Checking In: Foursquare, the new Facebook locations and why it doesn’t go far enough.

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Some articles floated around this week that said that Foursquare and Gowalla had won a major victory with the death of Facebook Places. There are two very good reasons why this isn’t true. One, Facebook Places isn’t dead. Check-ins will still remain. The second one? Well that takes a bit more explaining. I’ll get to that, I promise.

Why do we check-in?

Check In FourSquare
I ask myself this very question every time I do it. Let’s talk briefly about the “incentives” that are out there and why they aren’t incentives at all:

1) Deals — For where I live, these deals are far and few between. As long as I’ve been checking into Foursquare (since May 2010), I’ve only been able to take advantage of 2 deals. That’s pretty terrible. Maybe it’s my area, maybe it’s just the places I go to, or maybe because lots of businesses aren’t doing them yet. Maybe all of those reasons. Either way, it offers very little in the way of real incentives.

2) Points — Points in Foursquare are like winning 500 tickets in a carnival game only to find that the ticket booth doesn’t accept them. They are worthless. Sure they can be used to “compete” against other people you’re friends on Foursquare with but — seriously folks — do we really care? Do tell me all about it if you do…

3) Badges — I haven’t gotten a badge in at least 6 months. Once you actually get one it shows up on your profile. It’s a neat idea but their difficulty level makes it hard to get excited. Plus I’m still upset I haven’t gotten the douchebag badge yet.

4) I get to broadcast where I am across all my social networks — Here’s where I begin to get into that SECOND BIG reason I mentioned above. The problem with broadcasting where I am on social networks is that the majority of people don’t care. Hmm..maybe that’s too broad of a statement so let me define it better. Let’s look at Facebook for instance. I’m friends with probably several hundred people. Out of those several hundred people, I don’t know 1/5 of them. Of the remaining total, 60% live out of state (I’m from New Jersey but reside in Maryland). So when I check-in to Dill Pickles Beer and Burger Joint in Annapolis, MD most of my friends won’t care because they’ve never heard of it and can’t go. Sure some of my friends might comment: “ name for a place!” or “Do they sell pickles there?” Let me ask you this: “How many of you have checked in to a place on Foursquare, had a friend see it on Facebook, and then meet you there?”

Current location based services don’t offer enough value to make them sustainable over the long term.

Facebook has realized the flaws with Foursquare and Gowalla. So what is Facebook doing about it? First they are going to allow you to add your location to your status updates. This is big because you can do it without a mobile phone, which up until now, has been the only way you’ve been able to.

People want to tell their friends where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they are going to be. Foursquare and Gowalla only allow you to tell people what you’re doing now. Once you check-in, there is no action item. If I live out of state or have a house full of kids, the fact that I know you’re already at Dill Pickles means nothing to me. I can’t do anything about it. I can’t change your mind. I can’t socially interact with you there, and can’t help you decide whether you should go or not. In my opinion, checking in actually skips what I think could be a very social process. What made you decide to go there and could your friends or other businesses change your mind? With these new changes, it looks like Facebook has finally begun to shift location based services in this direction. I think there’s more shifting to go though. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Here’s my idea about the next evolution for location based services.

Say I want to go out to dinner tonight somewhere in Annapolis, MD. On Facebook I’d type: “Where can I go to ^eat wings in +Annapolis?” In this example the ^ would work similar to friend tagging (using @) to choose what they are looking for. Because Facebook knows your location, any business within a customizable radius would be able to comment on your post giving you feedback. In this case Dill Pickles would comment: “Dill Pickles is running a special on wings tonight!” Because they posted, now anyone who has a decent (customizable) check-in total to Dill Pickles would then be able to comment as well (they would receive notifications) and give their opinion on their wings. Friends who have no clue even where Annapolis is can jump into the conversation and say “Bill…uhh.. didn’t you have wings yesterday? Remember your long trip to the bathroom? How about a salad instead?” Now you can adjust what you want and repeat the process over.

Reach out and touch someoneWhat would location based services like this accomplish? First, businesses would have a great way to reach out to prospective customers (or current ones). Socially I think it works because you’re able to come in contact with people you’ve never met before and might be able to or communicate with your current friends. It would keep businesses in check because they’re main goal is turning customers into brand advocates. Give them bad service and they will be the first people to tell others not to bother.

Facebook has been testing real time ad targeting in conversations so my concept isn’t that far fetched. What do you think? What do you think of the Facebook shift? How often do you use Foursquare? Do you find relevance in it? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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