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.

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