Social Navigation and Local Folksonomies: Technical and Design Considerations for a Mobile Information System

Social Navigation and Local Folksonomies: Technical and Design Considerations for a Mobile Information System

Mark Bilandzic (Technische Universität München, Germany) and Marcus Foth (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-208-4.ch005
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Web services such as wikis, blogs, podcasting, file sharing and social networking are frequently referred to by the term Web 2.0. The innovation of these services lies in their ability to enable an increasing number of users to actively participate on the Internet by creating and sharing their own content and help develop a collective intelligence. In this chapter the authors discuss how they use Web 2.0 techniques such as “folksonomy” and “geo-tagging” in a mobile information system to collect and harness the everyday connections and local knowledge of urban residents in order to support their social navigation practices.
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Our physical world holds certain characteristics that enable us to interpret what other people have done, how they behaved, and where they have travelled. Sometimes, we can see traces on physical objects that provide hints about people’s actions in the past. Footprints on the ground left by previous walkers can show us the right way through a forest or, in a library, for example, dog-eared books with well thumbed pages might be worthwhile reading as they indicate the popularity of the text. The phenomenon of people making decisions about their actions based on what other people have done in the past or what other people have recommended doing, forms part of our everyday social navigation (Dourish & Chalmers, 1994). In contrast to physical objects, digital information has no such ‘visible’ interaction history per se. We do not see how many people have listened to an MP3 file or read a Webpage. In a digital environment people do not leave interaction traces, leaving us, according to Erickson and Kellogg (2000), ‘socially blind’. However, the high value placed on social navigation in the physical world has motivated people to start thinking about it as a general design approach for digital information systems as well (A. Dieberger, 1995; A. Dieberger, 1997; Forsberg, Höök, & Svensson, 1998; Svensson, Höök, & Cöster, 2005; Wexelblat & Maes, 1999).

This chapter explores some of the technical and design considerations that underpin the conception and development of a mobile information system called CityFlocks. It enables visitors and new residents of a city to tap into the knowledge and experiences of local residents and gather information about their new environment. Its design specifically aims to lower existing barriers of access and facilitate social navigation in urban places. The technical development phase and the empirical usability research of CityFlocks has been reported elsewhere (Bilandzic, Foth, & De Luca, 2008). The purpose and focus of this chapter is to discuss the underlying design concepts that informed this social software. These concepts are positioned at the intersection of three broad areas of research and development that inform human-centred and participatory methods for designing interactive social networking systems on mobile platforms: social navigation, Web 2.0, and mobile spatial interaction (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

CityFlocks is placed in an interdisciplinary field, embracing topics in social navigation, mobile spatial interaction and Web 2.0 technology


First, the concept of social navigation and how people make use of it in the physical world are examined. Relevant previous studies and examples are discussed that apply social navigation as a design approach, e.g., for virtual information spaces on the Web. Based on the success and popularity of what has now been coined ‘Web 2.0’ services, the second part of this chapter analyses a number of Web development trends that foster participatory culture and the creation and exchange of user generated content. Some of these developments that introduced more and more social interaction and navigation methods to the Web, such as user participation, folksonomy and geo-tagging, were reappropriated to inform the design of CityFlocks. Given new generation mobile phones that allow global positioning, Web 2.0 technologies that were initially aimed to facilitate social navigation on the Web, can now be used to facilitate social navigation in physical places. The third part of the chapter discusses related projects in the field of mobile spatial interaction, a research area covering mobile applications that deal with information related to the user’s surroundings. The review of the aims, strengths and weaknesses of previous research projects in this field refines the research trajectory which guides the development of the CityFlocks prototype and potentially similar mobile information systems. The chapter thus reveals further opportunities and issues regarding social navigation in the context of new generation mobile phone services, the ‘Mobile Web 2.0’ (Jaokar & Fish, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Geo-tagging: An approach which adds latitude and longitude identifiers as metadata to online content. It enables people to embed their information resources such as text, pictures or videos in a specific spatial and semantic context to augment the physical world with virtual information. Such a mediated social environment can help people navigate physical spaces by using location aware mobile devices.

Local Knowledge: Knowledge, or even knowing, is the justified belief that something is true. Knowledge is thus different from opinion. Local knowledge refers to facts and information acquired by a person which are relevant to a specific locale or have been elicited from a place-based context. It can also include specific skills or experiences made in a particular location. In this regard, local knowledge can be tacitly held, that is, knowledge we draw upon to perform and act but we may not be able to easily and explicitly articulate it: “We can know things, and important things, that we cannot tell” (Polanyi, 1966).

Mobile Web 2.0: The suite of systems and mobile devices which either run existing Web 2.0 applications or re-appropriate Web 2.0 characteristics (tagging, user participation, mash-ups, personalisation, recommendations, social networking, collective intelligence, etc.) for the specific context of mobile use and mobile devices.

Mobile Spatial Interaction: The increasing ubiquity of location and context-aware mobile devices and applications, geographic information systems (GIS) and sophisticated 3D representations of the physical world accessible by lay users is enabling more people to access information relevant to their current surroundings. The relationship between users and devices as well as the emerging oportunities and affordances are summarised by the term ‘mobile spatial interaction’.

Folksonomy: In the context of the Web 2.0 discussion, a folksonomy (sometimes also known as a ‘tag cloud’) is a user-generated taxonomy made up of key terms that describe online content. By assigning these freestyle keywords or so-called ‘tags’, the semantics of various information resources can be described in a more flexible, decentralised, collaborative and participatory way than fixed categories allow for. The term has been coined by Thomas Vander Wal.

Social Navigation: The process of guiding activities aimed at determining our position and planning and following a specific route based on what other people have done or what other people have recommended doing. First introduced by Dourish and Chalmers (1994), they describe it as ‘moving towards a cluster of other people, or selecting objects because others have been examining them’.

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