2011-05-07

geoKarlovka.cz or: how we used location-based services at the CharlesUniversity

Among the things I do, I study at New Media Studies at the Charles University. In the course of one class we created a team on a project to use location-based services for the Charles University. This is how geoKarlovka.cz started. It's a story of how we have replaced the user-generated content with superuser-generated content.
Our intention was to use location-based services to improve orientation and navigation in the complex mesh of the university's buildings and institutions scattered across the whole Prague and other Czech cities. We wanted to employ the game-like elements involved in these services, such as earning badges or winning mayorships, to make students explore the university campus more, to visit the university's libraries or campus dining halls.
We have used the existing location-based services to accomplish the task we have set for us. To implement our goals, we have chosen Foursquare, Gowalla, and Google Places. Foursquare was identified as our core priority since it is the most widely used location-based service in Czech Republic, according to the latest statistics.
In this way, we have used the Web as a content management system (source). Instead of building another place to put the information about the venues at the Charles University in, we have used the existing infrastructure for hosting content provided by these services. We have also used Google Docs as our internal CMS. All of the data on the map of the venues of Charles University comes from a spreadsheet in Google Docs (after its imported into another spreadsheet and filtered with Yahoo! Query Language).
The content of the various location-based services is primarily user-generated content. As it turns out, it may contain inconsistencies and its quality may be dubious.
We set our goal to improve this image the Charles University has in the afore-mentioned services. We strived to repair incorrect data, add missing links, and enrich the description with another useful particulars, such as opening hours or the URLs of the venues' websites. What we were trying to achieve was also to unify of the content describing the university on the chosen location-based services, align the information coming from different sources, and thus establish a minimal common basis. To maintain a level of uniformity we have devised our own naming scheme in order to name the venues in a consistent manner.
The most common issues of the content present in the selected location-based services included missing data, wrong information or incorrect names. For example, on Google Places we have discovered venues with names such as Charles University, part E which was in fact a college dormitory.
We, the superusers, have provided the superuser-generated content. As students, we have the local knowledge. We have studied at the Charles University for several years during which we have acquired a high degree of familiarity with its peculiarities. As new media geeks, we are long-time power users of location-based services, and we knew better to use the established best practices, such as venue naming guidelines. In fact, we have been granted limited superuser privileges from Foursquare in order to be able to edit venues and merge duplicate entries.
However, we have stumbled upon some problems. For instance, there was an issue with Google's hyper-correctness. The abbreviation for the Charles University, cuni, is an expletive in Tamil, and as such it is prohibited to be used in Google Places. For this reason we weren't able to provide any URLs to the Charles University's venues since they all share the same root URL: www.cuni.cz.
We have created an official brand page for Charles University on Foursquare, at which we are adding tips to the various university venues. In this way, we have put Charles University in line with the early adopters, side by side with Harvard or Stanford University. We have managed to setup one special on Foursquare, a badge for new visitors of one of the university libraries. Two trips on Gowalla were created, one for newbie students, the second for those who want to take a tour through the students' most favorited pubs. And in April, we have presented our project at the Foursquare Day in Prague to get attention of the wider Foursquare community.
As another component of the project, we have coded a simple application for generating QR codes for easy check-in at any Foursquare venue. Just search for the name of the venue you manage and you'll get a custom QR code enabling to check-in without the need to use geolocation or search to find your venue. When you scan such QR code with your mobile device (preferably iOS or Android-based), it re-directs you automatically onto a venue page in a dedicated Foursquare application.
This project was an opportunity to explore various tools and services. We have built the website with Google App Engine, pulled data from Foursquare API and Google Spreadsheets API with a little help from the excellent Yahoo! Query Language. The visualizations are based on Google's services, such as Google Maps Javascript API or Google Charts.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to @josefslerka, the head of New Media Studies, who has first brought the idea to the fore, @eliskah for backing us up with her extensive knowledge of location-based services and her sheer geekdom, and all of the team members: @annaceskova, @matez_jindra, and @yanana, for bringing the initial ideas to fruition. I really enjoyed working on this project.

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