Urban informatics and new opportunities for interdisciplinary exchange

academia,communication,electronic publishing,internet,Science,technology — Tags: , , — Danica @ 6:27 pm, September 24, 2012

As an internet researcher and social media consultant, I ask some of the guests of the Australian Science magazine and knowledge network to tell me and my readers more about themselves, their current projects, and their views on topics including internet technology, the use of the Web in science and education, and certain aspects of the digital technologies that influence our everyday lives and work. You can see the published interviews so far - here.   Earlier this month I had a conversation with Marcus Foth, the interview is published for Australian Science.

Marcus Foth is an Associate Professor and Director of the Urban Informatics Research Lab, as well as the Principal Research Fellow at the School of Design, Queensland University of Technology. He has authored and co-authored over 90 articles published in journals, edited books, and conference proceedings, as well as the Urban Informatics web site. You can follow him on Twitter.

Welcome to Australian Science. Would you, please, tell our readers a little bit more about yourself? Where do you come from, both geographically and philosophically? What is your scientific background, and your professional scope? 

Certainly. I was born and grew up in the Northern part of Germany, in a town called Lübeck, at the coast of the Baltic Sea, about an hour from Hamburg. After high school I moved what appears to be as far away diagonally as possible within Germany in order to commence a computer science degree at the University of Furtwangen in the Black Forest that offered a – at the time – unique specialisation: Medieninformatik which combined technology applications and media studies. This was in 1997. The internet was just starting to become commercially successful, and many current students were still working on kiosk installations and multimedia CD-ROMs which were the latest fad at the time.

This degree program included two industry internships as well as an opportunity to study abroad. Together with friends of mine we looked at a number of options and eventually applied for advanced standing into the Bachelor of Multimedia program at Griffith University in Brisbane where we continued our studies in 2000. Due to the credit transfer, we were able to graduate at the end of 2000. This was my first year in Australia, and I had an amazing time. So much so that I decided to take advantage of a Government initiative that made it easier for recent IT graduates to apply for permanent residency. I was also lucky that my application was processed very rapidly: I applied in March 2001 and returned to Brisbane in July 2001 on my PR visa.

I had finished all my coursework for the German CompSc degree, and all that was left to do was the graduation thesis. In the meantime, I enrolled into a Master of Arts in Digital Media program at Queensland University of Technology which was flexible enough to comprise project units that allowed me to write my thesis “Backing up the Smart State: E-Security in Queensland’s Small and Medium Enterprises.” This way I was able to graduate in 2002 with the CompSc Honours degree from Germany and an MA from QUT at the same time with only one extra year of studies.

QUT offered a great and dynamic environment. I was not part of the Faculty of IT, but the newly formed Creative Industries Faculty. So I was surrounded by colleagues from very different disciplinary backgrounds such as, anthropology, cultural studies, media and communications, visual arts, film and TV, music, communication design, etc. It was a stimulating environment to be part of, and I happily accepted the faculty’s generous offer to fund a scholarship to enable me to do my PhD with them.

This journey spanned already two very broad areas: technology (the computer science and multimedia parts) and people (the media and communication and creative arts parts). During my PhD studies I added a third area of great interest to me, that is, place. At a time when the internet was heralded as the death of distance, and policy makers and commercial entities were promoting telework, e-commerce, and distant education, I went quite the opposite way by suggesting that ‘place still matters’. My PhD thesis “Towards a Design Methodology to Support Social Networks of Residents in Inner-City Apartment Buildings” looked at the way that web-enabled technologies could be useful for local communication and interaction within community networks.

My PhD studies formed the headstone for the next couple of years: Right after graduating I was part of a great team of academics across media and communication studies, urban sociology, and architecture that won a three year Discovery grant from the

Australian Research Council including an Australian Postdoctoral Fellowship that supported my research between 2006 and 2008. We were successful with an additional two ARC Linkage grants the following year, and I spent some time at the Oxford Internet Institute as a Visiting Fellow in 2007. So these successes tremendously helped to build up momentum around what I eventually started to call urban informatics. However, this term is not my invention, it just seemed the most appropriate one.

Would you explain to our readers a bit about the Urban Informatics Research Lab, for those in the science and technology who may not be familiar with the Lab? Can you give us a story about the inception, history, work and achievements of the Urban Informatics Research Lab?

The Urban Informatics Research Lab was initially just a small but growing group of research staff and students working on a number of related grants funded by the ARC and partner organisations. This was back in 2006, and for a while we flew under the radar of the university’s administration winning research grants and squirrelling research papers.

