In the previous chapter an overview of some of the problems affecting users of PT in their commute every day was presented, along with a brief visualization of the ways Networking can help people in this context.

In the following pages, previous works and research on design and Human Computer Interaction (HCI) are considered as a background framework. These works may relate to areas such as urban design and service design, but this framework focuses on the human-centered approach to design solutions.

In the late years, new technologies have added new opportunities for people to express themselves, share information and interact with others, a world of possibilities has grown, but at the same time new problems and challenges arise.

This situation, added to the fact that designers and makers[1] are turning their sight to the common space of the cities, explains an interest in social relations in these commons spaces, and how interactive design can empower people to learn about the world around them (Woodward). Consequently, this section explores different instances of online participation, transit related research, and social networks and behavior.

[1] The Maker Movement or Do It Yourself (DIY) is the idea that, people learn how things work from the point of view of the creator, regarding how we live our lives or what our goals are. This way it is possible to appropriate the process, techniques and technology behind any human task (Dougherty 11).

Online Participation

When portraying citizens sharing and browsing experiences online, we ineludibly refer to social networking or social media as it stands since the web 2.0 and the proliferation of Online Social Networks (ONS) like Facebook and Twitter. This suggests the idea “that as the Internet in general becomes more social […] and everything is social and social is everywhere, there is an element of it that is read-write that involves people writing and revising and responding to one another, not in a one-to-one or one-to-many fashion but many-to-many” (Crumlish and Malone 9). This idea has become so familiar that the users of online social networks just take it for granted. Despite the large number of irrelevant messages sent on Internet every day, we still browse different kinds of media and frequently seek support from mutual experiences, on topics as diverse as addiction and recovery to weight issues. Undoubtedly, “thousands of web users feel they benefit from communicating with others who have shared some aspect of their experiences” (Crumlish, Power of Many: How the Living Web Is Transforming Politics, Business, and Everyday Life 125), and companies see worth in this using methods like crowdsourcing, “the online request for resources from a distributed audience often in exchange for a reward” (Gerber and Hui 1). Thus, it is possible to obtain quick relevant data to enrich the platforms and services.

Participation has become an important research topic to certain areas, such as urban environments and services like PT or local information. Yoo, Zimmerman and Hirsch studied how social computing might involve stakeholders in the design process of a transit service, using research methods on the field applied to the riders and their communities. In this case, personal computing allows people to participate actively in reshaping the world we live in today, remaking the services, and contributing to the public knowledge that can support organizations or institutions make better decisions (409).

Following this track, projects like FixMyStreet.com (see Figure 4. Screenshot of FixMyStreet.com) or Parkscan allow users to provide feedback to local governments, however, it’s not possible to comment or interact with other users when using these systems (Yoo, Zimmerman and Hirsch 410). There is a gap and an opportunity to create a participatory interactive system based on social networking that can refine a service and the user experience, having in mind the social relations in a community.

Screenshot of FixMyStreet.com
Screenshot of FixMyStreet.com

Research in Urban Spaces

The data collected in urban spaces can offer a coherent narrative about the world of user-centered products, and help to design and re-design the cities. The areas or fields that are mostly observed in this context are transportation, air pollution or energy consumption. One of the areas more susceptible to improve is safety (Zheng, Capra and Wolfson 38).

Different methods like interviews, drawing routes, and observations help to visualize problems like bus overcrowding, dangerous neighborhoods, senior citizen vs. young people, riders vs. bus drivers, urban riders vs. suburban riders. Its analysis can be interpreted as people’s concerns, and therefore, design possible solutions.

On a slightly different view, some explore possible reasons for choosing PT over cars when traveling or moving around in a city in their daily activities, this is made by “analyzing the role of personal norms in people’s decision to use PT means instead of the car for everyday trips such as shopping or travelling to work” (Bamberg, Hunecke and Blöbaum 192).

This study focuses on the environmentally aware motivations and why they make their decisions based on this awareness, whether if it is for personal conviction or a more global or collective reasoning, for example, for their children or future generations, or for fear of social sanctions. Arguably, understanding the need to analyze users’ behaviors and their relation to their cultural context are “essential parts of developing a model of user experience that leads to targeted and far-reaching design conclusions” (Wasson 385).

Recent studies try to find out what users look for when using their mobile phones to browse internet and what their behavior is. Different analytics tools were used to measure this behavior and the most important findings are:

–       Social networking and news is what people see more frequently.

–       There is a high pattern of similarity divided in the days of the week.

–       People traveling in the same route have high similarities of interests (Jiang, Thilakarathna and Kaafar 37).

The research on transit services on the previous pages show data from observation, which is used mainly on early stages of a human centered approach to design, and its conclusions are helpful insights as well as potential opportunities for future developments. Human-centered design (HCD) “is an approach that puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving” (Norman 8).

HCD starts by understanding the problem, and this happens largely by observation, “for people themselves are often unaware of their true needs, even unaware of the difficulties they are encountering.” It is a “design philosophy” that ensures design equals the needs of people, and getting to the root of this need is done by iterating on different approximations. The result of HCD is understandable and usable, helps to accomplish desired goals, and provides an enjoyable experience of use (Norman 9, 219).

