Location-based social networking. Fad or ‘Next Big Thing?’

foursquareWith the proliferation of social networking and smartphones (many with GPS), ‘location-based social networking’ has become a hot topic.

For the uninitiated, location-based social networking is the use of smartphone apps to ‘check-in’ at the locations you visit. You then share this information with other social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, or with ‘friends’ within the app. The early leaders in this arena are Foursquare and Gowalla. Google Buzz has some location-based features, and it appears Apple is stepping into the fray with iGroups.

In general they work like this…

  • After you register with the service, you download and launch the app. NOTE: Your phone will need GPS capabilities such as the iPhone or Droid.
  • After GPS pinpoints your location, you’ll be presented with a list of possible places to ‘check in’ at. If your location doesn’t exist yet, you can create a new one.
  • When checking-in, you’ll be given the option to include a message and to send it out via Twitter and/or Facebook. NOTE: You’ll need to setup this integration first on their websites.

Beyond that, the apps will differ. For example, in Foursquare, activities such as creating new spots and checking in will garner you points. If you are the point leader at a particular location, you get the ‘Mayor’ badge.

Many people wonder, ‘what’s the point?’ of this kind of app. The ‘gaming’ aspect certainly appeals to many, but here are a few potential uses…

  • A business can offer $$$ discounts for those checking in at their establishment, or maybe for the ‘mayor’ of a location.
  • Gowalla has a ‘Trips’ feature where you can create a collection of places for you to check in at. Maybe a tour of historic Churches? [H/T Fr. Nels Gjengdahl]
  • Foursquare has a ‘Tips’ feature so you can leave notes for other visitors of a location. Maybe you really liked a particular dish at a restaurant (or not so much).

It’s still in it’s infancy, so it’ll be interesting to see where this all goes.

How about you…have you used any of these apps? Have you discovered any special uses not mentioned?

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Author:Craig Berry

Craig Berry is a Catholic web developer and musician.
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