Africa, Technology and its narratives

On September 1-2, 2017, I attended  the conference “Strategic Narratives of Technology and Africa” in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. There was a great keynote by Nanjira Sambuli the opening morning of the event. I’ve learned a bunch of interesting and new things about technology and postcolonial theories, in Africa, that I would like to share. Some quick notes below about themes I learned during the conference presentations and discussions:

Nanjira Sambuli

– there are about 200 tech hubs in Africa
– Telkom (South Africa) is Africa’s largest communications company and wi-fi provider
– Internet increasingly equals social media in the African context
– there is a growing colonisation of Internet by corporate social media
– Facebook has 170 million African users in 2017 (42% increase since 2015)
-Facebook opened an office in Johannesburg in 2015
“Platformization of Internet” (Helmond, 2015)
– The keynote speaker Nanjira provided a thought-provoking talk about narratives in the western newspapers about technology in Africa, in which dualisms or dangerous comparisons are constantly made: more mobile mobile phones than light bulbs, more mobile phones than toilets, more mobile phones than toothbrushes. She asks how these comparisons help in policymaking? Do the these questions make sense at all? Do they regard context? She also encouraged scholars and *journalists* to stop using these narratives.

Nanjira Sambuli on the “siliconization of the narrative”

– The keynote speaker Nanjira also talked about how the narratives about technology in Africa are also shaped by Silicon Valley. In her terms: “siliconization of the narrative”. She also encouraged scholars to stop using these narratives.
– Postcolonial/decolonial approaches help to situate “platformisation” of the web in global context.
– There was a discussion about the term “participation”, and “participatory design” and the problematization of such terms. One of the speakers suggested another presenter to read the book “Participation: the New Tyranny” by Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari.
– Mobile phones are the primary devices in Africa, but there are so many tasks one cannot do on a phone. It does not contribute to the scenario of creators, it is terrible for the continent.
– 90% of the tech investment in Africa has 1 European or North-American as a founder.
– M-Pesa (M for mobile, pesa is Swahili for money) is a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service, launched in 2007 by Vodafone for Safaricom and Vodacom, the largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania. It has since expanded to Afghanistan, South Africa, India and in 2014 to Romania and in 2015 to Albania.
– M-PeSA was created in Africa
– Customized products for the “Global South”: Facebook Lite, Facebook Zero, Free Basics (24 African countries)
Free Basics – a mobile app created by Facebook – has since its 2015 launch been hailed by the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the “first step towards digital equality” due to its audacious plan to “introduce” millions of people to the internet, many of whom live in developing countries such as Kenya and Ghana. However, Free Basics has been criticized for violating net neutrality.
– Materiality of mobile phones/specificity of the object/ mobile diaries – each person has a different phone – (memory, battery)
– “In precolonial Africa, movement creates space.” Achille Mbembe
– “Africa isn’t poor, just mismanaged.” Nanjira Sambuli

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Location, location, location: doing research on the island of Madeira, Portugal

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After living the last four years in Austin, Texas, I moved two weeks ago to the sub-tropical island of Madeira, part of Portugal territory. A few scholars I have recently met here claim that this place is a “research paradise”, after all this is full of beaches, mountains (great for hiking or levadas, as locals say in Portuguese), and over four types of maracujá (passion fruit, in English), which is by the way my favourite fruit.

The “research” aspect of the paradise is justified by the existence of the innovative Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (M-iti), where I am currently working with Dr. Valentina Nisi as a Postdoctoral Researcher. The institute is very international and it is focused on the field of HCI (Human-Computer Interaction). So, one can write academic papers, while looking into the sea and drinking all sort of maracujá-flavoured beverages (tea, fresh juice, cocktails); the passion fruit has naturally a tranquilizing effect. And the best about this place: unlike other beautiful cities around the world, the cost of living is very affordable!

The institute is a great fit for me, because Dr. Valentina works also with location-aware storytelling, the theme of my doctoral dissertation (see my older posts). In fact, along with an interdisciplinary group of scholars, grad students, and interns at M-iti, I am working on a project called Beanstalk that has a very strong location-based component. The idea is to disseminate the natural capital (e.g.: the number of endemic plants and its relevance) of Madeira through a package of location-aware tools, such as mapping and tracking. The project is also transmedia, which briefly means that Beanstalk will deliver content through different platforms. For example: 1) A location-based fictional story is being prepared to be accessed through a mobile app, which will enable tourists and locals to follow a footpath in the island and learn about certain places. 2) A webpage with video interviews with experts on Madeira’s flora as well as with residents who possess local knowledge about medicinal endemic plants is also part of Beanstalk.

