Mobile social networks and urban public space.

Humphreys, L.

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Humphreys, L. (2010). Mobile social networks and urban public space. New Media & Society, 12(5), 763–778.

Mobile Phones , Mobile Social Networks , Parochial Space , Public Space , Social Interaction

The development and proliferation of mobile social networks have the potential to transform ways that people come together and interact in public space.These services allow new kinds of information to flow into public spaces and, as such, can rearrange social and spatial practices. Dodgeball is used as a case study of mobile social networks. Based on a year-long qualitative field study, this article explores how Dodgeball was used to facilitate social congregation in public spaces and begins to expand our understanding of traditional notions of space and social interaction. Drawing on the concept of parochial space, this article examines how ideas of mobile communication and public space are negotiated in the everyday practice and use of mobile social networks.

Main finding
Location-aware mobile social networks can be considered powerful forces involved in the transformation of public space use. This study analyzes a particular mobile social network ("Dodgeball"), and finds how the platform facilitates social congregation public spaces. The authors find that social networks such as Dodgeball can facilitate social connections among users, but only if the networks align with user needs related to (a) timing of messages, (b) spatial proximity of users, and (c) travel time. It is also notable that such platforms could be used to avoid sociality, so they are not in and of themselves guarantors of increased sociality. The authors find that mobile social networks often seem to facilitate engagement among people who already know each other as opposed to supporting new connections, a process known as "social molecularizaton."

Description of method used in the article
Participant observation and in-depth interviews (N = 21) with users and the founder of a mobile phone-based social media service/application (“Dodgeball”) that allowed users to coordinate their locations and congregate in public and semi-public places. Fieldwork took place between November 2005 and 2006 with users from Chicago, IL (n = 1); Los Angeles, CA (n = 2); Minneapolis, MN (n = 4); New York City, NY (n = 9); Philadelphia, PA (n = 3); San Francisco, CA (n = 4); and Seattle, WA (n = 1).

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