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Analysis of subjective perception of the city The Open Sign project proposal


Irina Rudnichenko


The new situation With the development of digital technology and the appearance of digital media (as well as online versions of traditional media, there are completely new social media), the “subjective” layer of reality became more reachable for observers as well as for those who want to express themselves. The resulting changes in the status and importance of the “subjective” layer has been described by many researchers. For instance, in the quote below the authors proclaim that the “subjective” layer is now more relevant than “objective” and “known” ones.

The analytical part of this report starts with a theoretical description of different layers of perception of reality in general, and a city in particular. The paper talks about the correlation between those perceptions, describes how they have changed with new technologies and then explores those changes using the example of Moscow.


“Physical location and physical territory, for so long the only grid on which difference could be mapped, need to be replaced by multiple grids that enable us to see that connection and contiguity - more generally the representation of territory - varies considerably by factors such as class, gender, races and sexuality.” 1

Three layers of perception The Senseable City Lab specializes in sensing and actuating city functions with new digital technologies. Now, with development of these technologies, it is possible to explore cities in real-time.. But these new capabilities have changed not only the ways of doing research, but also they have affected daily life of citizens. Despite the fact that they might not be interested in the analysis of the cities or building new

My answer is that tourists today have become more demanding: they don't want to wait and they don't want to explore the city following standard recommendations. They want to see live through their own, personalized and subjective story of exploration and they want it immediately. On the other hand, I believe, that on some points people are more open now: they are ready to learn how to use new devices to win some time or new relevant information.

new possibilities, like the capability to get any data or communication

Because of the beliefs I described above, both parts of my research report are focused on the subjective perception of the city in the age of

The starting point for my research was that the Moscow Department for Tourism became a client for the projects of Senseable City Lab Moscow, with the initial question “How can we make Moscow more friendly for tourists?” Taking into account the focus of the Senseable lab itself I

what I mean by the subjective perception of the city and how this idea could work on certain examples of Moscow during the political protests speculative and futuristic idea named “The Open Sign,” which explores what the tourism and navigation of subjective perceptions could be like.

in my research before I could come up with a proposal:

How can tourism be transformed to make new changed spaces more open and inviting?

spaces more open and inviting? anytime affect the behavior of those who decided to visit the real physical city? 29

The environment around human beings and the city consists of several layers of information. as das Ding an sich (“the thing in itself”). This reality exists objectively, without correlation with human beings, therefore people cannot affect it. The second layer is “the known reality” or “measurable” reality. That reality consists of aseries of assumptions about “the objective reality”, such as time, matter and space, and it is built on perceptions of the world through human physical receptors. Theoretically, a human being could have seen that reality. But in fact the ability to perceive “the known reality” could be easily shadowed by the next informational layer, “the subjective reality”, which is the layer of societalal assumptions. For instance, humans for a long period of time were not able to understand and agree with the heliocentric system of the Solar System, not because they were blind and did not have the physical ability to see the planets and the sun. Even after several insights and experiments of Nicolaus Copernicus the society forced individual humans to continue to ignore some more relevant information. That last layer is the layer on which human beings interact to each other, build society and agrees on common points of view and assumptions about “the known reality” to make communication withinsociety easier. This layer is extremely important for effective communication between people. 30

Figure 1. Age of Russian political protesters 1

Figure 4. Semanticmap for "Rossyiskaya Gazeta" Figure 2. Political views of Russian protesters 1

Figure 3. The most important thing in life for Russian protesters 1

Subjective perception and the Part 1. Descriotion of the viewer Moscow space This theoretical and abstract theory can be applied to Moscow. Since the advent of digital communications the subjective layer of the city became more important and affected the objective and quasi-objective layer. This research explores the political protests in Moscow that occurred from December 2011 until February 2012. Due to the emergence of new opportunity to catch and describe the way different people subjectively percept physical and meta-physical reality. On the other hand, citizens also obtained the opportunity to form and express their subjective opinion in real-time, which led to a more elaborate picture of different subjective perceptions.

