Monday, April 5, 2010

Thing 53. Location-Based Social Networks

One of the newest and hottest 2.0 technologies is location-based social networks. These technologies use GPS to broadcast your location and/or other content from your mobile device, known as "checking in." Most of these services are free and available for a variety of mobile devices, including the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android. So let's dive in and take a look at two of the many networks out there: foursquare and brightkite.

foursquare is one of the most popular of the location-based social networks. As it describes itself, “foursquare is a cross between a friend-finder, a social city-guide, and a game that rewards you for doing interesting things.” Foursquare can be used anywhere in the world and while it doesn’t have every city or location, it does give you the option to add a location.

Setting up a foursquare account

To begin, click on the Join Now button. You will be asked to fill in just a brief amount of information, including your name, location (i.e. a city & state), and your email address. Some information is optional (such as your phone number) but most of the information is required. You have the option of also adding a photo, much like Twitter and Facebook. By the way, you can link your foursquare account to both of these social networking technologies as well. And, just like Twitter and Facebook, you can search for your friends and add them into your foursquare so they can be notified when you and where you are checking-in. The key thing to know about foursquare is that it is currently available only on your mobile device; check-in can’t be done from the foursquare website (with the exception of using their mobile website which is obviously built for a mobile phone.) There are apps available for the following phones:
  • iPhone
  • Blackberry
  • Android
  • Palm Pre
There is a mobile website available as well if you don’t have one of the listed phones or you can send a text to 50500. Text or SMS check-ins are only available in the U.S.

Checking-in, earning points and badges, and “The Mayor”
Telling foursquare where you are is known as “checking-in.” When you check-in on foursquare, the program notifies your friends. Even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can check in like this: 
@ SELCO ! Attending CE course

Once you check-in, you will earn points:
  • 5 points for your first time checking-in at a venue
  • 5 points for adding a new venue
  • 1 point per check-in, increasing by 1 point with each check-in (i.e. first check-in of the day is 1, second check-in of the day is 2 points, etc.)
Right now, only points are accumulated. foursquare is still experimenting with what the points translate into. They would like to know if you have ideas about the points.

When checking-in, you have the options of adding a “tip” and “to-dos.” A tip is something that you want to share with your friends about a place. It might be as simple as recommending an item from a restaurants menu to letting them know about an especially helpful staff member at a store. In turn, you’ll be able to see what tips your friends have left for a location when you check-in. To-dos are little notes you leave for yourself at a location, like maybe trying another menu item or where something might be located within in store.

 And, just like other Web 2.0 applications, you have the option to “tag” a venue. Tags can be anything and become important in earning badges. “Badges” are extra rewards that you can earn when you check-in at an interesting place and are tied to venue tags. Essentially, adding a tag to your favorite place can help unlock badges. 

To become Mayor of a location, two things are required. One, you must have a photo on your foursquare profile. Two, you have to have visited a location more than anyone else. The state of being “mayor” can be short-lived especially with a large number of friends. But, unlike the points and badges, being mayor MAY actually get you some free stuff. Many businesses have tapped into foursquare and will offer“mayor” things like free drinks, hotel stays, ice cream, you name it. Think of this like those loyalty rewards cards you get from gas stations or grocery stores.

Brightkite  says this about itself: “Brightkite is a simple way to keep up with friends and places. We created a product that lets you instantly see what's going on with the people who matter most to you, your friends. So check out what they're up to, meet new friends along the way and get out and enjoy your neighborhoods.”

The application can be accessed several ways:
Setting up a Brightkite account 
Just as with foursquare, there is a large button right on the front page of the website that allows you to set up an account, including the ability to connect with Facebook. Sign up is as easy as your email address, picking a username and password, and answering a simple verification question. Before you can really proceed, you will need to verify your email address via the email message the application sends you. Once this is done, you can add more information about yourself by clicking on Account settings. Note that this is at the very bottom of the screen on a special taskbar that is very small. 


Checking in and Posting
If you’ve used Twitter, you can use Brightkite. In fact, if you check-in and post on the website, your Brightkite page looks an awful lot like your Twitter page, including using a very similar layout. You can set this page of post to show only your posts, your friends posts, or everybody’s posts; limit the area you’d like to see post from (from 20 m to 100 km or everywhere); and limit to either check-ins, posts, photos, or any combination of the three.

To check-in on the web, click on the Check In button:

To post notes and photos on the web, first click on Post:

Then, click either begin typing in your post or click on the photo button to post a photo:

By the way, to check in via text message, use the convention:

@ SELCO ! Attending CE course

You can also easily share your posts, check-ins, etc. on Twitter and Facebook.

It doesn’t seem that there are any badges or points to earn in Brightkite, just the ability to connect with your friends and others.

Brightkite Support
Brightkite does have an extensive knowledge base of frequently asked questions. This is the best place to start in setting up and using your Brightkite account. For a great example from their support page, click here to see how to check-in and post a note or a photo at the same time.

A kiteup is simply a meetup of Brightkite users, thus making this application more than just a virtual social network. If given a few weeks notice, Brightkite can provide its users with a public placemark for the event and a special “kiteup” kit with goodies that you can give away to your attendees. For complete instructions of how to set up a kiteup, click here.

The “Creepy” Factor
OK, so if you are getting that uneasy feeling about these applications, i.e. the “creepy” factor, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Basically, the words of advice that folks have are that if you are feeling creeped out by revealing where you are, just don’t do it. However, here’s what according to Aliza Sherman, host of site The Digital Marketer:
Yeah, location-based social networks are a little creepy. I mean you're basically checking in when you arrive someplace to let your network contacts or the public at large know where you are and what you're doing. So if you're creeped out about revealing your location, maybe you shouldn't do it. But don't let that turn you away. You may be surprised by what these networks can do for you.
For her full article, click here.

For another interesting article on the subject, check out Sarah Perez’s article on ReadWriteWeb Location-Based Social Networks: Delightful, Dangerous or Somewhere in Between?

Other location-based social networks:
It's up to you whether or not you want to have these location-based sites let others know where you are. Interest and activity on the sites tends to be friend-related--if your friends play the games, you are more likely to play along. Let us know what you think in the comments!

By Michael Scott, Assistant Director, SELCO/SELS

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