I’m off to Redmond tomorrow, having been invited by Marc Smith to attend the Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium. Judging by the documentation from last year’s workshop, it promises to be an interesting gathering.
Here’s my short position paper:
The Social Implications of Location Awareness in ‘Third Places’: Learnings from Aula Helsinki
A large part of mobile messaging traffic is about coordinating face-to-face meetings, many of which take place in so-called third places between home and work. A growing number of mobile social softwares (e.g. Imahima, Dodgeball, Plazes, GeoNotes) allow people to define a physical location, announce their presence in that location, and see who else is now checked in, was there earlier, or plans to head there in the future. However, we know relatively little about how these services actually affect the usage patterns of cafés, bars, and other third places. In our research on the use of the Hunaja (Finnish for ‘honey’) system at Aula’s social club in Helsinki, we found that new forms of serendipity, self-promotion, stalking and avoidance emerged when club members used their mobile phones to check who was in the Aula space. The focus of the talk will be on an ethnographic case study of these emerging social uses of the Hunaja system. The case will be related to the broader social implications of proximity and location sensors in mobile devices. The central argument is that location-awareness services can turn third places into physical buddy lists where comings and goings become ways to change one’s status from ‘online’ to ‘offline.’ To the users, such services can function as symbolic instruments for acquiring and maintaining membership in a community and marking territory; practical tools for optimizing paths in the city to initiate and avoid encounters with specific others; and playful objects for expressing humour and triggering creative social mischief. However, they are also a rich source of misunderstandings and afford ways to purposefully stalk and deceive other users.
Here’s a link to my profile at the MSR SCS2005 site.