Get Lost, GetLostBot! Serendipity in Location-Sharing Services

Last week I presented a short paper about GetLostBot at the Workshop on Personalising the Local Mobile Experience at the 2012 ACM Conference on Recommendation Systems in Dublin. The paper is freely downloadable from our institutional ePrints.

This brief paper outlines the experience of releasing a purposefully contrary recommendation service for Foursquare called GetLostBot.
GetLostBot works differently than most recommender systems since it is responsive to behaviours rather than user requests. The system automatically monitors Foursquare behaviour and intervenes with suggestions when users fall into a routine. These interventions take the form of mysterious walking directions that challenge the user to visit somewhere new. Importantly, these suggestions are explicitly not informed by traditional metrics such as popularity, high ratings, or friend activity, and instead act as prompts to explore unknown places.
This paper discusses the reception to the application, highlighting the apparent disconnect between users’ good intentions around becoming more serendipitous, and the reality of those interventions as they are experienced in the wild.

The slides from my talk are here:

GetLostBot has had a bit of a wild year. It started as an ill-advised last-minute hack based on a funny idea between LiSC members, that got selected as winner of the “evolution” category of the Honda Civic hackday organised by Rewired State.
This led to a public vote by the readers of UK newspaper The Guardian, which in turn led to a lot of sharing on social media. New Scientist and Wired have covered it, and just last month New Scientist did a 4 page feature on GetLostBot and other “serendipity generators”.

It seems that serendipity, and playful exploration, are of great interest to many people at the moment, especially regarding concerns about “the filter bubble“. It will be interesting to see what more serendipitous experiences GetLostBot will lead to in the future!

GetLostBot is still online and has annoyed over 6000 people since it was launched last year. If you are a foursquare user, hop over and install it with just one click!

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