The lab operates across the three domains that I mentioned earlier: people, place and technology, and so we house post-docs and research students from a variety of backgrounds: humanities and social science; urban planning, design and architecture; and human-computer interaction, information technology and computer science. What binds us all together is the shared focus on the nexus of all three areas. We came up with this definition of Urban Informatics that we are proud to say, was published in the CSCW 2011 proceedings on page 1. The fact that the paper appears on page 1 is actually arbitrary, but I still like to point it out ;-)

Urban informatics is the study, design, and practice of urban experiences across different urban contexts that are created by new opportunities of real-time, ubiquitous technology and the augmentation that mediates the physical and digital layers of people networks and urban infrastructures. (Foth, Choi, & Satchell, 2011).

A main driver of our work is the motivation to deliver not just rigorous research but also real world impact. We first started off with a study that significantly shaped the social sustainability strategies of the Kelvin Grove Urban Village, the Queensland Government’s flagship urban renewal project in inner-city Brisbane. The lab has also produced a number of technology innovations, such as CityFlocks – an early mobile location-based recommender system, DispoMaps – an iPhone app to temporarily share a map with your location details with others and then dispose of it safely, FixVegas – a mobile app that lets you take a photo of city assets and street furniture that require repair and submit a maintenance request to the local council, CapitalMusic – a mobile app to visually share what music you are currently listening to with people in your vicinity, and Discussions in Space – a hybrid mobile phone and public screen application that allows passersby to contribute content via SMS or tweets.

Can you share with us some personal notes regarding the Urban Informatics Research Lab, any challenges you faced along the way, and the outcome?

In the beginning our lab heavily depended on income from national competitive grants and we were lucky that the time was right for the research that we applied for. We still compete for national competitive grants, but we are also increasingly talking directly with partner organisations from the public and private sector about new research opportunities.

At the moment, we have research programs looking at urban planning and community engagement; environmenal sustainability and energy monitoring; food culture and the food interactions in the city; libraries as new hubs for digital culture and social innovation; and there are a number of applications in the pipeline and on the boil that may add new initiatives to the lab later this year and early next year.

Recently, the Urban Informatics Research Lab won the merit award in the R&D category at the iAwards QLD 2012 . Congratulations on the award! Can you describe the R&D project in particular? 

Thank you. Yes, the iAward was for Discussions in Space. We used it as a community engagement tool originally for a project with Brisbane City Council, but it has now been used successfully in a variety of other contexts, too, such as at Federation Square in Melbourne. In collaboration with FedSquare, Discussions in Space is used to engage with visitors during events such as Oprah’s visit, New Years Eve, Cadel Evans’ Tour de France victory parade, the Queen’s Royal Visit, and Thoughts for Molly Meldrum.

We are very pleased that Dr Ronald Schroeter’s excellent work on Discussions in Space has been recognised as the 2012 iAwards National Merit Recipient in the (more…)

summer updates and the best ways to contact me

I have few announcements, and the ways on how you can contact/find me this summer:

-         Science Online 2013 last call for program suggestions. If you want to participate in ScienceOnline 2013, the 7th annual international meeting on Science and the Web next January, NC, USA, add your program suggestion at #scio13 wiki. If you like my proposal within the education track and want to join me to conduct the session together: Digital Divide in Education and Science: Bridging the Existing Gaps (scroll down to find) – please add your name/contact on the wiki page before July 1st 2012. I’d be glad to meet those of you interested in digital divides that go beyond pure technological issues/affordances and discuss it with a wider audience.

-          Australian Science contributions. If you’d like to contribute and join an international, multidisciplinary, wonderful group of science and tech bloggers, researchers, scholars, and write for Australian Science, you can contact me on my editor’s email: danica@australianscience.com.au.  Also, please read my note we published earlier this year, it will give you better idea and help you see if you fit.

-          Mentoring and replying to students’ emails and enquiries.  I am sorry that I can’t mentor and help students world wide on certain issues in academia, as a research or reference guide as I used to do so far, voluntarily, whenever I had time. The next few months will be brutal and I have to say ‘no’.  Also, you are welcome to quote from my blog or my publications and research whenever you like. Please, just cite it properly (you can use Google Scholar Citations) so that your professors or reviewers don’t think you’re plagiarizing.

-         Speaking/workshop/training gigs during the summer: I have to say ‘no’ since I am engaged with the project which is now my highest priority. You can contact my speaking/conference/events agent for the future events starting from October 2012, by using the contact form.

I am practicing saying ‘no’ for the sake of being free for future engagements this Fall. I hope you understand. It doesn’t mean that I’ll be hermiting all the time, though I often will. I am open for scheduled meet-ups, conversations, brainstorming sessions, chats (see below how to contact me). I’ll be writing mostly in my hideaway, out and about, in the green areas, or just going for a weekend escapades around Europe when I need a breather.

