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.

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