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But what does it all mean?

When I was a lad you you used to check into hotels. And then only on special occasions. But today dear blog reader you can check into offices and houses, streets, cabs, planes and even, in the case of minor web celebrities, people.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about FourSquare. I’m talking Gowalla. Or maybe I’m alluding to Brightkite.  Oh but then sometimes when I’m in a particular mood I do like to give Whrrl an…. erm whirl.

And who can of missed all the endless tweets and status updates (including my very own) that proudly announce that so and so is at such and such.

What on earth does it all mean?  And…. what’s the point?

Using these location based services is oddly addictive. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been using FourSquare and every check in you perform gives you points, and sometimes badges.  These points and badges aren’t actually worth anything except status on the service, but it’s still fun to get them. Check into a location more times than anyone else and you become Mayor of that place. Which is kind of cool.

When I was at SXSW, everyone seemed to be using the service, and with that level of local usage it was interesting to see where people I knew were and the trending local locations.  I noticed that in the US, when you checked into some locations (eg a coffee shop) they would have an offer setup for FourSquare users – I’ve not seen this in the UK yet, but I’d be more inclined to check into  a place (particularly somewhere like a Cinema or a Bar) if I thought I might get a real time offer from that place.

Social integration is quite clunky at the moment – I can see who else has recently checked into a place, but if I wanted to contact that person it would be down to using the contact details they have provided on their FourSquare profile: there is no native chat or poke or anything like that included in the service.

I’m quite surprised how willing people are to share their location info. Sure, you have to actively publish a location (so you won’t accidentally publish that job interview you sneaked into during lunch at the rival agency) but sharing your location does have consequences.    Will your clients or employer mind you seem to spend an awful lot of time in the pub during the day?  Do you really want to publicise when you are in and out of your house (we’ve all seen pleaserobme.com) and do you really want everyone in the world to know your preferred kebab shop at 3am on a Sunday morning?  Things to muse on readers.

I’ve also been playing with Google Latitude on my Nexus One.  This takes the above to a whole new level and is frankly quite scary.  Add a friend to Google Latitude and if they also have a similarly enabled GPS device you can see their real time location overlaid on Google Maps.  Wow.  Great… right?   Hmm I’m not so sure.  Great until those little white lies (“Sure, I’m 2 minutes away” ) start to be verifiable via Latitude.  Great until one of your friends decides to do something clever with the API and plot how late you are into work most days and then tweet it.   As soon as people (ie marketers) work out how to contact you based on your passive location (ie locations you’ve not physically checked into, but have been noted at) the floodgates start to open.  Visit a hospital often, will you get “Hey it looks like you are dying! Check out our funeral plans for only $99″ type emails?  I guess time will tell.

I’m going to keep playing with these services for the next few weeks then make a decision as to whether to continue .  Part of me likes having an audit trail of my movements (Go to sleep? No! Let’s review my last year by movement!) but part of me loves and cherishes anonymity.

And I predict anonymity is going to be the next big thing. Really.  More on this soon.

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  1. sarah
    March 30th, 2010 at 20:32 | #1

    2 English things – one that offends, one that intrigues:

    “And who can of missed all the endless tweets” – should be “who can have missed…” it’s called the present perfect and… as an expatriate… what does “clunky” mean?

    As for anonymity – that’s why I live in Geneva… a very favourite word and concept for me – willing to research any aspect of this that you deem fit…

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