Social Networking & Mapping Apps

| May 19, 2010

The popular form of self expression, Graffiti is making it’s mark virtually on college campuses.

According to this article featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the fad is being fueled by free social-networking and mapping games for smartphones such as Foursquare and Gowalla. These applications allow people to leave virtual messages tagged on specific locations. (Ting blogged about the social aspect of foursquare here as the tool just got adopted.)

So far there has been some prankster activity leaving virtual graffiti on spots such as people’s offices, which obviously is raising some eye brows about privacy and potential problems that could arise with this freedom. However, aside from personal tags and the ways in which students are using it, some colleges have been active in harnessing such powers for educational uses. Harvard, for example, is using geotagged locations around the site to act as a virtual tour, rich in information, for newcomers. North Carolina State University has a system that delivers geolocated history-on-the-spot information, such as letting users view images from the campus taken years ago at the spot where they’re standing. It is offered as a new library service that shows smartphone users historical pictures of campus buildings based on where users are standing, including a snapshot of the first freshman class, from 1890, when the agricultural college’s hot mobile technology was horses. Additionally, it is suggested as a potential technology for professors in fields like history and archaeology who could create place-based knowledge.

Also, during the recent South by Southwest, a project presented a smartphone application called Placethings, which lets you tie pictures, video, and audio to locations and map that multimedia trail into a narrative. So, for example, you might create a place-based tour about Dallas sites tied to the assassination of President Kennedy. So more and potentially better tools to do these kinds of tagging activities are coming.

Tools like these are a sign of what’s to come as colleges move into the Mobile Era. The potential sticky power of this idea includes the basic technology behind the game— which is the ability to contextualize information to your location— and that is expected to go mainstream.