Checking in on Checking in

Location based services, popular as they are, haven’t yet taken over the world. But how’s progress? Are people still checking in to get brand deals, subscribe to loyalty schemes, and meet with friends?

Foursquare, although slightly slowing in growth, now has a community of 20 million users who have checked in 2 billion times. These significant figures are the reason that brands like American Express are keenly interested, and active on Foursquare.

In fact, American Express have 70k followers on Foursquare itself. That’s a huge brand influence on a platform Forrester CEO George Colony calls ‘nonsense’. AmEx’s noteworthy partnerships with H&M and Dunkin’ Donuts to name a few, suggest brands see plenty of opportunities.

Foursquare does lack the sheer scale of Facebook, which has a rudimentary check-in equivalent, Facebook Location. But that service is not yet complete. After launching and revoking Facebook Places last year, Facebook will be keen to get their next offering absolutely right. And their acquisition of Tagtile opens new potential for the social network.

Elsewhere, Google Latitude recently upgraded its offering, by ‘gamifying’ check-ins – similar to Foursquare. Its ultimate marriage with the constantly improving Google+ can’t be far off, and that could be another boost for checking in.

Even so, do people want to check in? In data terms, every time we use a credit card, we are effectively checking in. The potential of data held by banks, for example, is staggering – as Bank of America (above) are keen to explore.

But social check-ins are different. Some people don’t want to be ‘found’, and others may be concerned for security. And it’s not an unfounded concern: Foursquare recently shut down an incredibly creepy app, GirlsAroundMe, which sought to locate women in any given vicinity. Not great PR.

Others, however, do want to be ‘found’. One app receiving extra attention at SXSW 2012 was Highlight. This app seeks to introduce mutually proactive networkers who are close to one another. And elsewhere, location apps for dating are abundant. SinglesAroundMe and Grindr have proven surprisingly popular, the latter with 3.5m members.

And those regularly checking in enjoy various benefits from doing so. Clearly, special offers, tips on the restaurant you’re eating in, or knowing where your friends are, have appeal. New features, such as the Foursquare booking service ReserveMyCity, are adding layers of value for users.

PlaceMe is a new app that doesn’t focus on sharing location, but instead creating a personal diary by automatically checking in to locations: [Watch]. There is after all, real insight to be gained from understanding our own movements.

And when anonymised human data is added to maps, they are brought to life like never before. Carnegie Mellon University recently established, a brilliant tool designed to understand the human aspects of cities, and their vibrancy. It cleverly groups check-ins on Foursquare, illuminating footfall hotspots, and identifying unique aspects of neighbourhoods. It highlights peaks and troughs in buzz – and adds other intriguing layers of character to previously ‘2D’ maps. Check out this map of New York, for example: Beautiful. [Go].

Proactively checking in hasn’t taken over the world yet, but one way or another, it’ll have a huge role to play over the coming years. In many ways, the game is wide-open…