Location sharing is the hottest thing in social media right now. Gowalla and Foursquare are growing fast and even review site Yelp has just added the opportunity for users to ‘check-in’ to locations with its iPhone app.
What happens when people get bored of checking in though? Let’s face it, it’s a hassle to meet up with friends and then spend time fiddling with your phone to find the venue, check-in and maybe add a comment.
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I’ve noticed that for many Foursquare users, for example, there’s often a drop-off of usage a couple of weeks after signing up. The novelty wears off when they realise that the ‘Leaderboard’ is meaningless and it’s a chore to check-in everywhere.
Still, there’s real value in knowing where your friends are and lots of people will want to be part of that. The problem is that mainstream take-up won’t come until it’s as easy as it possibly can be to check-in.
So, why not introduce auto check-ins? If you could leave your location sharing app running in the background while went about your everyday life you could share where you were with friends without ever having to stop to actively share.
Learning from Latitude
Android users already have something like this. I share my location at all times with Google Latitude, which can run all the time in the background on my phone. It even alerts me when friends are unusually close-by so I can seek them out if I choose.
The problem is that hardly anyone uses Latitude. On the iPhone it’s crippled by being a web app that need to be actively checked-in to, limiting its appeal even to many early adopters.
Still, the demand is overwhelming to Apple to allow some way for iPhone apps to run continuously in the background. iPhone OS 4.0, expected in the summer, may well allow some form of background running.
Even if all smartphone users could automatically share their location, there are still other problems with the Latitude model.
At present, Latitude shares where you are but not with any context. The appeal of Foursquare and its ilk is that it tells you you’re in ‘Hip Trendy Bar A’ while your friend is in ‘Restaurant B’. All Latitude can do is display where you both are on a map – it’s not as social. That’s why it needs to be cross-referenced against a database of venues
Automating Foursquare and Gowalla could open them up to an audience who just wants the benefit of location-sharing without the effort.
Not an easy task
Of course, there would be problems to overcome – if the app gets your location slightly wrong it could look like you’re spending the night in Big Bob’s Biker Bar when you’re actually next door in a posh restaurant. It would also have to be easy to switch sharing on and off as you wished.
Still, it may just be that automation might make location sharing so easy that everyone does it. At that point it will truly become an almost an essential tool for just about everyone.