I have been seeing quite a bit of negative feedback or confusion lately regarding the usage of checkin services. Two blog posts I read recently from Louis Gray and John Battelle offer great details describing their usage and experience with Foursquare.

Louis stated:

For me, as I’ve watched this phenomenon, expecting to be dragged into it kicking and screaming, fingernails digging a rut in the ground, I’ve always wondered if this is the front of a battle that doesn’t have a place for otherwise socially active people like me who happen to be married, don’t drink, have kids, and generally don’t do much exciting enough to check in at constantly.

John stated:

I’ve been using Foursquare for a few months now, and I’m impressed with the service on many levels. But I have to be frank – the most impressive thing about it – at least in this test group of one – is what it *could* be, not what it is.

Today the results of a poll taken by the readers of the SmartBrief on Social Media was released. I have provided those results above and here is what Paul Chaney had to say about them:

I’m somewhat taken aback by the strong response from those who say they have no plan to use location-based social networks such as Foursquare or Gowalla. It causes me to wonder if the response is based on a lack of knowledge about their use in a business context, whether the respondents represent more of a business-to-business orientation, or whether it’s a lack of interest in newer forms of social networking altogether — or none of the above.

These viewpoints as well as those from many others show that people have mainly had a very limited view of the checkin based solely on using Foursquare and Gowalla which have become the leading services in this space. Basing the importance of the checkin on just these services is extremely short-sighted.

The act of performing a checkin is an important gesture that is a universal action that will we be applied to many services over the next few years. Location is a piece of data that when applied to other objects has become a very valuable way to add context and other functionality to a piece of media. By providing location data to photographs we added great value to that media. We can now visit sites like Google Maps and Flickr and other services that use location as a data point to search and view photos. The act of the checkin now ads the gesture of saying “I’m here” paired up with location and time. This will also offer a similar valuable piece of context across many platforms in the future.

People seem to have only focused on the checkin as it relates to getting virtual badges which in turn adds an element of gaming and faking the actual checkin gesture. People have also argued the banality of telling people where they were as if anyone cares. If I recall this was also an argument leveled at Twitter and the status update. Lastly there is plenty of negative connotations based on privacy issues associated with the checkin.

I’m looking at the checkin action from a much higher view than the limited scope of just how it’s applied to Foursquare and Gowalla. I’m thinking about how this new action can be applied to systems for powering our Lifestreams and how it can add value beyond that. I wrote a few reasons on why you should create a Lifestream a few years ago that could use an update but there are at least two ways that I find the checkin offering value. The first is for time-stamping locations I’ve been to for my historical archive. The second is for sharing that data with others to be used for discovery or recommendation engines. That latter reason could for instance offer data for a Lifestreaming content reader I have written about wanting to see built.

An example for what I describe above is how I’ve used BrightKite (a checkin service that pre-dates Foursquare and Gowalla) as a service for my Lifestream. I often use Brightkite to checkin to restaurants I frequent along with a photo of the meal I ate. Beyond the fact that I was chronicling my history there are some great data points that could be used to share this event. The checkin, location, photo, restaurant, and time could all be used collectively with other Lifestreams that are part of a social graph to add value. From a content discovery for instance, the checkin action could be used to find out which friends have visited a restaurant, bar, concert, event, city, country, etc. I could then also navigate from that data point to find photos or determine if they had a positive or negative experience at that location they explicitly listed as having visited by using the checkin gesture.

Hopefully I’ve added some perspective on why the checkin is so important and why folks should stop judging it based solely on the functionality available in Foursquare and Gowalla which really limit its potential value in the grand scheme of things. We are still in the early days of the checkin and just like the status update we will continue to see it used in many new services. As mobile smartphones continue their road to mass adoption they will bring forth new and unique apps to utilize it.

Long live the Checkin!


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