Of course, there are situations where you can always contact me: a) want to share something interesting that requires my attention from the Fall 2012, or some life/cultural/artistic/literature/book you read/ info or event that can distract me in a good way from the project, b) you want to blog and contribute for Australian science, and c) for conferences, workshops, events enquiries – send your email on my contact form on the web site.

I may also blog randomly when inspired. I may also randomly scribble on Google plus, and post on Tumblr. When I create there’s usually the silence but if you see my Last.fm overwhelmed with various tunes – it also denotes that I may be working or dancing around.

The best ways to find and contact me.

Here is the communication protocol I created. Before you read it you’ll notice that messengers, g-chat, etc. are missing. Have in mind that I avoid IM/text messaging, especially, in the next couple of months due to work overload, and preserving my wrists from RSI. I rather use voice/email for non/formal communication. OK, here are the best ways to contact and find me (the URL of the protocol can be found here as well):

Email. If you want to share information, make a specific request, converse and meditate on some topic – email is the best way on the internet to contact me. Both professional and personal. I like to receive and read e-motion in my mailbox. I may not reply right away depending on the overload-ness for that day/week, but certainly you’ll get the reply. And vice versa – if I happen to check my email, I may respond right away.

Twitter. If you can’t email me, sending a reply or a direct message on Twitter is the best online tool for quick and concise information online, usually non formal and professionally related. I also exchange direct messages with friends and colleagues on my private account.

SMS. If you can’t email me, and don’t use Twitter – you can sms me. I usually prefer to receive sms before calling, whether friends and family or colleagues.

Phone. I may be an old fashioned gal, but I still use and converse via phone. If you are a colleague or professional partner, you can check my availability via email or sms, and we can arrange an appointment. Friends and family can call me anytime especially if there’s an urgent request or you simply need to chat with me.

SKYPE. If you can’t call me: I use Skype for professional, academic, and consulting purposes, as well as for the communication with colleagues. I avoid to use IM on Skype for a small talk, instead I prefer voice/audio chat-conversation with friends and colleagues, and/or video call (if we have an appointment, and I’m not in my PJs). I like Skype since I maintain most of my professional and friends contacts there, beside an email and phone.

Face-to-Face communication. If you can’t Skype with me: I do love meetings, tweet-ups, rendez-vous, brainstorming, coffee/tea/lunch breaks, etc. – in person! Due to living at different places and countries or travel for business and pleasure; planning (more…)

Small talk in the Digital Age: Making Sense of Phatic Posts

academia,communication,internet,social networking — Tags: , — Danica @ 5:56 pm, April 16, 2012

The World Wide Web 2012 conference has started, and I have presented earlier his morning after the keynote talk: Greg Ver Steeg - Information Theoretic Tools for Social Media. I talked about small talk, phatic communication and its functions, and online communication dynamics. How tweets and mundane Facebook updates about weather, food, what you’re doing, where are you doing, and how – are actually healthy for the online communities, human relationships, and sustaining social network systems. I provided plenty of interesting examples (see some of the slides), and had nice and inspiring questions from the audience.

You can read the paper in CEUR online database; I would be happy to read your thoughts and comments here. Check out the paper (pdf), it is available for downloading and reading as part of CEUR Vol-838.

Find my slides uploaded on a SlideShare.

WWW2012 and Phatic Posts: Even the Small Talk Can Be Big

academia,communication,internet,media,social networking,technology — Danica @ 10:16 am, April 14, 2012

Brief information for those coming to WWW2012 – you can check the programme. On Monday I will be presenting at ”Making Sense of Microposts”#MSM2012 workshop.  For others – please take a look at the article I wrote for the Scientific American on better understanding the phatic element of communication as applied to online discourse and networked connectivity.

Phatic Posts: Even the Small Talk Can Be Big  

Social media and micro-blogging have been fascinating to me ever since I first encountered them. In the last 3-4 years there has been an enormous growth in social network sites and in the numbers of people using them, especially on the two most popular services, Facebook and Twitter.

That fascination grew to become a doctoral research focus that has explored the different forms of communication dynamics being formed online. I was, in particular, curious why people post trivial, mundane updates and messages to each other – a behavior I have come to term “phatic posts”. It’s not just young people, but also professionals from different walks of life as well as internet researchers, including myself.

I used to tweet from the airplane before taking off, or being alone at the airport at 5am checking into Twitter to see if anyone’s awake in “my time zone’’, or logging in to my Flickr account to see if someone commented on my latest photography. I was not the only one engaging in such behavior; au contraire, many internet researchers and geeky people I know would demonstrate similar patterns of (more…)

Phatic Communication, or why the little things in social media really matter

I’m very pleased to say that my paper for The World Wide Web 2012 #WWW12 conference got accepted. It is on the phatic aspects of communication in an online sphere. Phatic communication expressions – a concept developed by the anthropologyst Malinowski and expanded on by the linguist Jakobson – denote brief, non dialogue and non-informational discussion or communication exchanges that can also be in the form of different types of signals.

