Supporting place sensemaking with multidimensional information representation on mobile devices

Open Access
Wu, Anna
Graduate Program:
Information Sciences and Technology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 15, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Xiaolong Zhang, Dissertation Advisor
  • Xiaolong Zhang, Committee Chair
  • John Millar Carroll, Committee Member
  • John Yen, Committee Member
  • Aleksandra B Slavkovic, Committee Member
  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Mobile application design
  • Sense-making
  • Location-based service
Knowing the living environments is an intrinsic part of human development for building self-confidence and meeting social requirements. Proliferation of mobile devices has greatly changed our interaction with the physical environments. The problem for existing mobile navigation tools is that it only emphasizes the spatial factor by offering step-by-step route directions, not helps us better understand the place. Such approach is inadequate in situations like moving to a new city where people need to build comprehensive awareness, rather than a one-shot solution to the problem. In this research, I propose a view to see navigation as a sensemaking process. I coined the term “place sensemaking” to refer to the process of maintaining awareness and building comprehensive knowledge of the environment. Specifically, this work represents my effort in representing information that could transform our understanding of a physical space into a vivid place by taking advantage of mobile technology and online resources. To interrogate this topic, this work practiced a holistic set of research methods: First, I applied works in sensemaking from information science in the context of physical navigation and proposed a place sensemaking framework. Based on the existing literature and my empirical work on spatial information representation, I have developed a theoretical framework that identifies the core components in making sense of a place, such as a person’s ongoing spatial task, internal spatial mental model, and external environmental information, and emphasizes the role of interactive information visualization and exploration in mediating the relationships among the above components. Second, based on this framework and empirical users’ requirement analysis, I proposed design goals to support place sensemaking by providing not only spatial information, but also the social and temporal aspects of the place. Third, targeting the design goals, I designed and implemented a mobile application on the Android platform to facilitate place sensemaking by integrating multiple online resources, such as Facebook, Foursquare, Panoramio, and Wikipedia. Finally, results from a field evaluation with 18 participants in several weeks showed the benefits of our approach in support of comprehensive space exploration and elevation from space, a concept that focuses more on the objective and geographical properties of a physical environment, to place, a notion that embodies the physical features, individual spatial sense, and social aspects of the environment.