If you want to learn more or follow the progress of Beanstalk, please visit this website:

Are you curious enough to read this article about curiosity?

You might take for granted the term “curiosity” after all it is a banal word that we say all the time. However, have you ever stopped to think what exactly it means? Did you know that once upon a time curiosity shaped discourse, literature, news, and an entire society? Curiosity has also played a role in our well-being and happiness! What about sayings such as “the curiosity killed a cat”?

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, in Europe, curiosity was fashionable and people mentioned it endless much more than today. It was claimed to have unprecedented importance of being even the antecedent to all action or knowledge acquisition. That must be one of the reasons NASA named its car-sized robotic rover that explores Mars “Curiosity”  because the term fundamentally evokes the origin of science. Also, the Blanton Museum of Art of The University of Texas at Austin launched a #curiositywelcome guerilla marketing campaign for brand awareness, and was quite successful at gaining followers on social media. Others examples of how the discourse of curiosity resonates today, especially in Media, are sites such as: and

During the 17th and 18th centuries, curiosity was not used simply as a word but as a whole culture. Curiosity meant something like ‘inquisitiveness’ or ‘desire for knowledge’. However, being derived from the Latin etymon cura (care, diligence, anxiety, fastidiousness), the word sometimes had anything to do with desire for knowledge. Also, ‘curiosity’ could denote or connote a ‘desire to do or discover things that go beyond one’s allotted role in life. There is a negative tone attributed to curiosity that, according to several scholars, began in the Bible, symbolized by the forbidden apple, the “fruit of knowledge”.

Even today, there remains a discrepancy of moral evaluation between what many people might say about curiosity. Some might find it negative by confusing it with gossip. The negative historical tone of curiosity generated the saying “the curiosity killed a cat”. Such tone started being used in literature as way to shape narrative. Many authors used the bad male examples of curiosity in their narratives by creating famous characters: Doctor Faust, Oedipus, Orpheus (he lost Eurydice to Hades by glancing back at her). Albert Camus and many other writers only had to mention a certain name – “such as Icarus- for a particular narrative of curiosity to be evoked in the minds of many readers or listeners.”

On the other hand, recent research has already proved that one of the ingredients to achieve happiness in life is to be curious about the world around you. “Paul Silvia, a social psychologist, for example, doubts that curiosity kills too many cats.” In a psychology study published in 2007, Todd Kashdan and Michael Steger found that participants monitored their own daily activities, as well as they felt in a diary, those who frequently felt curious on a given day also experienced the most satisfaction with their life. Curiosity is here highly related with growth and expansion, with novelty and challenging situations. For instance, imagine now a restaurant you go often but not too often; if you are curious enough you might try a new dish in this restaurant instead of opting for familiarity by choosing the same dish as usual. Kashan explains that if you like the dish is great, if you don’t, you have a story you can use to connect with people. Researchers have found that curious people are rewarded by an “internal growth that takes places regardless the outcome.”

I have found in my own research in Austin, Texas, that people are barely curious about their surroundings, taking their locality for granted and not caring about places, history, architecture, stories, or even local news. I have found that technologies such as smartphones are not enough to trigger this curiosity, and this is becoming a sort of research challenging. Have you thought of yourself? Do you consider yourself curious?

One of my hypotheses for this lack of curiosity is that people are increasingly over stimulated in urban spaces due to aggressive advertising, overload of information caused by Internet, and mainly because of the busy lifestyle of modern society. However, even if you do not consider yourself curious, psychologists argue that curiosity can be cultivated. So next time, somebody invite you to dance something exotic like Kizomba or Kuduro, or even to try a hamburger made of snake do not think twice. Go for it, without fear, be curious, be happy!


If after reading this, you want to know how I applied curiosity into Locative Media and also to find the references click here



An Ethnographic View of Monmouthpedia, World’s First Wikipedia Town


Monmouth is a historical town in Wales, within 2 miles (3.2 KM) of the border with England. Last year, in August, I decided to visit the town to understand the deployment of QRcodes in buildings with Wikipedia articles. Since I was studying locative media and were looking for potential case studies, I thought that would be worth seeing. I was in Lisbon, Portugal, for one month. So I flew from there to the international airport of Bristol, in the evening of July 31 2012.  From Bristol, I got a train to Newport, Wales. I spent the night there and in the morning I took a bus to Monmouth. On the bus, I noticed two young people had headphones on and were using smartphones. One of them was using a Samsung phone. However,throughout the whole journey, I noticed then that the Chinese brand HTC is very well used in the United Kingdom.  It seems like iPhones over there are not so pervasive as here in the United States.