However, in the paper I am arguing that the stuff you think is pointless and does not have a practical information value - your posts on Facebook and Twitter, the likes, the pokes and the tweets about food, weather, the mundane brief status updates – all turn out to have a vital role and social value  that even merits a new phrase – “phatic-posts”  - which the paper coins.

These phatic posts deliver values of staying up-to-date with a micro and macro world of events and news, flirting, chat and public expressions of everyday life and emotions among the participants. The paper explains multiple effects of phatic posts: social, validation, conflict-avoidance, and others. I won’t reveal everything now.

The paper will be published in the ACM SIG proceedings, and if you are curious this Wordle has a summary of (more…)

Connectivity Doesn’t End the Digital Divide, Skills Do #social_media

I wrote an article at the Scientific American blog highlighting digital divides – or digital inequalities, if you prefer – from other perspective, pointing out that these digital divides go far beyond pure infrastructure issues and need to become a key focus of engagement for profit and nonprofit organizations as they continue their missions to develop programs for social and digital inclusion.

Everyone’s talking about internet access: from European media to US media, stressing connectivity issues that merely compounding existing social inequalities as “new digital divides”, as if they are something new in the networked society. They are not.

According to the available measures, the selected indicators (such as gender, income, occupation, online experience, internet penetration, type of internet connection, etc.) are significantly related to the levels of (one’s country) per capita GDP, literacies, education, level of democratization, etc.  Being as one of the contributors for the forthcoming Routledge book on Digital Divide, I have presented some of the findings from my research, where I used the combined methodology: from web desktop analysis to online surveys and qualitative semi-structured interviews (N-125).
(more…)

The Internet and Social inequality: social media and digital divide

This is a post on what I was working on in the last few weeks, writing a book chapter for the great edition on the Internet and digital inequalities in International perspective including International contributors, and submitting some other papers on social networks and communication dynamics online.

Since many of you asked me on Twitter, email, Skype what the book chapter is about – I wanted to share with you a piece of it (the book is supposed to be published next year). It is individual work that is the result of several years of experience, qualitative research (semi-structured interviews), observations, recent talking and writing on different kinds of digital and social divides, social media and communication practices present on the Internet, and recently measured by quantiative (online surveys) and qualitative (semi-structured interviews, web desktop analysis, observation, etc.) research of mine. In short my focus for this book was on Internet and social media in European perspective – Balkan countries. My manuscript is theoretically grounded on social theories developed by the classical sociologists like Max Weber, Giddens, Meyorwitz and I applied them to the issues of Internet inequality.  (more…)

Internet on The Balkans

communication,GlobalVoices,internet,technology — Danica @ 9:14 pm, August 9, 2011

This weekend the Internet has celebrated the twenty years of the World Wide Web that on 6 August 1991 became publicly available; and Sir Tim Berners-Lee published the first ever website. Back then, he posted a short summary of the project on the alt.hypertext newsgroup. I was trying to remember my first html page back in 1996, probably stored on many floppy disks, maybe one day I will be able to extract the data and go back to the 90s.

Also, this weekend, I gave a short overview on the recent findings of a study of the Internet usage in the Balkan region. It is interesting to know (more…)

Digital Serendipities in Southeastern Europe – Featured Interview

I have been interviewed last month for the Open Society Foundations Blog on various topics related to digital use, online social interactions, digital divide, social networks and young adults in Southeastern Europe. I’m finding some interesting patterns that show what kinds of strategies policymakers should use to create and implement in education, government, etc.

Currently, I’m into data analysis, EDA, and writing, so you may not see me around that often. Check my Twitter updates and for the urgencies, comments, sharing, and caring feel free to email me.

[crossposting] Digital Serendipities in Southeastern Europe

Danica Radovanovic, Oxford, UK

As an Open Society Foundations Chevening scholar at the University of Oxford in 2009, and now as a PhD student at the Oxford Internet Institute, Danica Radovanovic focuses on the use of social new communication technologies in Southeastern Europe. Following her presentation on the “digital divide” in higher education at a recent Open Society Scholarship Programs conference for alumni from the Balkans, I spoke to Danica about the impact of online social interactions, especially in the Balkan region.

Why is it valuable to research online social trends, and how do you see your research contributing in that area?

It is important to understand and evaluate how people, markets, the economy and politics are moving from offline to online worlds and vice versa. I believe that research in social media and new communication technologies plays a crucial role in analyzing our society (more…)

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