produce the two subjective perceptions I am interested in. One group are the users of social networks who actively express their disagreement with the current political situation in the country. Others are the journalists and editors of Rossyiskaya Gazeta, who express the certain position as employees of the main Russian governmental newspaper. For the description of each position I use the information and sources which seem to be relevant for them. For instance, people from Facebook are described by the information they provided on their pages and by their activity in the Internet. And creators of the Rossyiskaya Gazeta are described bythe information they gave in more traditional media. Let us start from the Facebook protesters. Right after the protest, the research institution BasiliskLab 3 from social networks of people who agreed to attend the protest. In

The focus of the research is to see the subjective layer of the city, the layer of subjective perceptions. I chose two points of view of the riots.

research: age, political views and “the most important thing in life”. You one is the largest protesters’ Facebook group, called“We were at Bolotnaya and we’ll come back” 2 the media for coordinating the riots.

average portrait of the participant of the protest (or maybe the way an average protester wants to be seen) is: (S)he is around 24 years old, tends to say that self-development and family are the most important things in life (or, in other words they are more interested in their personal

who are those people who produce content about protests for social media and for Rossyiskaya Gazeta. In other words, I examined who are the people whose subjective perception of the riots I am going to

views, almost all of the protesters in the social media state that they have no clear political views (14 % say they are indifferent, 16% moderate and 13% monarchists (which could be counted as a joke).

The focus of the research is the layer of subjective perceptions of riots in Moscow

Part 2. Semantic map of subjective perception The next step in the research is making a semantic map of the subjective how that day was depicted by Rossyiskaya Gazeta and by the public wall in the Facebook group “We were at Bolotnaya”. This date is the Monday after Saturday's protest at Moscow called “The White Ring”, when cars of protesters made a center of the city. I picked the date a day after the event due to the fact that Rossyiskaya Gazeta does not release issues over

and on the map it is written in bigger font, and the phrases about the opposition from articles (such as “cannot”, “I don't want”, “intelligentsia” and so on) are the context for the issue. On the map they are put under the topic issue in a smaller font. After highlighting those groups I examined the correlations between connotations and associations around different issues. I divided the possible connections between two types: one is the connection between synonyms (in black), for issues that have similar connotations, and another one is the connection between antonyms (in red), for issues that seem to be contradicted. Continuing the example with the “opposition”: you can see how this issue is positively connected with issue of “candidate” through the connotation of their

By comparing semantic maps one could investigate how different the perception of the Russian political scene is.

is associated with the phrase “cannot” and the “candidate” with the phrase “impossible to solve”. Inthis example it is clear that despite the connotation itself having a negative estimation, but between two negative connotations could be established a positive correlation, or in other words, Rossyiskaya Gazeta sees similarities between the opposition and the candidate for president and gives a negative connotation to both.

comments which were published in both sources for that date: for the Facebook group it was about 108 pages of A4 (only comments and links, without including whole texts of articles (but I included them in my 16 pages of A2. The basis for the research is a speculative attempt to imagine a human who read only certain source of the information for the certain date and depict what would be his subjective perception of the objective reality of protests in Moscow after that reading.

Thus, I got two semantic maps of subjective perception. By comparing them one could investigate how different the perception of the Russian political scene is from those two sources. For instance, the Facebook protesters also have the issue of “the opposition”. But their connotations include such phrases as “compromise”, “split” and “united”. Clearly the authors from Facebook are more interested in the internal organization and life of the opposition than outside issues of politics and governance.

connected to the political life of Moscow, which are grouped by issues. For instance, one of the repeating topics in Rossyiskaya Gazeta is the issue of “Opposition” which is usually described in the negative context. Therefore, “Opposition” is the name for the issue

Talking about people who have a subjective perception in Rossyiskaya

describe. The second part is the semantic map describing what the subjective reality of both sources looks like and building the connections and correlations which exists in those realities. And the last part is two geographical maps, which represents the differences in understanding of the physical space according to subjective perception.

of the Russian government. For instance, all Russian laws go into effect after being published there. Beside publishing laws, the newspaper specializes inproviding the position of the government about political, economical and relevant world events. According to the statistics provided by the newspaper 4 an average reader is around 50 years old and works as a director or specialist in a company (17% and 20%) or are in retirement (26%).

