Friday, April 20, 2012

Have Check-ins Checked Out?

This week the leading location-based service foursquare announced it had achieved 20 million users. Despite the milestone, critics were quick to point out that check-in services were dead.  Over the past few months other major check-in based services such as Loopt, Gowalla, BrightKite, and Facebook places have shut down or been acquired and closed.

This announcement spurred good commentary on whether foursquare in specific and location-based check-in services can survive. I've also found other good, older articles that address the topic:
(Between my post and these articles, we really exhausted the puns in the titles, eh?)

A main point from these articles is that the current usage of applications of foursquare aren't compelling or useful enough to either become mainstream or enduring.  There is no doubt that novelty usage of foursquare has been waning, as all novelty usage inevitably does. Also, the promotions offerred (at least in Canada) have not been compelling enough to encourage people to check-in regularly. So the most check-ins I notice from the bulk of usage is when someone is at a particularly high-status or unusual place.

But are check-ins dead as some have proclaimed?

The "death" of one thing or another makes great headlines, but of course it greatly over exaggerates. It's amazing what things continue long after they've been proclaimed death (for example, vinyl records). Even if the Chicken Littles mean only the mainstream use is dead, they still oversimplify. Often things evolve and metamorphosize, but don't really die per se. Also niche usages can remain strong and lucrative, if not particularly trendy or visible.

The recent launch of always-on location based social apps, such as Glancee and Highlight, provide an alternative to check-ins. But I'm not convinced that automated location identification services will be any more mainstream than self-based check-ins.

Check-ins are a compelling experience - particularly as I mentioned when at a cool place. I don't think they are sufficient to base long-term usage of an application. I think check-ins will survive as a cornerstone of social networking, but as part of other online services. Facebook, Google, and Twitter have experimented with this and eventually they'll get it right. Other check-in based location services will need to evolve - likely into greater social navigation, business directories, loyalty programs, games, and information discovery.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Antithesis of My Research

The video of the texting guy and his unexpected wildlife encounter has gone viral. It's short, but funny - P.S.A - this could happen to you!

I particularly like this video as it's the antithesis of my research - i.e. oblivious to environment, no preemptive mobile alerts, lack of spatial awareness... (If the video doesn't load, here's the link.)

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Help Making Location Based Services Relevant

I've been reviewing the recent literature related to location based services and locative media and came across an incredibly useful article for those building or refining such apps. The article, Criteria of geographic relevance: An experimental study, will be published soon in the International Journal of Geographical Information Science (but is freely available in a pre-print version). The authors, Stefano De Sabbata and Tumasch Reichenbacher are experts in geographic relevance, mobile information retrieval, and location based services.

It's worth reading their entire article, but they include a summary table that lists all the types of information relevance and ones specifically applicable to mobile, geolocative functionality. Relevance, in this sense, refers to the degree to which information returned by a digital service satisfies various user needs and desires. (Read more about information relevance on Wikipedia).

In my efforts to keep updated on location based services, I've noticed that many apps focus on the relevance criterion of proximity to the neglect of all other (possibly more pertinent) factors. De Sabbata and Reichenbacher offer an invaluable list of other factors that developers should consider for more effective and engaging user experiences. Even better, their work is based on actual user studies.

Here is their table of relevance criteria, based on the classes of: properties (of the object), geography, information, and presentation (of the end result, to the user).

topicalityspatial proximityspecificityaccessibility
appropriatenesstemporal proximityavailabilityclarity
  visibilityreliabilitypresentation quality
  association rulesvariety 

For details on a particular concept, the article has useful explanations.

Although location based services are, by definition, preoccupied with location (i.e. spatial proximity) this list offers guidance on other criteria to add that would greatly improve current locative apps.

This list seems definitive to me, but if anyone has a criteria to add or refine, I'd love to hear it below.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Canada's Walk of Fame - Needs Digital Footprints

Since Canada's Walk of Fame started in Toronto's entertainment district in 1998, I thought it was a great way to recognize the accomplishments of notable Canadians. Canadians don't often value their history and culture and the Walk brings prominence to these contributions.

As a physical manifestation of Canadian culture, Canada's Walk of Fame is definitely lacking in digital footprints. There are no people from the Canada's digital media section (i.e. this includes gaming, the Web, mobility, etc). I think this is the year that someone from digital media be inducted!

Suitable category are "Science and Innovation" (Alexander Graham Bell is the only inductee in this category) and  "Visual Arts" category (only Lynn Johnston and Jean-Paul Riopelle).

Only a handful of people are inducted every year and one has to be born in Canada or spent their formative years here and been working in the field for at least 10 years to qualify.

The Walk of Fame encourages submissions and it's really quick and easy (you also get a chance to win a trip to Toronto and tickets to the gala induction ceremony). So I'm starting a campaign to get a Canadian in digital media inducted this year.

A lot of people from my Who's Who in Canadian Digital Media and Technology don't qualify as they haven't met the 10-year career mark. But here are some people that I think would be great nominees:
There are lots more. I'd love to hear here if anyone has any specific suggestions - or would like to start a group effort to get one person in particular nominated.

Nominations close April 30, 2012 - so nominate someone today.