After one hour on the bus, I arrived in Monmouth. I was eager to see the QRcodes, but I walked through downtown and went to the hotel, where I had a reservation. As soon as I checked in the hotel I introduced myself to the receptionist, a young woman in her twenties. I told her why I went to Monmouth by explaining that I was doing research about Monmouthpedia. Politely enough, she paid attention to what I was saying, but she had no idea what I was talking about. She was not aware of the deployment of QRcodes to access Wikipedia articles in historical buildings and commercial stores in the town, including the hotel where she was working. Having felt a bit embarrassed, she explained that she was not a local and had moved to the town recently.

My second interaction was with a sales assistant, in a store, also a young lady. Unlike the receptionist, she had heard of “Monmouthpedia”, but she never had tried it, because she did not have a smartphone to scan the codes. It is worth noting that this store is located in the main road of the downtown, where there are Cafés, restaurants and all sort of stores. On this street, the majority of stores had blue stickers of small QRcodes on their show windows. However, many of them were not visible. I talked to two employees of a drug store with a blue sticker of QRcodes. While one had no idea about the codes, the other had tried it and could see a value on it.

Drawing on my one week of observations and informal conversations I had with residents and tourists in Monmouth, I concluded that many people did not have a smartphone there. Some locals did not have even a mobile phone. An older woman said to me: “the mobile phone is the most unsocial thing I have seen…” Another woman said she was not interested in QRcodes because she was a local and knew everything about local places.

On the other hand,  I also concluded that kids are more willing to use these codes. According to a sales assistant of a shoes store, usually kids scan more the codes than adults. She also saw a group of Japanese tourists using the codes to learn more about places.

Types of QR Codes in Monmouth


I saw four types of manufactured QRcodes in Monmouth: 1) a glass sticker which is made of an adhesive blue plastic and is commonly stuck onto stores show windows, 2) a rectangular tile with a size of 12 cm X 22 cm, usually  stuck on historical/listed buildings, 3) a printed out on paper, used in the ShireHall, a listed building and also center of tourist information, and 4) QRcodes stuck on books, with additional information about the author.


1) Access: Many people do not own smartphones being unable to scan the codes. Moreover, free WiFi is not available. It is not very likely that tourists will use the roaming service just to scan a QRcode.

2) Visibility: Some QRcodes are not easily visible. I had to look carefully for many of them.

3) Context: Some of the QRcodes available are not created to convey context. They function simply as key words, offering definitions that assume most people already know. For instance, a bookstore has a QRcode with the words: “Book”, “Literature”, “Biography”, and “Fiction”.  Another example is a drug store that has codes that link to “perfume”, “ prescription”,  “personal care”, “superdrug”.

4) What should be tagged? Only local places? I noticed that international restaurants (e.g: Chinese, Indian) are not tagged with QRcodes, excepting an Italian Restaurant in the main street of downtown, I mentioned before.



What has been tagged

1) Historical/listed buildings, including schools, pubs, churches, libraries

2) Stores (e.g.: shoes, glasses, clothes, health food, real estate agent, butcher, bakeries)

3) Books at the municipal library

4) At Museums (piece of arts, small piece of papers).

5) Restaurants (e.g.: Italian cuisine, antipasto, pizza, pasta). Also the logic of keywords (Italian cuisine, welsh cuisine, seasonal food)

Doing Research in Austin, Texas

Dovesprings is located in the southeast of Austin
Dovesprings is located in the southeast of Austin, Texas

My research combines three different fields: locative media, citizen journalism, and memory studies. Building on the principles of these areas of research, I am proposing a new concept called “locative citizen journalism”, which briefly means the creation of place-based stories by local residents about their locality with a very strong historical, life stories, and memory aspects.

I am currently conducting fieldwork in Austin, Texas. For the purpose of my dissertation, I am taking the approach of “Ethnographic Action Research” (EAR). It merges methods of ethnography with action research, which aims at engaging different stakeholders in the research development.

Following this premise, my professor Dr. Joseph Straubhaar and I have partnered so far with two organizations, in Austin, where I will run workshops with local residents about the creation of local content and upload this content to a website and mobile application called HistoryPin (see more information below). During the process, I will observe, take field notes, interview participants and participate with them in the creation of their stories. To ensure the integrity of participants, I have received approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of The University of Texas at Austin.

Our two partners are River City Youth Foundation (RCYF) and Latinitas. The first is a non-profit organization located at Dove Springs, a very low-income area in the southeast of the city. This neighborhood is Austin’s largest populated youth community, where one of every two households does not have technology access, and the residents are mainly Latinos and African-Americans. Since many of the residents are Spanish speakers only, the organization has a bilingual workforce. In order to bridge this digital gap, Oné Musel-Gilley – the public relations of RCYF – founded the program/event TechComunidad, which is focused on the technology training of parents/adults to capacitate them to guide theirs kid’s education. Sponsored by Dell, TechComunidad granted many families with a Dell tablet in 2012.  Those parents will be the participants of the workshops I will run about mobile/locative media.

