platform recorded a number of over 1,000 users who were active at least once a month. Where2be offers information about more than 150 localities in Salzburg, covering sports, events, parks, shops, bars and restaurants. The portal provides a mapping of all related localities. The content is partly maintained by an editorial team. Users can comment on every locality (see Figure 2), connect with each other and send messages. Furthermore a locality can be tagged as a favorite that is then displayed on the user’s profile. Concurrently the information box indicates those user-names (see dotted ellipse in Figure 2), notifying an asynchronous co-presence of other users. A regular newsletter informs about current events and offers. Where2be concentrates on students as there are no other relevant information media for this audience in Salzburg at the moment. According to the editor-in-chief, the actual user-community as well as the editorial team consists of students. The editors geo-code localities and indicate a description, special offers, contact details and business hours for each locality.

Figure 2.

User interface of Where2be (© 2013, where2be.at. Used with permission)

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