Geography and Community: New Forms of Interaction Among People and Places
Today location-based data, such as GPS coordinates, are increasingly being incorporated into Internet sites such as Flickr, Jaiku, and Placeopedia. In turn, new practices are emerging that evoke innovative ways of relating among people and between individuals and places. This article investigates this geographic turn in networked interaction—particularly, emergent sensemaking regarding the role of location in distributed communities. The author uses an inductive, grounded theory methodology based on ethnographic interview and artifact data to compare the micro-blogging practices of two communities: those using Twitter and those using Jaiku. Findings suggest that the organizing practices of the two groups are quite different, despite the similarities in the tools they use to interact. Although each platform allows for the development of peripheral awareness and ambient intimacy within user groups, the design affordances of Twitter as a straightforward broadcasting tool result in social patterns that are quite distinct from those of Jaiku, whose design enables threaded conversation. As a result, the communal bonds among Jaiku users appear to be built on thematic, conversational interaction that relies little on shared geographical references. Twitter users, with less robust means of threaded response, tend to broadcast individual reports from various geographical outposts. Communal bonds are thus formed on the basis of recognizing the highly indexical references, which in turn reinforce a common geographical locus for the community. The article concludes with a discussion of how design, though not determinate of interaction directly, is influential in shaping social patterns that emphasize different types of communal bonds.