Our second partner, Latinitas, is also a non-profit organization founded in 2002, with the aim of teaching young latinas girls media and technology. The organization publishes a magazine and also hosts media enrichment programs.Latinitas will hold summer camps in June and July. My workshop will be integrated in the session “Media is Power” (June 24-28).


The overall goal of these workshops is to help local residents understand their local environment in a holistic way, increase their sense of place (mainly about their neighborhood) in order to raise awareness of their reality in the city as whole. However, it is important to highlight that the workshops will function as focus groups. Therefore, rather than only teaching, my goal is also to learn from the community what matters to be reported, to be remembered in order to change the present and make their present more meaningful. I also plan to observe how they react towards location-based technology in general.


HistoryPin is a great tool for this study, because it is a social mapping website and also a mobile application – available for ISO and Android operating systems – that allows users to pin images, video, and audio clips to Google Maps. Users can include a story about each image and other meta data. It also enables the user to create a channel, where you can manage and customize your content and page. The versatility of HistoryPin facilitates the work and uploading of contents, either on the fly or working at desktop computer. With the mobile app, users can overlay images with Google street view, take walking tours, and see collections. Users are also able to see on the map stories that are near to them, through location disclosure.

Before choosing HistoryPin for this study, I looked at several other applications, such as crowdmap/Ushahidi, local wiki, and Broadcaster. I also talked to the journalism professors Amy Weiss Schmitz – at San Diego University- and Cindy Royal, – then at Texas State University – who have tried some of these apps with their students. After doing the research, I concluded that HistoryPin would be the easiest platform for participants. It has a user-friendly interface, a very little learning curve for pinning.


Some researchers consider the low awareness of HistoryPin a drawback. However, for the purpose of this study, this is a matter of fact. Many past quantitative studies about location-based services have showed that users do not see a benefit in disclosing location and that those services are not reaching the tipping point. Building on that, I also aim to observe how early adopters understand the value of those apps.

HistoryPin is designed by non-profit “We are what we do” in partnership with Google. According to Kevin C. Miller (2013), the platform has about 232, 293 items pinned and about 400,000 visitors per month. It has also 45,000 contributors and 1, 100 institutions.

Why should news organizations care about location-based services?

Reference of this essay: Silva, Cláudia. “Why Should News Organizations Care about Location-Based Services?” Mapping Locative Media. April 16, 2012. Web. Date of Access.


Nowadays, innovation may be a product, which companies must be aware of and produce as any core product that the company offers (Briggs, 2012: p.126). As Mark Briggs states in his book “Entrepreneurial Journalism”, in the digital era every kind of business, including big and small news companies should innovate in order to survive in the competitive new digital scenario. In fact, news industries have embarked on a number of innovation projects, such as social networking, mobile media, games, multimedia feature and partnership with other media (Lowrey, W. 2011: p.65), even though this attempt to innovate is criticized by many scholars (Boczkowski, 2010; Domingo, 2008). For instance, Boczkowski argues that this attempt is “reactive” in a statement made that “quite often newspapers acted only after it seemed evident to key decision makers that relevant technical and social developments had reasonable chance of taking hold, rather than proactively trying to make advantage of them earlier in the game” (Boczkowski 2004, p. 48 quoted by Boczkowski, 2010, p.32). Regardless, innovation has become a crucial asset to the survival of the media industry (Domingo, D. & Schimtz, A. 2010). Much research has been done relating to technology as a source of innovation for news industries. (Boczkowski, P. 2010; Hollifield, C.Ann & Mierzjewska, Bozena I. 2006; Domingo& Schmitz, 2010.) In this sense, “technological innovation has always been a key aspect in the adaptation of journalism to new social and market trends, but it has seldom been the focus of research until the advent of online journalism” (Cottle and Ashton, 1999 quoted by Domigo& Schmitz, 2010. See also Paulussen et al. 2011). The idea of “innovation” has also been frequently surrounded by the concept of disruptive technologies. In the scope of journalism the word itself has been widely used in titles, headlines and articles. defines the word “disruptive” as the cause of disruption, something that cause something to break into pieces. Not only is “disruptive” a word, it is also a concept that was developed by Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School (1997). Therefore, “disruptive technology” is a business concept which news industries and journalists must understand in order to be proactively innovative. Day & Shoemaker (2000, quoted by Mierzjewska, B., Hollifield, C.Ann, 2006) conceptualized technology as disruptive and non-disruptive arguing that organizations approach technology adoption and innovation management differently depending on the disruptive or non-disruptive potential of the technology or innovation in question. For Mierzjewska et al. (2006) “technology and innovation reflects the fact that the media are one of a handful of industries facing the emergence of potentially “disruptive technology”. Day&Shoemaker (2000, p.2 quoted by Mierzjewska et al. 2006) defines disruptive technologies as “science-based innovations that have the potential to create a new industry or transform and existing one”. “The Internet, HDTV, and interactive television devices are examples of types of communication technologies that, when they emerge have the potential to disrupt the underlying business models of existing sectors of media industry”. This illustrates the importance the term and how much the news industries should care about it. Unlike Day & Shoemaker, Christensen defines technologies as sustaining and disruptive. While sustaining technologies mean those technologies which “improve the performance of established products, along the dimensions of performance that mainstream customers in major markets have historically valued”, disruptive technologies “result in worse product performance, at least in the near-term”. (p. XV). Furthermore, the products based on disruptive technologies initially only satisfy a niche market segment, which have lower performance on dimensions relevant to the mainstream market segment but have higher performance on dimensions valued by remote or emerging markets. Besides, these products are “typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more convenient to use” (Christensen, 1997: xv). Christensen argues that because a disruptive technology initially only serves a small, low, margin market, it is ignored by incumbents that are serving more attractive segments. For the purpose of this essay, I aim to present some of main characteristics, definitions and backgrounds of location-based services with the concept of disruptive technologies in mind, and some cases of how this innovation has been applied to journalism.

