Digital ‘tags’ have become a core part of urban places
Often unnoticed, ‘tagging’ of places has become an everyday activity. Sometimes we actively call out a place on social media, but often it also happens tacitly. Imagine your workday: If you use the subway, the barrier scans your ticket and logs the location in a database. You check in to work, opening some access door with a keycard. Back later on the street, you may send a few location-enabled tweets. For the route to the next meeting, Google provides traffic updates collated from individuals sharing their mobility information. When you searched for venues, you found coffee shops with four or five-star ratings near your client’s office.
Aside from Google Maps and Twitters, many other sites web services now collect and store geo-locative tags from our location-enabled phones. Searching based on location and proximity is now a common activity. Most web searches are now about locations, as part of our daily routines. Most of us have been there and done that. Services based on user-generated content are the joy of travellers arriving new to a city facilitating access to insight usually only available to some locals. Finding our own position in a foreign place has never been this easy. [N.B.I wrote the original post when visiting Hanoi].
Labels and official descriptions — other forms of tagging
As I worked with a large dataset of consultation data as part of the research for my PhD, I came to realise that we often forget that tags on social media are just one part of labelling. Many other forms of labelling are closely enforced through administrative processes, for example, street names, house numbers, postcodes.
Tagging has been a common activity in planning. In fact, a large part of planning is occupied with the classification and demarcation of objects in the city to define what to do with them. This also includes experts’ labels, such as brownfield, greenfield, buildings status, and so on.
Official labels give permanence to a place reinforced through established names of buildings, streets, parks, etc around us. Those established tags, held as part of the shared understanding of a locality, is given additional meaning through the associations, memories, and emotions in relation to those places.
Formally approved tags or colloquially well-established names serve as a reference for the chatter on social media, such as Twitter.
Tagging and urban planning
When it comes to social media, what is associated with a place could be useful for planning more broadly. However, it would require a different set of techniques and tools for planners in order to make it useful.
It is unlikely to conclude planning actions on the basis of Tweets, however, due to the different nature of fleeting social media content:
- Any public comments on Twitter flow fast and come out of ‘the moment’.
- A review of social media content estimated that 80% of tweets are focused on the individual rather on the public interest.
- Analysis of hyperlocal media found posts about recent or current local events were more common than what ought to be.
In turn, this shows that planning projects will likely not just benefit from some sort of passive discussion. Instead, local councils may find use in developing programmes and clear pro-active dialogues driving an agenda to solicit public responses. Feedback from geo-tagged social media that is part of a purposeful dialogue is also more likely to help inform planning actions.
What do you think about the role of online-generated tagging for city planning? Feel free to share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.