Encountr: Sharing Experiences in a Media City
With the ubiquitous presence of new media in our urban environments, we can refer to the context that we live in as The Media City. Taking this concept as a main element in our research, our approach has been to focus on the creation, experiences and practices of social settings and spaces in cities through new media (Eckardt 7). What behaviors do they enable? How do immaterial spaces, mediated by technologies, interact with our physical surroundings? This has been an ongoing discussion, essential within the field.
We also enter this discussion at a stage in which locative media have recently experienced a substantial surge, with apps such as Pokémon Go and Happn conquering the market. Whereas the internet initially led to a delocalization of information– it could be accessed anywhere, regardless of the place in which it is stored or broadcasted – these apps make location matter again as urban spaces can be transformed through a certain “temporary action” that shapes an experience within the city – a protest, graffiti, performance, or a Pókemon.” These kind of temporary uses of space, create a new meaning of place that makes sense “here and now” (Lemos 414). It could be argued that this demands an enhanced, or at least different, spatial interaction from the users.
Within the context of The Media City, in which users have taken on locative media on a large scale, we developed Encountr, a demo-app that links location with various types of file formats, allowing an exchange of meaningful experiences between anonymous users. With Encountr, people get to see their city through the eyes of a stranger, and witness new ideas, thoughts and views. Therefore, by creating this app, we attempt to investigate the new meanings of place in the context of locative media and the opportunities for urban sociability, exploration, serendipity or, ultimately, enchantment.
The groundwork for Encountr is based on two main concepts that were mentioned earlier; these are The Media City and locative media, which will be explained below.
The Media City
From a public domain’s perspective, the concept of The Media City is a “complex interaction of material and immaterial spaces”, which includes streets and plazas, but also electronic media. These hybrid spaces may be called ‘Media Cities’” (McQuire). The “Encountrs” that our app proposes, are an example of bridging together the immaterial spaces and material (virtual) exchanges and, therefore, enabling new ways of urban sociability and spatial interaction.
The way in which we have moved into this public domain, where the material and immaterial are related in various aspects, affects the ways in which “the city is shared, communicated and symbolically constructed”. This, in turn, has consequences for our daily lives, how we act and interact with each other, and how we perceive others, as well as our surroundings (Georgiou 3). Encountr attempts to put together Georgiou’s description of the role of media and communications, where users “are constantly reminded that the city is unpredictable, exciting and… possibly welcoming, potentially a place of opportunities and potentially a space to see the self and others as part of the urban story.” (2) We want our users to remind each other of the unpredictable, exciting and welcoming spaces that an urban city can offer in the age of new media.
In order to achieve this, it is necessary to make use of the tools currently available. These include the possibilities offered by locative media, a phenomenon currently on the rise. To give a general definition: Locative media is “a set of technologies and info-communicational processes whose informational content binds to a specific place” (Lemos 405). However, it is important to look at its origins and how the concept has developed throughout the years.
Almost two decades ago, before cloud computing, the Internet of Things and Web 2.0 became common concepts, Ben Russell laid down his thoughts on what was yet to come in the beginning of 21st century. In his Headmap Manifesto, he foresaw an age in which spatial experiences would be overlaid with complex and rich layers of information, making possible “invisible notes attached to spaces, places, people and things” (Russell 4).
Later on, this phenomenon developed further and came to be called “locative media”. The term, coined by Canadian media artists Marc Tuters and Karlis Kalnins, was initially conceptualized by a desire to “take art out of the galleries and off the screen” (Hemment 351). However, nowadays, locative media plays a far more complex role, beyond the field of new media arts, due to the relatively recent innovations in technology and particularly the application of location aware technologies in smartphones. Echoing Russells’s Manifesto, several scholars began to focus on the potential effects of these technologies on communities, spaces and the ways in which people interact with the city.
Locative media not only redefine place and our experience of the city, but also the ways in which people produce content, creating “new forms of anticipation on everyday life, new mobilities” (Lemos 412). In this context, cities become surfaces upon which meanings are inscribed by virtual annotation, therefore allowing “social and cultural (re)readings of space” and “private narratives to become public and subject to reinterpretation” (Galloway 6). Locative media, then, becomes a powerful tool for communities to collectively organize and share their subjective experiences within the Media City, which will be possible to do through Encountr.
How it works
The demo app has been created with the city of Amsterdam as a starting point, and it functions by using a set of coordinates linked to Google Maps, and through a cloud system as a database for the content that will be uploaded to the app. Once the content is uploaded, the experience will be available for 24 hours, and users can repeat the experience as many times as they desire to, as long as they remain in the same location. In order to enable this, we request access to the user’s location and to send notifications, when the user signs-up. They are welcome to take screenshots or download the file they found in the link.
Encountr allows users to engage in two simple tasks: Create an Encountr or Experience an Encountr.
Creating an Encountr consists of three steps: uploading a file (from Youtube, Dropbox, Google Drive, SoundCloud, their own Camera Roll or via a link), choosing their current location on the map and leaving a message (which could be a set of instructions, a poem, an idea, a thought or anything that the user wants to share) if they wish.
Experiencing an Encountr requires the user to be within 100 meters maximum of an Encountr, in which case, the user will receive a notification that once clicked will be redirected to the map that will help users reach the nearby experience. Once they arrive at the location, users will be able to unlock the Encountr.
The Design Process
Encountr’s interface was designed with a young and creative target group in mind. This generation is more comfortable to newer social media platforms, such as Snapchat, that are not linked to a Newsfeed or a structured interface. The design has been created as a clam, a simple and boundless environment, in order to allow users to explore the interface on their own and have the freedom to experiment. The aim is that the user would not feel the need to enter and leave the platform quickly, but instead fully engage with the activity, without any other distractions.