1.Location-based services (LBS)

The definition of location-based services is simply technological and functional, being focused only in the function of delivering information according to the location of the device and user (see Gartner et al., 2007). For this essay, I am using the following definition of Chen (2010, p.1): “a location-based service (LBS) is an information service that can be accessed by mobile devices through a mobile network, and which exploit the location of the mobile device”. Location-based services (LBS) have been widely studied since 2000 in the field of mobile business and wireless infrastructure. At that time many applications based on cell phones’ physical location were expected to be “the saviour of wireless data services, with research companies valuing the LBS market at tens of billions”. The expectation was so high that some analysts and industry pundits proclaimed it the next “Killer app”, which means that the industry was expecting the increasing of sales because of LBS. After two years, few experts would claim that LBS had this power (Sweeting, C. 2005. p. 87), due to its slow the rate of adoption. After all, only few countries, such as Japan, had a vast majority of mobile phones with built-in GPS. Since then, LBS have been a niche, considered by some scholars a disruptive technology (Sweeting, C. 2005. p. 87; Evans, 2003: p 126). As disruptive technology, LBS are now promoted as the “first time that peoples’ physical locations can be used as data for applications”, which has the potential to affect our daily lives and the way we receive and exchange information. In 2007, LBS were legitimate as a growing new and interdisciplinary field of research with the releasing of the first edition of a journal of location-based services concurrent with the start of the first symposium on LBS which took place in China. In this sense, one can say that 2007 was a key year for LBS, since the release of smartphones, such as iPhone, mobile high-speed Internet connectivity through 3G and WiFi also brought new possibilities to the industry. After all, these technologies enable users to continuously capture, create, upload and share geo-referenced content (Bilandzic, M. & Foth, M. 2011. p. 66). For instance, Gowalla, one of the first social networks based on location, was also launched in 2007.

1.1. Locative Media

Location-based services has been appropriated and explored in creative ways by artists, journalists, photographers and news organizations. In this sense, in 2003, Karlis Kalnis proposed the term locative media to differentiate the creative usage of location-based services from the institutional use of it (Lemos, 2007, p.2). Kalnis and Tuters in 2003 selected “locative media” as a title for an international workshop of artists and researches (International Workshop ‘Locative Media’, “aiming to explore how wireless and location-based networking affects peoples’s notions of space and social organisation within space” (Bilandzic, M. & Foth, M. 2011). After this workshop, the term defines “media that blurred the barrier between the physical and the virtual world, in particular mobile media that augments people’s experiences in real places through relevant geo-tagged information from the Internet (Espinoza et al., 2001; Kjelskov and Paay, 2005; Lancaster University, 1999; Proboscis, 2003 quoted by Bilandzic, M. & Foth, M. 2011). Lemos (2011) defines Locative Media as a set of technologies and process of info-communication which content is tied to a specific location. The advent of GPS enable phones is also referred as the base of this term (Bilandzic, M. & Foth, M. 2011).

