I designed and developed CityFlocks as a project that formed part of my final thesis for the Dipl.-Medieninf. (MCompSc) degree in 2007 at LMU, Munich.

CityFlocks: Designing Social Navigation for Urban Mobile Information Systems

CityFlocks elaborates innovative ways to leverage mobile information and communication technology for social navigation and knowledge sharing among residents in and about urban public places. The local community of a city’s residents holds a big knowledge base and great potential to provide extensive, up-to-date and personalised information about inner-city facilities. Previous research has shown that people, when navigating physical spaces, prefer asking locals rather than e.g. using a map. However, time, space and convenience barriers often make it difficult for visitors to take advantage of this social knowledge from the local community of residents. This work focuses on the opportunities given by mobile technologies to bridge these barriers and provide an effective tool to improve social navigation in public inner-city environments. CityFlocks enables visitors and new residents in a city to tap the knowledge and experiences of local residents to gather information about urban public places. It is specifically designed to lower existing barriers of access and facilitate social navigation in urban places. This works introduces a smooth way for information seekers to access the tacit knowledge of people they have never seen or talked to before in their lives. In a field study we evaluate two general user interaction alternatives – direct and indirect social navigation – and analyse under which conditions which interaction method works better for people using a mobile device to socially navigate urban places. The outcomes are relevant for the user interaction design of future mobile information systems that leverage of the social navigation approach.


Examples of Social Navigation affordances in the physical world…

CityFlocks provides hints for Social Navigation that would remain invisible otherwise…



CityFlocks is a mobile system enabling visitors and new residents in a city to tap into the knowledge and experiences of local residents, so as to gather information about their new environment.

Mobile App: direct vs indirect Social Navigation


CityFlocks enables users to read local residents’ comments or to set up a direct voice link if they have further questions (direct social navigation)


CityFlocks provides a list of aggregated, user-generated recommendations and ratings for specific urban places. (indirect social navigation)

The workflow in the CityFlocks mobile client is divided into two search modules: one for location-based comments (indirect SN), and the other for expert residents (direct SN)

The workflow in the CityFlocks mobile client is divided into two search modules: one for location-based comments (indirect SN), and the other for expert residents (direct SN)


The user tests were aimed at exploring the capability of social navigation as a suitable design approach for mobile urban information systems, as well as evaluating which of the social navigation concepts known from earlier studies, that is, direct or indirect social navigation, is more effective and under which conditions.

The user tests with the Gelatine mobile web app have shown that mobile users mostly prefer gathering information following the indirect approach, i.e. reading  location-based comments left behind from previous navigators. Expert user comments from Gelatine were perceived as a valuable source of information when navigating new urban environments. In contrast to information material from professional sources, such as magazines or city guide books, CityFlocks comments were considered as reflecting people’s uncensored opinion about places in the city. They were able not only to request a list of different places available according to their request, but also able to get an idea of what each of these places are like and what local residents thought about them, before even getting there. The second design approach was aimed to connect information seekers with local residents via direct voice link or a text messaging function. Even though those direct channels generally provide a richer form of communication, our test users would not bother using them. First, they often felt uncomfortable talking to a complete stranger, even though they knew that the respective person had previously agreed to provide direct advice to any information seeker. Secondly, even users who knew the local resident hesitated calling, because they were afraid of interrupting them. Text messaging was perceived as an appropriate channel to contact known local residents if the request was not urgent, i.e. when the answer was expected up to a day after.


  • Bilandzic, M., Foth, M., & De Luca, A. (2008). CityFlocks: Designing Social Navigation for Urban Mobile Information Systems. In G. Marsden, I. Ladeira & P. Kotze (Eds.), Proceedings ACM SIGCHI Designing Interactive Systems (DIS). Cape Town, South Africa. (eprints)
  • Bilandzic, M., & Foth, M. (2009). Social Navigation and Local Folksonomies: Technical and Design Considerations for a Mobile Information System. In S. Hatzipanagos & S. Warburton (Eds.), Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies (pp. 52-66). Hershey, PA: IGI Global (eprints)
  • Bilandzic, M., & Foth, M. (2007) Urban computing and mobile devices: Mobile Location Bookmarking. IEEE Pervasive Computing, 6(3), p. 53. (eprints)
  • Bilandzic, M., (2007) Designing Mobile Systems for Social Navigation in Urban Public Places. Thesis submitted at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München. (eprints)


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