I’m on the Train!

Whenever we have the misfortune to eavesdrop on a mobile phone conversation, it always seems to begin with a mundanity like “I’m on the train”. What the mobile user is actually doing is stating their location to the caller, as it contextualises the call for both of them and could well be an important framework within the forthcoming conversation.

So I was very interested to read on Nicolas Nova’s Pasta & Vinegar about an academic study that examined this area and attempts to put some science behind my gutfeel. (It was great to finally meet Nicolas at 3GSM too).

In an admittedly small study (74 mobile-to-mobile, landline-to-mobile or mobile-to-landline conversations in Finland), in 84% of cases, the mobile party’s location was always stated.

Is this just habit or part of the way we’ve learned to use mobiles? The researchers thought not and identified 5 reasons for the location to be disclosed, which all seem to boil down to the fact that the people talking were trying to make a practical arrangement where the location of one of them was important. A perfect illustration of why I wouldn’t make an academic.

There was also an interesting thought that bears more investigation that location can be used as a sort of shorthand to suggest mood and tone of the conversation. In other words “at the beach” gives very different vibes to “at my desk”.

The research concludes that, given the relevance to most conversations, an automated location determining technological solution would be a good thing.

Nicolas himself disagrees on the basis on his own research and suggests that it would be hard to make the information relevant. I certainly see this, with the added complication of context. In other words, the important information I need to communicate if I’m on the train is the fact that I am on the train, not that I’m in the Paddington district of London.

That said, we’ll certainly start to see location identifiers becoming part of the presence information we expect to see when communicating with friends, colleagues and family. And it’s going to happen soon.

Like it or not.

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