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Search, Foursquare, and Checking Into States of Mind

By - July 14, 2010

Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 1.06.43 PM.pngI’ve written before about my relationship with Foursquare, and I’m sure I will again. I’ve tweeted my complaint that the “friend” mechanism is poorly instrumented (in various ways), and I should note that this is certainly not just a Foursquare problem (more on “Friendstrimentation” shortly).

But today I wanted to build on my earlier post, “My Location Is a Box of Cereal,” and Think Out Loud a bit about what I’d really like to do on Foursquare: I’d like to check into a state of mind.

What do I mean by that?

Well, imagine that instead of checking into a physical location, as Foursquare is mostly constrained today, I check into the state of mind I might call “In the market for a car.” Or perhaps I check into “playing a great game of poker with my friends.” Or maybe I check into “pretty bummed out about the death of my cat.”

I think you get the point. The check in is, as I’ve argued elsewhere, more than a declaration of where I am. It’s also a declaration of my state of mind, as well as my openness to a response from someone who might provide me with value.

In short, the checkin is a search, waiting for a response. And there’s no reason to constrain that search query to location.

What matters is that as users of this particular brand of search, we get good results. And the jury is well out on that concept, at least to date.

Here’s what I’d like to have happen when I check in to the state of mind I’ll call “In the market for a car.” This is a commercial checkin, of course, and I’d be well aware of that when I checked in. So what might I expect?

First, the ecosystem of businesses eager to sell me a car become aware of my status, and are prepared to respond in an instrumented fashion. I use the word “instrumented” very directly here – the last thing I want is a bunch of spam results – pointless, irrelevant come ons for brands or models in which I most likely have no interest. If that’s what I wanted, I’d just use a search engine. After all, most of search is instrumented, for the most part, against my query, and my query alone. On a service like Foursquare, I’d expect the response to be far more nuanced.

How? Well, I’ve given Foursquare permission to use my Facebook social graph, for one, and my Twitter interest graph, for another. So when I check into Foursquare, I’d expect a response that understands who I am, who I know, what my interests are, and how I compare, as a cohort, to others like me, who may have also in the past checked into a similar “state of mind.”

Add even more social and interest data to the mix, and you can see how this starts to get pretty interesting.

I’d expect a response that 1. knows who I am is personalized in a meaningful way, 2. surprises or delights me with an offer of value to my search, and 3. respects the fact that I might not be ready to act, at least not yet.

Organizing all this data and response isn’t an easy task. But then again, neither was building out the infrastructure we currently understand to be search. Once the checkin is loosed from the chains of pure location, the potential for connecting to customers in conversation at scale, and at an intimate level, is far too great for this use case to not exist.

A final thought on Foursquare, since I’m on about it. I really wish it was easier to create temporary or unique “venues” or states of mind. For example, last night about 125 folks came to the Web 2 dinner at a local SF restaurant. Many of them “checked into” the actual restaurant, but wouldn’t it have been a lot more fun if, when they came and fired up Foursquare, they saw a new “venue” that had been created, perhaps by the first person there, or perhaps by the organizer, called “The Web 2 Premiere Dinner”? And further, wouldn’t it be cool if the organizer, sponsor, or anyone else involved in the dinner could attach some kind of value to folks who might check in?

Now sure, I know you can create a new venue on the fly, and many do (I saw a pal who checked into “The Dog House” a while back, because he did something that upset his wife. I loved that). But the process to do so is awkward and difficult at best. Foursquare can and should encourage such behavior, and provide resources for us to intelligently curate the results.

Doing so would be a big step toward an ecosystem of search that was driven by the equivalent of a “social query” driven by a state of mind as much a location. And when the two connect, well, so much the better (read The Gap Scenario for more on that.)

OK, back to work, all.

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20 thoughts on “Search, Foursquare, and Checking Into States of Mind

  1. lilywhite says:

    There you go again, John. Dreaming that Foursquare will, can be something that it cannot. It’s not for anything but location. There are plenty of new apps coming to deal with people, state of mind, etc. Use them.

  2. You’re right on the money with this post John. We should talk.

  3. Amy says:

    Hi John,
    This post makes me think of Clay Shirky’s “Ontology is Overrated” in that you seem, like him, to propose that it’s almost silly to compartmentalize things on the web. In this case, it’s silly to keep things like status messages and declarations of location and shopping separate.

    My question is: if our currently variegated social networking sites evolve to contain all the same features, does that mean we’ll move toward using one all-inclusive tool for social networking? Will we eventually collapse all little machines of difference down into one efficient, centralized hub? The implications of such a thing strike me as important, although I’m still not sure how to feel about this shift to unity. It seems to me that something (maybe someone can help me with what) could be lost, even as efficiency in targeted connections and marketing is gained.

  4. Amy says:

    Hi John,
    This post makes me think of Clay Shirky’s “Ontology is Overrated” in that you seem, like him, to propose that it’s almost silly to compartmentalize things on the web. In this case, it’s silly to keep things like status messages and declarations of location and shopping separate.

