Co-production of Public Space: How Geo-media Shape City Image in a Fluid Network


City image, the 'representation' of a city, gathers citizens' imagination of the city as a community and their collective identity. Media has always been an important channel to represent a city, during which commercial capital has become a strong force to shape city image with the 're-feudalization' of public sphere. In recent years, digital platforms constantly launch new location-based interactive media technologies, or “geo-media”. Some scholars believe that new technology intensifies digital platforms’ colonization of everyday life, while others perceive that geo-media allow personalized expression of city image and promote citizens’ perception of the city as “place” and community.

Therefore, this article explores the role of the new media in the formation of city image, and tries to answer the next three questions. What do people do with and about the media space provided by digital platforms? How do digital platforms seek by various means to control that space and users’ behavior in it? How does the new space differ from the old public space in shaping city image, or how does it affect citizens’ public participation and their access to rewriting collective memory?

This paper takes Douyin, one of the most popular video-sharing social networking applications in China, as an example to study the above questions. Based on the text analysis of user-generated videos applying the landmark AR effects of six cities issued by Douyin as well as comments below, this paper found that the answer to above questions is not a simple one of who controls whom. While the platform tries to gain surplus value from users’ “digital labor”, users exchange “digital labor” for the right to conduct public activities in the space provided by the platform, and turn that privately-owned media space into a public space as well as a “field” of struggle in pursuit of desirable resources. “Production of space” controlled by the few has been becoming “co-production of public space” by both users and owners.

Furthermore, there is no fixed structure of domination but a fluid and mutable network between citizens, media technologies, digital platforms and public space they jointly build. Although the platform tries to anchor the space and its meaning with geo-media technology in shaping city image, it provides an opportunity to promote public communication, join in collective memory or reinforce community awareness. On the other hand, how that opportunity is employed relies on the individual and the network around. Elements involved are in a contradictory and interdependent relationship still deeply embedded in the whole social network structure.

Keywords: geo-media, public space, city image, production of space, network, digital platform