Today I’m working on some cool stuff to do with social mapping and geographic folksonomies.
Whuuuuut, you say?
To put it simply, when you upload content to the Internet – be it a tweet, a Facebook status, a photograph on Instagram, or any number of other ways of sharing content – you’re doing more than just sharing the information that you put out there. You’re also feeding other important information to ‘the machine’, as it were, about such things are your location, what kind of mobile phone or application you are using, and a whole range of other details – including statistics on who and what you engage with most when you’re online (keeping in mind that you have the option of turning off things like location data sharing).
At the same time, you have the option of adding information to your content. So, if you’re down at Cottesloe for a drink and a swim with some friends, you might like to add tags – such as #cottesloe, #cott, #OBH, #beach, and #summer – to your posts:
Rather than just simply telling the network your location, this voluntary option to add information to your contributions does a number of things. It adds value to your content, makes it searchable (the tags act like keywords that users can search for) and embeds your content – and you as creator – in a network. For example, if I click on an image tagged #cottesloe, the app (this time it’s Padgram – an Instagram clone for iPad) will bring up the most recent images tagged as #cottesloe.
Looks fairly straightforward. At this point, your images have become searchable, and they are part of a network. Cottesloe is useful as a tag as it’s very Perth-specific. It’s also a word that anyone from Perth, and indeed many people around the world will recognise, as Cottesloe Beach often ends up on lists of the city‘s and nation’s best beaches (although to a local, that might not be the case!).
Having clicked on an image tagged Cottesloe, I might see other tags, such as #beach.
As a tag, #beach is less useful on a number of levels. First, there are many beaches around the world, so whilst tagging a photo with the term ‘beach’ certainly places that image in a wider network, it doesn’t necessarily add to the searchability of the image, especially if you are looking for something specific. (A couple of good articles that discuss folksonomy, tagging, and the usefulness of user generated content metadata are available here and here.)
An example of this is seen in clicking through the #beach tag:
Not only does the #beach tag not return any location-specific search results, but – as you can see here – it doesn’t really return too many images that have anything to do with the beach!
There are various things that you can do to make your content more visible, and some of these are discussed in the articles I’ve linked to above. To bring this post back to my point, however – through this chapter I’m working on, I’m hoping to plot a picture of just a tiny segment of Perth’s online social media practices at this point in time. Social mapping is something that is only as good as the contributions that it includes. If people aren’t sharing data about a particular place, there’s a good chance that it’s going unnoticed by the people who occupy that space. Social media – blogs, social recommendation services, and apps like Instagram – are filling a void between physical space and virtual space, though, by injecting a dose of meaning into otherwise useful, but really rather meaningless, information.
At this stage, time really dictates how much I can explore Perth’s social map, but it’s something that I would really like to explore in the future, in the form of a project that pulls information in from across the Internet to generate not only a map of practices, experiences, and services – all bound together by user narratives – but a map that tells us something about the people of Perth and the way that they share content and information.