Friday, May 6, 2011

A Year On Foursquare

How does this idea sound? -- tell everyone where you are all the time.  Sound good?

Okay, not everyone, and not all the time.  I’ve been using Foursquare for a little over a year now, and I “check in” or report my location where and when I want.

Foursquare is perhaps the most well-known of a set of online, smartphone-based location services that allow users to share their location near to a landmark (rather than by coordinates) with each other, with or without Facebook and Twitter reporting.  It has a game-like feel to it, with the ability to achieve “badges” for certain activities and to become “mayor” of places you visit often.  It helps friends to find each other by chance and to have common experiences to discuss.  Users leave “tips” for each other, such as what food to try at a restaurant. It also allows you to stumble across discounts and deals. 

I’ve been using Foursquare for 13 months now.  I started using it to get a sense for the value and the strengths and weaknesses of location services.  I had planned to try Foursquare for a month and then move on to others like Gowalla.  Never happened.  Foursquare was great and others were overshadowed, seemingly lacking by comparison.  Not only is it fun and a nice conversation starter, but I’ve also gotten real savings at restaurants and stores over the last few months on things I already planned to buy.

As I’ve said in the past, I think location is really key information when it comes to providing services to users.  The combined context of location, capabilities, and user preferences can really inform communications.  Sometimes a location tells us that quiet is important (“I’m in the library”) or that do not disturb is appropriate (“I’m in with the boss”).  Sometimes device capabilities inform the communications (“I’m on my smartphone on 3G, no video right now”), and preferences always do (“Use my photo rather than a video feed during video chats!”).

Does such a location service invade your privacy?  I don't think it does. You decide what to communicate about your location. The idea of a location service like Foursquare is not that you are being tracked. It’s that you elect to communicate your location within well-defined contexts ranging from just Foursquare friends to the “public” and with several possible levels in between.  

Do you use a location service?  Which one and why?  If you don't, can you picture yourself using one in the future?

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