The colors of the interface were chosen in order to create a soothing, yet creative effect. While blue symbolizes calmness and yellow creativity, the color green represents the outcome of this new experience that is emerging between two users.
The app has profiles that show the number of Encountrs accumulated over time, the number of people that experienced a user’s Encountr, the active Encountrs and the time left to collect them. Even though Encountr is an anonymous network between users, we do request an e-mail address, username, and password, in order to allow sign-ups and to keep under control possible inappropriate behaviors of the users. In this case, our users will be able to report any content that could be seen as harmful or violent. The e-mail database will be helpful to monitor these cases.
The Future of Encountr
As the creators of the app, we would like to offer our users an all-encompassing space for creating, sharing and discovering. In order to achieve this fuller experience, we have a variety of plans for the future. Firstly, we will get in touch with hubs of creativity such as art galleries, music halls, conservatories, start-ups and more in order to work on collaborations and to explore new ways of experiencing the Encountrs. These spaces will also allow us to reach larger groups of people, who are likely to be interested in the app. Museums, workshops and design stores are also ideal environments in which we can promote our app and work with the creatives in these spaces. We would also like to collaborate with individual artists, help them get exposure in the art world and have their creations reach increasing numbers of people through our app. During this step, our team is planning on organizing events that will take place in and around the city in collaboration with art organizations and individual artists. This will attract further attention to the app and all the possibilities it encompasses. Additionally, we would like to enable brands and companies to have sponsored content within the app; musicians can release never-heard-before songs, fashion brands can share designs from their catwalks and so on. The possibilities are indeed endless!
The second step involves an expansion of the affordances of Encountr. After seeing how the app works, how it is used, and with the feedback received from our users, we are hoping to extend the possibilities of Encountr. In order to achieve this, we will add a chat function, which would enable users to create events of their own. However, the planning of these additions for the future updates of the app will solely depend on our users and their feedback. As our main aim is to bring art and connection on to the streets, we will keep on looking for ways to improve the app and the experiences of our users. While we have chosen to focus on Amsterdam in the first phase, we would like to expand over time to other urban spaces as well.
With Encountr, the existing concept of The Media City is addressed through the lens of a current context, in which the use of locative media has been adopted on a large scale. So far, popular applications have successfully incorporated the locative element of smartphone technology into, for example, gaming and dating apps. Exploring how other types of content could relate to and interact with physical location, this project aimed to create a new mode of interaction with the media city through locative media. An important contribution lies in the fact that Encountr investigates the opportunities of sharing content. In Variation on a Videogame or Spatial Graffiti, Tuters states: “If it were designed on the Internet model of many to many, the (revolutionary) social implications for location awareness are literally mind-bending” (3). By annotating physical locations with digital content, users themselves can claim the ability to co-create their own cities, similarly to Russell’s vision in his Headmap Manifesto. We believe that people play a major role in the understanding of media cities through locative media. This is why, through our app, we aim to empower the role of people in the ways experiencing their city, as we believe them to be the makers of meaning and space.
The project provides a contribution to both existing academic debates, in terms of researching contemporary options and usages of locative media, as well as to a larger audience, by conceiving an interface that allows users to practice what scholars have been envisioning for years. Obstacles that authors mention in the works used in this research are primarily concerned with the availability of the hardware required to perform virtual spatial annotation and to access these notes. In the context within which Encountr has been created, this restriction has become largely obsolete, as smartphones have become normalized.
Potential limitations to the project include the need for an active user base, the dependency on external services such as Google Maps, and the delayed intervention when offensive content is shared. The aim has been to minimize these limitations by conceptualizing a promotional campaign, by adding additional features to generate and maintain an audience, and by enabling a functionality that allows user to mark content as inappropriate. In order to fully realize these contributions and to test these limitations, the concept-app would have to be programmed and launched. Whether it will be with Encountr or with a competing idea, the uses of locative media are most likely to be explored and exploited further in the near future.
For a deeper insight into our design process and how our team worked you can check our Instagram account.
Daria Bojan. Ecesu Erol. Joep Bouma. Talía Castellanos.
Eckardt, Frank. Mediacity: Situations, Practices and Encounters. Berlin: Frank & Timme GmbH, 2008.
Georgiou, Myria. Media and the city: Cosmopolitanism and difference. Polity, 2013.
Galloway, Anne, and Matthew Ward. “Locative Media as Socialising and Spatialising Practices: Learning from Archaeology.” Leonardo Electronic Almanac (2005): 1-9. 22 Sept. 2016. <http://wiki.commres.org/>.
Hemment, Drew. “Locative Arts.” Leonardo, vol. 39 no. 4, 2006, pp. 348-355. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/200346.
Lemos, Andre. “Post—Mass Media Functions, Locative Media, and Informational Territories: New Ways of Thinking About Territory, Place, and Mobility in Contemporary Society.” Space and Culture 13.4 (2010): 403–420. 21 Sept. 2016. <sac.sagepub.com>.
McQuire, Scott. “The Politics of Public Space in the Media City.” First Monday (2006). 20 Sept. 2016. <http://uncommonculture.org>.
Russell, Ben. “Headmap manifesto.” 1999. 21 Sept 2016. <http://technoccult.net/>
Tuters, M. “Variation on a Videogame or Spatial Graffiti; the Socio-Spatial and Futurological Implications of Augmented Reality and Location Awareness.” Seventh International Conference on Virtual Systems and Multimedia, 2001. Proceedings. N.p., 2001. 517–526. IEEE Xplore. Web.