Figure 5. Semantic map for "Rossyiskaya Gazeta". Connotations for opposition 31


Figure 6. Semantic map for Facebook group of protesters. Connotations for opposition

Figure 7. Geographic map of perception of world news by Facebook group of protesters

Part 3. Geographic map of subjective perception

Figure 8. Geographic map of perception of world news by Rossyiskaya Gazeta In the next section, I focus on the project named “The Open Sign” which is aimed at helping people navigate the subjective layer of the city. cannot be fully available even for those who inhabit the city, and the second layer, “the known reality”, is on the one hand common for anyone and on the other hand is not really relevant for exploring the uniqueness of a new place, the Open Sign navigation and translation focuses on the third, subjective informational layer of the city.

The last stage of the analytical part is to compare how some objective events could be seen or ignored from different points of view. At the one is built around the issue of Rossyiskaya Gazeta, while the other is built on the wall on the Facebook group of protesters. On the map, different world events are marked by red circles, and the radius of each circle means how often the source mentions the news for that circle. For example, on the map for Facebook protesters, you can see the big


increase of the population of settlements, the process becomes more sophisticated, but the systems become more inaccessible.

Project description

At the same time, the layer of socially subjective assumptions becomes less visible for foreigners and tourists with the development of technologies and society. Firstly, society and the city became too big to retain the solid layer of assumptions. Now the city is divided into various sub-cultures and communities, each of which establishes and represents its own view of reality. And for a stranger, it is almost impossible to navigate between all those assumptions without being lost. Secondly, with the developing of technologies, communicating between people became remote and the tourists can not now understand the city just by placing themselves into physical reality of the place. To make cities

The main objective of the Open Sign project is to show and translate the subjective informational layers that cover the physical reality of the city. The project proposes a new system of navigation in the city. This system is based on augmented reality technology and aims to make digital information available to people. The focus of the project is to build a navigation system which would always show up-to-date information and can adjust itself to the certain user's requests and needs. The Open Sign gives users an opportunity to know the city through the unique perception of various people and communities who inhabit it, not only

protest. On the map for Rossyiskaya Gazeta you cannot see anything so this protest had not been mentioned at all. In the same way you could compare different parts of the world as they were seen by two sources and explore how differently the world is represented. Such comparisons are only possible using digital technology, which allows us to record the interests of the protesters though a new medium.

is comparable to the concept of an informational market with pure competition, which emerges after the era of monopolistic control of information in the old economy. At the same time, the project gives its users an opportunity to participate in creating layers of information about the city, to express themselves and to enhance the system with new relevant information.

Translating and navigating the third layer

Figure 10. Geographic map of perception of world news by Rossyiskaya Gazeta. Central Europe and Russia

The Open Sign gives users an opportunity to know the city through the unique perception of vrious people and communities With time and the development of technologies, the process of establishing those common assumptions about reality has changed. Starting with gathering the community around the village well, and public and open discussions among all members of the community, with the


System description The Open Sign project works through augmenting the reality of the city with digital and informational layers. The system is able to get different feeds of information thatexist in the city, such as geo-tagged media user-generated content (Twitter, Facebook comments on places, etc.).

As described above (part “Three layers of perception”), society establishes different assumptions about reality and the existence of the city to make communication between members of that society easier. But the same action which makes interaction inside the society more effective could become a big problem for someone who does not belong to the community.

Figure 9. Geographic map of perception of world news by Facebook group of protesters. Central Europe and Russia

foreigners in the city: (1) It provides them with an easily understandable picture of interaction and intersection between different sub-communities to navigate as a tourist; and (2) It gives access to remote, invisible information about the third layer, or assumptions about the city.


parameters: like showing only the historical part, or only the mythological part, or information only by research institutions. This part also, like the previous one, does not update automatically without moderation, due to

Personal Interactions Users can have access to the two working modes of the system. The

by people who do understand the city.

and understand the city through augmented reality technology implemented in the city space. The second mode allows users to add new comments and news to the existing system and express personal perceptions about the environment. A user can navigate throughout and

which shows real-time news and places them onto the ground. If the news had been geo-tagged it would have been immediately placed

communities. One of them is the city government, which shows the

information by choosing certain media source they are interested in, like it can shows news only from The Moscow Times, or certain topics, such as showing only political or cultural events.

(basic) navigation� and it includes alphabetic and language translation of the street signs, information about bus schedules, openinghours and average prices of restaurants, searches by address, etc. This feed is not open and has moderators who update information about the space.