2.LBS and Social Media

The most successful use of LBS has been in the field of social media. Researchers have been referring to this new use of social media as location-sharing systems/applications. Cranshaw et al. (2011) categorizes location sharing applications as purpose-driven, where people explicitly request another person’s current location” and “social –driven, where people broadcast their location to ‘friends’ in their social networks. In this sense, it is important to note that LBS have been categorized also as a service enabled by mobile computing (see Evans, 2003; Canali et al., 2009; Hansen et al, 2011). Goggin (2011) defines location sharing applications as “mobile social software”. For this author, those services represent two important shifts – from desktop to mobile computing, and from individual to social software. These applications make possible informal contact among people in the same proximity, whether friends, friends of friends, strangers or colleagues capitalizing on serendipity (Eagle 2004; Eagle & Pentland 2005 quoted by Goggin 2011, p. 118). One of the first mobile social software programs was the Japanese Lovegety, released in 1998, as an oval device with three buttons which the user sets according to the kind of activity she or he has in mind: “talk”, “Karaoke” and “get2”. When the holder selected a mode, the device searched for Lovegety holders of the opposite sex in a five meter radius (Goggin, 2011, p. 118). In addition, according to Goggin (2011) the first mobile social software in the US was Dodgeball, released in 2000, which allowed a user to broadcast her or his information to others in their location, trough an early WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) application. Even before the launch of smartphones, these applications represented a trend. “Dodgeball was but one of many mobile social social software applications that were to follow (ibid: p.119). However, at this stage many of the enterprises and applications spearheading mobile social software have not survived. Dodgeball was the predecessor to Foursquare, the location-sharing system that was launched in 2009 and currently has 15 million of users in the US and abroad (Scarafile, 2012).

3.LBS and Journalism

With the increasing diffusion of GPS and Internet-enabled smartphones, many location-based services are being implemented by entrepreneurs. In the field of journalism, mainstream news organizations have been keeping an eye on location-based experiments. Location has been seen as a trend and evokes the classical idea of the five W’s, in which “where” from the fourth position becomes the first W (Briggs, 2012). The New York Times, The Financial Times and The wall Street Journal and Canada’s Postmedia Network are among the early adopters of this service (Currie, 2011. p.1) experimenting with Foursquare by distributing news and seeking to engage readers. According to Currie, these newspapers have been part of a growing number of news outlets trying to crack the triumvirate of journalism, location, and social media. For this author, these three elements should be a natural fit: News organizations produce a stream of content filled with geographic addresses. Mobile phone users are increasingly buying smartphones and using them to access news and furthermore, news consumption is increasingly becoming a shared social experience. On this direction, research in location-based news services also has emerged (see Chen, Chih-Ming. 2010). Chen (2010) states the location- based services (LBS) on mobile devices can convey location related information to individual users, thus helping users to obtain helpful and adaptative information, which can facilitate individual decision-making. There are three ways of experimenting with location-based news. The first is through social networks based on location, such as Foursquare. Journalists have noted that Foursquare can be an important tool for news organizations in many different ways: 1)Promise of targeting news distribution; 2) Finding on-the-scene human sources to interview during breaking news events; 3) Finding story ideas and building social capital with users (Snow & Lavrusik, 2010; Jenkins, 2010; Bradshaw, 2010 quoted by Currie, 2011). Second, by through native mobile apps which are focusing on location-based news. Some examples of location-based news apps are (1) Meporter, (2) Tap in Bay Area and (3) hereMe!. (1) Meporter describes their service as a location-based news app that enables the user to write, photography, and videotape his/her local news as it breaks. Readers can share location, comment on stories and check in as eyewitnesses. To validate the contributions, Meporter allows posting local news and readers to post comments, only if they are on location. Meporter has news categories: Announcements, Business, Classifieds, Crime, Events, Health, LifeStyle, NightLife, News, Op-Ed, News, Politics, Estate, Science, Sports, Tech, Traffic, Travel, and Weather. The app allows you to create a Meporter profile that others can view. While anyone online can follow your stories, only people in your neighbourhood can comment on your breaking news. The app was released in May 2011 . (2) Tap in Bay Area is an app iPad of hyperlocal journalism in the San Francisco Bay Area. Besides having multimedia producers, users can contribute reviews, recommendations and share. The app is not free but has a free trial version. Applying gamification to its business model, users can earn points for writing comments, sharing content, clicking on Ads or taking actions that help improve the community. Users who earn enough points could redeem them for free access or other rewards. The app was released in July 2011 . 3) hereMe! also describes its service as location-based, story-telling, grassroots reporter’s tool, designed for local micro-reporting that complements an increasingly social media landscape. Their aim is making the consumer a news producer. In this sense, the user/reporter can produce location-based stories by adding reports with attached video, audio, picture, URLs and #tags. The users can manage their account through a profile. It is possible to sign in through Facebook. Another way of engaging with this service is using location-based feeds to view and filter reports and receive alerts when new reports or replies are filed. A feed, in this sense, is defined by this service as regions of interest by individual users (personal feeds) or by the community (featured, public feeds). Feed management is intuitive and map-based. By pinching to zoom in or out the users can adjust the size of their interest. Finally, the last is through filtering, as GoogleNews is doing with “News near your”. According to the official blog of GoogleNews, the service was released in May 2011. “News near your” is a local section of Google News for mobile devices, which allows the users to find local news on their smartphones, according to their location.

