Question 29 of 365: Why is location pretending to be content?

Location is the new content.

Or, so would nearly every viral iPhone and web app I have seen recently have you believe. From becoming mayor of Café Macchiato, to allowing everyone to know where you are in Google Latitude, or even just checking in at any of the different locations found on Gowalla; Location has become so important to the fabric of the mobile web that it has found a way to become content. It has started showing up in status messages and blog posts. It has created its own platforms for sharing. Location has become so content heavy that pictures and live streaming of your location is easy for anyone who cares to share the information. It has become an automatic part of every day life for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of users.

So, why do I say “pretending” if so many people find this information engaging enough to want to “check in” multiple times an hour as they bar hop? I believe that location in and of itself is useful, even playful, but it is not a substitute for discussion, creation or collaboration. Location is now being used as a means to simultaneously advertise to you and through your own posts about places you go, advertise through you. Every time you check in at a Starbucks, you are advertising that you are there, and every time that you are near a Starbucks, you can become a target for an online coupon. This cycle doesn’t exactly sound like you are able to ask the right questions.

On Twitter, you are able to ping specific people about what is going on and where they are, but more importantly, you are able to contextualize the content in any way at all. You can be devoid of location and still have something to say. While your location matters, it isn’t who you are or what value you have. In a blog post, you can make sweeping accusations or link to an enormous amount of information and do high-minded research (or, low-brow comedy). The ability to create your own set of rules for your own content is stunted when everything becomes about where you happen to be standing when you check in.

I get why location is so attractive. It is so easy to produce a feed from. It is easy to follow someone (virtually) and then somewhat voyeuristically, meet up with them. The “content” that comes from location-based services is going to become a massive amount of our daily diet of information. Yet, how is that going to change the way that we fundamentally ask questions or interact with other human beings. Knowing that you exist somewhere in a given time and space may make me feel a bit more connected, especially if I have existed in that exact time and space previously. However, if that is the only connection I am making, if there is no probing deeper, the way you might with a blog post or collaborating in an EtherPad, then I’m not sure that it qualifies at content worthy of our time.

That is not to say that Location can’t be a part of the equation. And, perhaps I give blogs a little too much credit for being about thinking and belief, but I just don’t want to see our rich connected world become a series of tweets about having a great sandwich in a local restaurant. If that is where we are headed, everyone who told us we were crazy to join up in the first place will have been right.

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0 Comments

  1. lizbdavis

    Could our location be a new point of entry for connecting with others. It takes the collaborative web model full circle. From the human to the virtual back to the human. Right now it may not be contextualized, but as more people start checking in and as that information gets tagged in different ways, maybe I could discover a really interesting person is sitting three seats away from me at Starbucks. Would I then get up the courage to say hello? Is that weird? Is this just another push against our traditional boundaries of privacy? I really don't know, but I'm interested to see how it progresses.

  2. bhwilkoff

    For sure I am interested in seeing just how far we will take this
    intellectual exercise. I think my biggest point was about whether or not
    that information will actually lead to better conversations and content, or
    is it a distraction from deepening the connections that we already have.
    Because we only have a certain amount of time to think through things with
    people, is it really important that we meet so many more people that are
    “interesting” or have “potential”? At certain points we need to reinvent our
    networks, but at others, we just need to deepen it.

  3. lizbdavis

    I agree with you, but I think what I am most interested in is the hyper-local component. Living in a city, I think this has a huge potential to revive the “neighborhood.” I guess we are heading down two different tracks here. I'm not sure the people in my neighborhood are particularly interesting, but they might surprise me. Right now they are all just faces in a crowd, extras in the movie of my life.

  4. Click these: 1) http://grab.by/33pq 2) http://grab.by/33px 3) http://grab.by/33pz
    Location as content isn't new. Location as twitter content, text content, status message content is new.
    The location as content aspect you're specifically talking about is just what Liz talks about – bringing it local.
    As your more recent posts have been speaking to how your communities are formed, does this information not help you to weed your communities? My twitter affiliate who is tagged as being in a Starbucks may not hold as high a place in my community as the affiliate who is tagged at my local independent coffee shop. Sure, a little broad, but I think the point stands.
    Also, you've got the option to search locations or not. If you're feeling like you want to see who's at that local coffee shop, you can. Otherwise, stick with the kids you know.
    I don't see it as being something pushed on me. Rather, it's another option out there of which I can avail myself or not.
    As to the privacy issue, if I don't want someone to know where I am. I don't tell them. If I don't want to broadcast it, I logout.
    Either a comedian or my grandfather (not mutually exclusive) once commented that we never used to ask the question, “Where are you?” as über-often as when we got cell phones. Did we just not care or did we not have the tool to tell?
    Either way, we started asking.

  5. I think I may be coming around quite a bit on this one. Local does matter.
    Being able to find people who you can speak with in person makes a
    difference. I think I am just complaining about the fact that what comes
    after the answer to “where are you” seems to be lacking. It seems as though
    people are content to tell each other where they are, but not have any real
    purpose beyond sending out a homing beacon. We are all playing marco-polo
    with our phones and laptops and after a while we need to move on to having
    real conversations about what it means to be local, to be a contributor, to
    create something from the space that you inhabit.

    So, yeah, I can't handle when location is masquerading as content without
    any intention of being something more. Here is an example of someone who I
    think is doing it better, though:
    http://akingsley.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/twits

    #twitstroll = Location, purpose, community, awesome.

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