Location Based Social Networks – Is There Any Point At All?

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“OMG. I was sooooooo wasted last night and am hanging like a bitch!!!”

A standard Facebook status.

Facebook has revolutionised the world. Where 6 years ago the closest thing we got to a friends list and online connections was the average-at-best MSN Messenger, we’re now ‘friending’ hundreds of people and following videos, updates, photos and links they have shared online.

But was there ever any point in connecting with people online?

Yes, we’re now able to keep in touch with others we’d hardly ever see. Yes, it’s easy to get in touch with someone on Facebook chat (students spend their lives on it), but is there any one reason to go on a social network?

Location based social networks are hot topics. Foursquare, the main network, has recently hit 3 million users. Facebook has recently rolled out it’s own platform Facebook Places. Both enable users to share where they’ve been in status updates to their friends.

What’s kicked this all off is the smartphone revolution – it’s easy to forget that the first iPhone was launched just over 3 years ago.

The principle of these location networks is simple – you ‘check-in’ at various places you’ve been, letting your friends know where and when. For example, I checked in to the Stag’s Head last week, and in doing so I let my 11 Foursquare friends know I’d been there. If a friend had been stalking me, this would be like a dream come true.

There are other great features surrounding these networks, such as the ability to leave comments about places, and rewards systems where businesses can reward regular customers.

The core feature though, is ‘checking in’ and letting your friends know where you are.

A question I’ve often heard raised is “why would you want to let your friends know where you are?” Back to square one.

There is no singular reason for why you’d want to let your friends know you were wasted and now incredibly hungover. It seems two categories of Facebook users have evolved – ‘status’ people, and those who never leave status updates. Similarly there will be those who use the location services of social networks, and those who do not.

The point of connecting with other people online is all about sharing information.  We can share who we are, what we’re up to, and when we did it. The only difference about these location services is that now we can share where we’ve been as well.

Facebook’s rapid growth has shown we are interested in what our friends are up to. The growth of Foursquare has shown we are also interested in where. Facebook would have been stupid not to notice this and launch their own location feature.

I’m forever seeing friends updating their status from their phone when drunk. While these new location services may be great – it’s probably best not to go and update to the world that you’re incredibly drunk and vulnerable while giving your exact location.

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Discussion8 Comments

  1. avatar

    The point of checking in really isn’t letting your friends know where you are. The point for most is a virtual diary and a positive reenforcement system of points, badges, and Mayorship (which are psychological confirmations of “best regular” status). In short, it’s a quantification of already participated in behavior.

    To pose the question, “why would my friends want to know where I am?” is pretty irrelevant to the though process of the majority of users.

    Chris Houghton
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    I think it’s important to note the clear difference between Facebook Places and Foursquare. Facebook places is geared very much towards giving friends the platform to share where they are, whereas Foursquare offers a number of extra features.

    On the Foursquare homepage, they outline three key points about their service:

    1) They help in finding new ways of exploring the local area
    2) Help to meet up with friends
    3) A rewards (or badges/mayorship) system for going to new places

    Points 1) and 2) regarding the Foursquare homepage are shared both by them and Facebook Places. To address 1), as the number of people using Facebook Places increases, they will further extend their ‘liking’ culture to local businesses. Facebook are treating 2), the social aspect, as their core service.

    For your comment I guess the real question is regarding 3) – do people care about getting their badges or becoming the ‘mayor’ of a local venue? My personal opinion is no, this is icing on the cake. The real end value for this point for users is local businesses rewarding regular customers.

    I don’t think you can pitch the core feature of a social network as: “You can become the mayor and get badges – now I’d love to join!”. This is something Foursquare clearly agree with as well, hence pitching it third on the list on their homepage.

    Badges, mayorships – all psychological confirmations, as you describe, but secondary additional features.

    It will be interesting to see how Foursquare copes now that Facebook Places is on the scene.

  2. avatar

    An interesting concern you might raise about ‘checking in’ to places is that it also states were you are not, for example your house. If people were concerned Google StreetView would increase the risk of burglary by letting potential thieves scope out a house, what about the ability to check where they currently are?

    Alarmist? Quite possibly. But the privacy concerns about Facebook are well known.

    Chris Houghton
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    I’m a bit sceptical of Facebook Places becoming a privacy issue, as everything that a user shares on Facebook is something they have chosen to share. I suppose the issue comes from ignorance – those who do know or understand their privacy settings.

    Google Streetview on the other hand, you could say is different because people never opted in to it.

  3. avatar

    Good article, but learn to use apostrophes correctly. xx

    Chris Houghton
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    The bane of my life.

    pk
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    well, there are other location based networks developing to help people meet others (rather than friends). For example, a network that shows you which bars around the city are full of singles, expats, young graduates etc – Likeourselves.com. It gives you a reason to check-in that has nothing to do with badges.

    Chris Houghton
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    Indeed – there’s definitely something to be said for the fact that social networks are becoming far more than just the big sites.

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