Ask-the-Masters: Going Locative?

On: October 29, 2006
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About Michael Stevenson
I am a lecturer and PhD candidate in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I've been a contributor to Masters of Media since 2006, though I now only post occasionally. A short list of papers and projects can be found here


Locative media is about as vague a term as web 2.0. Essentially, locative seems to be about connecting ‘third nature’ information to real world places and/or objects. But there are a number of ways this can happen.

Below I suggest some basic categories of locative projects, based on techniques (e.g. localizing web content, embedding data in specific places) rather than uses (educational, artistic, community-building, etc.). Making an taxonomy like this is bound to fail, but I think helps put perspective on our work of analyzing developments in that all too hip phenomenon of locative media. Please comment and suggest changes…

Localizing the Web: In what ways is the web made local? Craig’s List operates on a city basis and acts as a sort of model for connecting web content with real space. In this model, the classified advertisements are pre-filtered by city – that is, if I decide to advertise a room, I confine this ad to the city the room is in for obvious practical reasons. But sorting and filtering can take place at any time – and in this sense the rest of the Web as we know it can also ‘go locative’ (and already is). The most visible form of connecting the Web to a location is through geo-tagging and google maps. If we take a large database, say Wikipedia, and start geotagging it, we can sort entries based on their location. This results in a project like Placeopedia, or Mappr when the content is taken from It is easy to imagine a next step to this, in which a user can use a phone or PDA to access location-specific content like wikipedia entries.
Another interesting project is, which aggregates web content based on zip codes and neighborhoods – for example, the site asks bloggers to specify where they’re writing from as well as what they write about, making it possible to search your neighborhood for, say, political opinions.

This category could probably use some subdivisions, any ideas? Looking back at the examples above, there should at least be a distinction between ‘refiltering’ information like the wikipedia and flickr databases, and sites that aggregate information intended for a particular locale (like craig’s list or

Embedding Data in Places – The idea here is a server in a particular place which users can access and retrieve/upload information. One example is Undersound, a number of servers in the London Underground which users can get music from and upload music to (using Bluetooth). This technique seems suited to promoting new perceptions of spaces.

Tracking/Tracing Objects – Tomtoms, Nike-Ipod assemblages, RFID tags. These things have in common that they gather, process and/or display location-specific information. They seem to be more about movement than place or location.

Networked Communication – With this category I’m thinking of (extensions to) our regular use of mobile media and telephony. An example is Dodgeball, a social networking site that makes use of mobile phones to let users know when their friends are nearby. It doesn’t use GPS – you have to ‘manually’ tell the server where you are. This makes it inherently different to (and perhaps less scary than) the tracing/tracking category above. But like tracking/tracing, this is not really about a particular location, but the movement of a particular network (your friends).

So. This was the first try, let me know about other categories that I haven’t thought of.. Also, there are probably pages that do a much better job of breaking down the term ‘locative media’ (though sadly the wikipedia entry is not one of them), so let me know about those too. Thanks.

6 Responses to “Ask-the-Masters: Going Locative?”
  • October 30, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Great list, a solid definition of locative media is always welcome I think. Manovich of course mentions some categories for Augmented Spaces, which might also be seen as a part of the list for this. There are many overlaps between Locative Media and various other terms.

    One suggestion for the list, maybe (like to hear what you think about this, or if you saw this in one of the uses above):

    Although this can be seen as a technique, it is also a fundamental way of using Locative Media for educational, expressional and artistic purposes. In the field of narration Locative Media can be seen as another tool for transferring (personal) stories, emotions, and much more.

  • October 30, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    thanks twan, true about Manovich, I’ll have to look over it again and see how he divides it up. as far as the techniques go, I meant tools in a more technical sense – where the information is stored, where and when it can be accessed, etc. But without getting too detailed (e.g. not making a separate category for wearable computing, since this likely falls under tracking/tracing objects)

    Narration is definitely a technique in that it is part of many practices and has many different uses, but I think it’s a level above the categories i mentioned. it is also a technique that can, arguably, be applied in each of the categories in the post..

    – e.g. if the london underground embedded (parts of) stories in servers; or if Dodgeball used networked communication to tell stories about the places people find themselves in..

    that said, you raise a great point – i wonder if you go back and read the early Web literature surrounding interactive storytelling (the promise of the hyperlink), how that compares to what’s being said about narration and locative media..

  • October 31, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    Networked communication: well it sometimes has new kinds of technologies that have been developed to allow people to communicate with each other being at seperate locations. So not just by using existing technologies such as a PDA or a mobile phone.

    I would like to research this:

    Pebbbles is a robot that is placed in a classroom to replace a child that is in hospital. The child in hospital has the same robot and this way the sick kid can be present in class. Therefore the robot replaces the body.

    I find this a very interesting subject and I have found another project that has the same objective: getting a child in hospital out of its social isolement.

  • October 31, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    I asked around and my example is rather telepresence than locative media. I thought it would also be locative media, because in my example you have communication between people who are not at the same location. I asked a locative media expert at the Waag and he told me that it’s not really locative media, because you cannot take these devices with you.

    Pfff, sometimes it’s so hard that these subjects are very similar, and they may overlap, but they are very different.

  • October 31, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    @Michael: You’re right about narration and that it can be used in the list. I’m going to use narration, control and locative media for my NM paper, so I’m hoping to find out more about the subject in a while.

    @Heleen: I do agree with the overlap… Ubiquitous computing, locative media, etc. etc. etc. etc. There should be one term, or a better distinction in the use of the terms I think.

  • January 2, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    […] also a previous post on locative media. Found out about placeblogger via Boingboing. Bookmark on « Damn Small Linux – Linux on a USB stick |   […]

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