The second mode of the Open Sign gives users an opportunity to contribute toward city navigation and translation and to express themselves. The mode on the one hand allows users to place their own comment and news in the city, and on the other hand it shows news and comments of other users.

users the phyiscal-geographycal layer of the city. Inside this part a


So one more solution is implementing the augmentation into windows of shops and cafes. On one hand, it would be easier to use the system for

The system is able to provide users with navigation as through individual devices, and through special public infrastructure. It is important to have both public and individual devices, because many people do not have smartphones, or experience problems using them abroad. By giving an opportunity for both public and individual usage, the Open Sign increases its audience, which is now limited only by the level of education and capability to deal with electronic devices. For the project, it is crucially important to involve as many users as possible, because one of the feeds consists mainly of the users-generated content.

hand the owners of the places would repair the system and look after them. The personal devices work through scanning QR-codes with user smartphones. QR-codes allow rapid and easy dissemination of the information and they do not require GPRs, therefore they could be used almost everywhere. After installing a special smartphone application, users can scan QR-codes placed in the city and get an access to the

The public version of the project uses existing physical infrastructure of the city in order to enhance it with new information. Theoretically it could use any transparent surface in the city to augment the reality, existing infrastructure of public pay-phones and another is the windows in public places like shops and cafes. There are several challenges in the augmented reality technology. One of them is developing a device with the opportunity to see the reality through a big transparent screen. When one uses that device it is important to put augmentation precisely at the line from the user's eyes to the building which is augmented. To solve the problem, the Open Sign project proposes individual cabinets with transparent walls and recognition cameras, which recognize the position of the spectator's eyes. After recognition, the processor with 3D model of the surroundings models the angle of the viewer's view and puts augmentation at the right place. On top of transparent screen there is a multi-touch screen, which But the system of cabinets is not so perfect, due to vandalism at the city. 35


photo by Tekhnoslav Bergomot, prekrasnomu_beglyi_obzor_telefona_lg_ks660

Urban Interactions

photo by,

Vasnetsov, Viktor "The knight on a crossroads" (1882) The State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg


Current events on the world political scene shows that ways of communicating in society have changed. Now digital information and communication cannot stay anymore only inside virtual reality; instead,it political protests against unfair elections in Moscow, which happened

Subjective perceptions of Moscow space

networks and then became real protests in the city. And in turn, the physical spaces in which the protests occurred were changed.

To conclude the research, I did an analysis of how subjective perception could affect the city. Using the example of protests in Moscow, you could sometimes see that the same objectively existing situation became very different after passing through subjective perception. I developed this

Information and media that were created in digital space are starting will be impossible to speak about virtual reality, because nothing would stay inside virtual boundaries. Therefore the new age of media and communication starts with developing a new form of reality that exists in

perceptions about the protests. movements and rallies as events aimed at destroying their power, they tried to block the city center with police. Thishappened in May 2012, when all the exitss from the metro in the city center were blocked and nobody could come into the city center by metro. That is why now it is no longer

The new age of media and communication starts with developing a new form of reality that exists in between physical and virtual spaces

its client, The Moscow Department of Tourism, I can say that to make Moscow tourist-friendly we have to provide tourists with access to this without knowing the reasons for this, would never want to explore the city again. But if (s)he had access to the subjective layer, to the motivations of citizens, this experience would have become a unique and fascinating adventure.

between physical and virtual spaces. Its is Augmented Reality. The Open Sign project is inspired by the idea of enhancing physical spaces of the city with information from digital and virtual worlds. Current media and geographical studies 5 proposed the new term “geo-media� for media that are going to go back to the locality and times when news existed around the village well. Augmenting the reality of the city with digital information will certainly change the cityscape. It can transform not only the perception and the level of understanding the city, but it also demands new infrastructure such as screens and special lenses for seeing the augmentation.

1. Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson, "Beyond "Culture": Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference," Cultural Anthropology 7 (1992): 6-23

3. Basilisklab, accessed June 14, 2012, 4. 5. Thielmann, Tristan "Locative Media and Mediated Localities," Aether. The journal of Media geography V.A (2010): 1-17 37


Irina Rudnichenko. Navigating Moscow Subjectivity