 

Location Awareness

The subject of social media and location based services ponders crucial problems and new questions for this matter; how people interact and what motivates them to create links with other users or to share information on a network based on their geographic location. Allamanis, Scellato and Mascolo give importance to the place where the users are and how this shapes the users’ behavior, whereas “spatial proximity fosters the creation of online social ties”. However interesting, it is hard to assess or validate this argument, especially when space and time can be blurred because of asynchronous communications such as social media sites and apps. The authors approach to this problem using concepts from social networks such as node degree, spatial distance, and preferential attachment; location services on mobile devices has been very important to this phenomenon, this article suggests that people tend to create more links based on the geographical location (146).

Foth and Schroeter describe the experience of a project that builds upon an existing bus tracking platform, to create a social media application. As they present it, the main goal is “to digitally augment the public transport environment to enhance the user experience of commuters for a more enjoyable journey”. This work doesn’t try to make the transportation experience more effective or safer, instead it focuses on creating a more enjoyable journey, along its different steps, such as planning, waiting at the platform or the bus stop, being in the vehicle, and the time after the journey. However, shared information could be used in a cyclical way to improve effectiveness, events from previous rides like e.g. the time stamp it took to make the ride, could help other riders to check this in different chronological circumstances (33-34).

An interactive system can provide how people from different social or economic status can interact and make their journey more gratifying. For example, during the journey of PT the commuter will physically find the “familiar stranger”, an individual we recognize from common activities but we don’t interact with. User testing, through methods like “Scenario-Prototypes,” help to visualize how “the user archetypes or personas engage with technology to achieve their social and cultural goals more effectively than current technologies allow” (Foth and Schroeter 35, 38).

 

Networks and Behavior

Social incentives and user-generated information can be used to increase the use of PT options instead of driving a car. Existing research studies prove ways to motivate people to use PT, having different methods of inquiry and potential users as foundation of both PT and social media. The next example focuses on undergraduate college students; because these are one the most “environmentally conscious demographics,” which makes them more disposed to be persuaded (Booher, Chennupati and Onesti 2048). This approach argues that having transport options at the moment of interacting with the social interface, can influence the decision and, therefore, modify the behavior of users. One influential reason for taking this decision is environmental welfare, which is intrinsically related to personal welfare, as “many behaviors which tend to serve our personal well-being are detrimental to the environment” (Bamberg, Hunecke and Blöbaum 90).

The research, done in California, has useful information drawn by users’ feedback. Students don’t feel motivated to use PT due to stigmas or stereotypes, like it is used only by lower socio-economical class or people who can’t have a license “due to legal problems.” Also, another setback is that “students feel lack of safety when riding on PT”. A tool called Facebook Ride Connect consisted basically on a prototype for creating events on Facebook, with additional options for PT to the event’s place. This research is based on the idea that people attending an event can be more motivated to use PT if they see that others are using it to go, which may overpass some of the stigmas people have about using PT instead of driving a car, this is related also to user’s behavior methods. At the same time this interaction can strengthen existing links of collaboration between acquaintances of a group (Booher, Chennupati and Onesti 2045).

Continuing the topic of Facebook, further studies introduce the concept of social capital, and how it is affected by Social Networking Sites (SNS) depending on behavior issues such like the types of activities and the differences between users. SNS’s have the “potential to influence users’ social capital and the psychological well-being that flows from social capital”. Framed into a sociological and psychological juxtaposition, the basic theory is that people benefit from interpersonal and group relations, improving health, access to information, or financial resources, and therefore “online communication and participation in social networking will influence one’s social capital and the downstream psychological consequences.” Bonding (interacting with friends and known people), bridging (using weak ties to improve productivity) or activities like “broadcasting” (sharing information with people mostly for knowledge not for creating bounds) can improve or decrease the sense of well-being depending on the social skills people have (Burke, Kraut and Marlow 571, 573).

These ways to interact within the communities, aided by tools like mobile devices raise new questions and shows more ground to explore. When it comes to creating experiences, “designers must facilitate the trust that enables collective action”. In addition, participants should be able to monitor and report dishonesties and questionable practices (Shneiderman 57).

Trust is hard to dimension; it can be related to moral trust or the optimistic view that people have good intentions. Ben Schneiderman invokes Francis Fukuyama, a prior U.S. State Department analyst, who claims: “Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behavior, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of the members of that community.” Trust is important to generate a collaboration environment, and it is a feature of the social resources embedded into networks and communities (57).

The reference framework shows interesting insights from previous studies and solutions, especially related to the subject of this thesis, PT. This is a look at the background, and the notions mentioned can be referenced on the next stages of the thesis paper.

The representative feature of this approach is that it considers a junction between social capital and human-computer interaction, where public knowledge can be put to work for a group benefit.

The next chapter declares the theory that frames the current proposal and helps to define concepts related to social relations, like what is social capital, in what forms can be observed, and how to foster its creation.