LBS and Naive Users (A.K.A. Me)

I must say I appreciated Bin Jiang and Xiaobai Yao’s article “Location-based services and GIS in perspective” a great deal for the myriad ways it helped to explain LBS technology in light of GIS science’s research agenda, particularly given how ubiquitous they are in our everyday lives right now. The key section, to me at least, is where the authors argue that these technologies tend to be “generally oriented to naive users” (719) because potentially everyone might be a user some day. In a nutshell, that naive user is me but with one important caveat. I do not own an IPhone, tablet, IPad or any other generally accepted form of LBS technology. While I’d like to think I’m relatively sophisticated in using modern, online technology, I simply can’t bring myself to buy any kind of tablet because I’m not able to distinguish how my using it would be different from using my computer. Generally, as cell phones go, I’m that guy who walks into the store and demands the cheapest, most-unbreakable phone I can get. Perhaps I’m old, but a phone should be a phone and nothing more, by my way of thinking.

So I found this paradigm of the naive user engaging with LBS technology particularly interesting when the authors got into discussing how research into “spatial ontologies”  and “geographic representation” could be closely tied into work on LBS platforms. The authors approach it from the perspective that such research can help to “set up a common ontology for LBS for knowledge sharing among diverse users” (718). This might be one direction such a flow could be viewed: previously developed ontologies of geographic space shaping the manner in which LBS networks/devices display such information. But, I would think such a flow might move in the opposite direction too, in that many LBS users might influence definitions of geographic space according to how they use their devices. As the authors note, aspects of spatial cognition will be very important to LBS device design (719). Or, put simply, naive folks like me will want simple ontological definitions so they can understand/use these devices better.

But, let’s remember to put this in perspective. Not everyone uses these devices the same way and people like me have taken themselves out of the game entirely. So, how do designers define ontologies that fit all of the diverse users around the globe? I know interoperability remains an important idea as we discussed with Renee’s talk about ontologies, but at what cost? Take this example: A little while ago, a friend took me on a kayaking trip around the Boston, MA harbor islands. He did not bring a map. After a long day, we found ourselves still on the water in the dark searching for the island where we could camp. We knew we were close but his IPhone was on the blink – at least as far as its star charts, GIS, and map technologies were concerned. Needless to say, he was not pleased. For my part, I found it amusing he thought such devices would work on the ocean (albeit still within 5 miles of shore).

Perhaps just a technological infrastructure issue – but the point is still the same. If we’re thinking about defining standards for the information these devices display, what happens if our standards disenfranchise kayakers? More to the point, what about users in Africa who find landmarks such as a neighbor’s field more useful than street grids with names? The authors touch on this idea, but how do we allow naive users to generate data and give input on the ways these devices work as they become yet even more commonplace across the globe.


DISCLAIMER: My parents do both own complicated, new-fangled cell phones that allow many of these LBS functions. And, yes, I have used them many times and helped my parents figure out how to use them – since I somehow am a bit more adept than they.



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