4. Discussion

At the beginning of this essay, innovation and its importance to news organizations and how disruptive technologies are related to that was discussed. Location-based services have become a pervasive technology and have a high potential of disruption, because as our form of exchanging information in public spaces and in urban places changes, demand will increase for information “in loco”, to a specific location. In the US, location-based social networks are still a niche, since only 5% of Americans use location-based apps. On the other hand, GPS, the technology which has been enabling LBS so far, is built into, almost everyone nowadays. However, another technology which enables location-based service is NFC (Near Field Communication) which is built into some Android phones. NFC is as emerging technology for mobile interaction with everyday objects. It is a wireless technology for exchanging data over short distances, similar to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) but targeted at mobile devices. The technology can store digital data on passive tags that can be attached to almost arbitrary objects. Users can retrieve data from a tag by touching it with a reading device, e.g. a mobile phone, or by holding them closely together. The simple, touch-like interaction between NFC-enabled mobile devices, tags readers or smartcards and can facilitate mobile interaction with tagged objects, associated digital information and services in different ways: NFC-tags can be used as physical hyperlinks that reduce complex interactions to touching a single tag, e.g. to open a website in a mobile browser (Broll et al., 2011. p 205). NFC has been used to enhance mobile payment, ticketing or information retrieval (ibid). NFC has been used also to enhance and validate location-sharing applications, such as Foursquare (Kim, 2012; see Broll et al., 2010). Turning our eyes to the horizon and thinking about journalism, there are more ways to think about how news organizations could use NFC to enhance news consumption or newsgathering, for instance: 1) If used by location-sharing applications, news organizations can take advantage of it and can tag information about specific locations or events, using the tags also to ads. 2) It can be used to tag others’ information about places and events; 3) News organizations can embed tags to physical newspapers, sending readers additional information or ads. 4) Newspapers can provide the possibility of buying tickets to cultural events, producing revenue through partnership with credit card companies. It is important to note that NFC is still emerging and has some drawbacks, including the fact that only few Android phones support the technology, illustrating the slow spread of this technology, at least in the U.S. The ABI Research Company forecasts that by this year that the technology will be used not only for payments but also to access information in smart devices. It is clear that this forecast is not happening rapidly yet. This year, a digital wallet enabled by NFC phones will be launched in Austin. It will be good opportunity to see how the technology works and how people will use it.

Reference of this essay: Silva, Cláudia. “Why Should News Organizations Care about Location-Based Services?” Mapping Locative Media. April 16, 2012. Web. Date of Access.



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City of Austin website has GIS Map page

Earlier this year, I had a chance to volunteer at the “Open Austin Geospatial Jam”, an one-day workshop for the community to learn about location-rich data and tools. The event was organized by the “Code Across America 2014” and had as a goal to discuss tools and technology for manipulating civic datasets that contain location information. Most of the talks throughout the day were very technical and targeted to experts on GIS, but on this post, I’d like to share one of the most interesting things I learned at the event: the City of Austin website has a GIS (Geographic Information System) Map page. On this site,  any citizen may search data and choose to visualize it on a map of the city, even historical information. This is a great tool for newspapers. For example, the local newspaper Austin Statesman has already used this public tool to enrich its news stories.

If you would like to learn about the tools discussed in this workshop look for more information here

The Discourse of Innovation in Locative Media

The first QRcode in the world to be printed out on the ground Portuguese pavement
The first QRcode in the world to be printed out on the ground Portuguese pavement

For the past ten years, there have been many attempts to embed information in the physical architecture of cities. This new media trend is part of a whole phenomenon conceptualized by media scholars as “net locality”; the concept is illustrated by the idea of a small town, once physical isolated from the rest of the world, becomes potentially cosmopolitan because of the information embedded into its streets.

Net locality projects have different goals; nevertheless, many of them share the common objective of augmenting the knowledge of passersby about their surroundings or about a specific location through a set of technologies: GPS-enabled phones, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Near Field Communication (NFC) and so on.

One technology that has been used to physically attach information to physical places is QRcodes. Some examples are in New York City, at the Central Park or at the buildings with city permits, an initiative approved by the City Council. The latter has been heavily criticized; while some people present the project as an innovative method to inform citizens and promote government transparency, others argue that the QRcodes will not be set in the best place and will be hard to costumers to scan them. As I wrote in a previous blog post, the issue of making the QRcodes visible and easy to scan is a concern also of Monmouthpedia.

What is interesting to highlight about these projects is the implied discourse of innovation that is practiced in the field of locative media, either by researchers, popular press or innovators. In other words, being a pioneer seems to be the most important thing of the deployment of a technology. Concerns with adoption seem to be taken for granted. For instance, when I look at the discourse of some people presenting the creative implementation of QRcodes, I see that a sort of flag of  “ the first one” being waived:  the world’s first location-based Wikipedia city; the first QRcode in the world to be printed out on the ground Portuguese pavement; the first government agency in the United States to deploy QRcodes in the US.

While this flag is waived, much criticism is left behind. Thus, net locality projects are launched with great expectations. They would foster serendipity, increasing people’s sense of their surroundings; provide access for digital heritage, participation and citizen engagement and increase tourism.

However, despite the significance of these projects we have noticed a lack of conceptualization and a critical theoretical guidance of what is location-based information applied to physical places in urban places. Are people interested in reading long articles while on the go? If these projects are designed for tourists, is there free Wi-Fi network available? The latter is critical to a project like that to be successful. After all, 3G/4G roaming service for tourists abroad is still very expensive to afford. In this sense, if these QRcodes implementation in cities aim at reaching tourists and the city does not provide free Wi-Fi access they are missing the point.

The final questions I raise about these projects are: what is the best physical place to attach information?  Which content should be tagged to places? What is the role of context and local knowledge when information is attached to places? What happens when passersby have access to information on a façade of a building?

What Is a Smartphone to a Kid?

imagesWhat is a smartphone to a kid? What is the first thought that comes to a kids mind when he thinks of a smartphone? What role does “location” play in his thinking process? How can it be used for education?  Last Friday, June 14th, during the celebration of the new grant River City Youth Foundation (RCYF) received from the City of Austin’s government, I was struck by a 10 years-old Latino kid who gave me a genuine and spontaneous answer to the question: “Tell me three things you can do with a smartphone?” In Spanish, I had posed the question to the entire audience who were residents of DoveSprings, a low-income neighborhood in the southeast of Austin.

Oné Musel-Gilley, the PR of RCYF and founder of the program Techcomunidad, was asking the kids educational questions and presenting them with awards.  Many children were standing in front of me and could not wait to hear my question. Thus, the boy was pretty excited to answer the question in order to get the award. Moreover, he needed to be competitive; after all there were others kids standing besides him, all of them eager to earn a gift as well. After thinking for a few seconds, the kid said the answer at full blast: 1) Look for places, 2) Talk to friends, and 3) Take pictures. His response could not be more complete. He was happy as he was rewarded!

There were three observations that I made about his response. First, his response conveys the potential of the smartphone as a tool to enhance people’s sense of physical places, the development of location-based applications, and the potential of place-based storytelling. Second, it shows the social aspects of the applications. It is interesting to note that he used the verb “to talk” instead of “to call”, extending the meaning of a smartphone to digital social networks. And third, the “take pictures” response also illustrates the smartphone as a practical tool.

Another interpretation of his answer is the fact that smartphones are highly associated with navigation. I was wondering to which degree of familiarity the kid had with smartphones. I then noticed that his mother had a smartphone. In the beginning of the celebration, when just a few people were there, she was using it. After a while she put the phone down on the table. It is very likely that this kid’s family use the smartphone for navigation purposes.

The kid’s response was overall representative of how kids in this day and age perceive digital mobile devices around them. For example, findings from a technology survey by CDW-G highlight the difference in how teachers and kids perceive technology. While 75% of teachers say they regularly use technology in their classrooms, only 40% of students report use of technology in classrooms. This survey also shows that a “whopping 94 percent of students report that they use technology to do their homework, while less than half of all teachers (46 percent) incorporate technology into homework.” This technology is quite restricted to the use of smartphones, since kids have a heavy usage of mobile phones (see the recent Pew Internet Research 2013 report).

I wonder if the 10 years-old boy had the opportunity to use any digital mobile device in his school. I also wonder how his parents would respond to the same question. Certainly, there is an entire new world that is open to researchers who are interested in learning how the next generations will use digital mobile devices in the long term. During my fieldwork, I will observe some of these generation dynamics and I will share some of these thoughts on my research “journey”, here on this blog.