    My question is: if our currently variegated social networking sites evolve to contain all the same features, does that mean we’ll move toward using one all-inclusive tool for social networking? Will we eventually collapse all little machines of difference down into one efficient, centralized hub? The implications of such a thing strike me as important, although I’m still not sure how to feel about this shift to unity. It seems to me that something (maybe someone can help me with what) could be lost, even as efficiency in targeted connections and marketing is gained.

  5. Ivar says:

    I agree with Lilywhite. Why would you want Foursquare to be something it’s not?

    Say we go along and think about the concept of ‘checking in a state of mind’. Whether Foursquare should be that platform is not relevant to the concept.

    My state of mind is within me. It’s not public until I make it so. Even then, suppose I check in my current state of mind: ‘trying to compose a sensible comment to a blogpost’ – is merely checking this in an invitation to respond? Not necessarily, I’d say.

    ‘Waiting for a response’ goes even further than openness to a response. So far reading your post I’m thinking about Twitter as a platform for checking in states of mind. Really I think that comes as close as it gets. But on Twitter, though there is the openness to response, I don’t see a reason to call the tweet a ┬┤search┬┤.

    Or is it? Maybe it’s a search for attention. Do you think the request to respond is implied when a state of mind is checked in?

  6. Jenna Langer says:

    I like the idea of checking in to states of minds, or personal queries. It sounds like the method you are suggesting requires openness on the user side – openness to direct advertising and sharing personal info.

    While some people find targeted marketing, dare I say creepy, I for one, am fine with it. If I am going to to be exposed to marketing, why not make it something I know is relevant to me? I will voluntarily add personal info to sites to make it more personal.

    I’m sure Foursquare has been thinking about a lot of these things, and it will be interesting to see what direction they head with the new funding. I’m not sure foursquare will be your answer, but the idea is on the right track.

    I am wondering the same thing as @Amy – will one social network behemoth become our central portal? Yes, it would be convenient. But one company having all of the data scares me – who know’s what they will do with it in the long run. But then again, I’m pretty sure Google and Facebook know more about me than I do.

  7. John,

    A ‘state of mind’ check-in sounds strikingly similar to a Tweet to me. The only (but still significant) difference being that Twitter is about people amassing around other people, while a ‘state of mind’ check in app would primarily be about people amassing around the tweets or status updates themselves.

    What you describe is essentially a platform for topic-based following, which has the potential to be a powerful human-based Q&A – or maybe even advice – engine. Anyway, I think it’d be important to frame it like that, or at least as something other than ‘state-of-mind check ins.’ And I don’t think that it’s something Foursquare should be trying to get into.

    Great post, got me thinking.

    Jordan

  8. Brian S Hall says:

    Great idea, excellent post.

  9. Mark says:

    This post reminds me of the latest version of Hot Potato. They’ve abstracted the idea of status so you can “check in” to anything. Their prompt encourages you to declare a current activity or thought topic, but you could enter really anything meta about yourself.

    The missing second half, though, is getting something back from the system for checking in your state of mind. That’s quite harder than building out the input half and I think we’re barely scratching the surface here, whether with Hot Potato, Foursquare or any other social service out there. We don’t really know yet what “search” results for check ins should or could look like. As you hint at, they’d have to be handled more intelligently and precisely since the user isn’t prepared to actively engage with a set of results.

  10. Suman says:

    Hi John,

    What you call as “check into a state of mind” is already happening on Facebook and Twitter. And they already have the data that you think Foursquare needs.

    So aren’t they in a better position to respond to your “state of mind”? And if they do then does Foursquare become irrelevant?

    I believe that Foursquare can evolve into a great direct marketing medium. At the right time, at the right place. But doing search is stretching the service a bit too far. And that would mean treading the paths of Facebook, Twitter and, of course, Google.

  11. Chris says:

    First, as Jordan said, this sounds better suited to a Tweet. I have no expectation of public interaction with my foursquare/gowalla check-ins, unlike Twitter.
    Second, if my car choices were based around my facebook/twitter activites I might be offered a lunch wagon as I post about food so frequently. We also know from other posts you have made that your “social graph” is a mess as you are completely maxed with complete strangers, what is a business meant to make out of this.
    Obviously we are creating pictures of ourselves with the disjointed activities of our electronic lives, but I wonder how often the picture has any true utility.

  12. Donald says:

    I agree that the friend mechanism thing isn’t quite working but they’ll get it sorted hopefully.

  13. Ian Kennedy says:

    Broadcasting your intent to purchase sounds a lot like Doc Serl’s VRM concept.

    http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/projectvrm/Main_Page

  14. Yan says:

    Interesting post, the information it is stated as much as possible authentically, thanks)

  15. In “The Real Life Social Network” (http://bit.ly/b6A03x) Paul Adams (http://twitter.com/@padday) summarizes Google’s research on some of the issues raised in your post. He distinguishes between strong, weak and temporary (transient) ties and points out how difficult it is at present to “manage” and keep these networks separate (as we do in real life) on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms. Excellent discussion and well worth studying all 216pp.
    Dr. Phil Hendrix, immr and GigaOm Pro analyst

  16. Uwe Hook says:

    Definitely agree with John that checking into a state of mind is the way to go but Foursquare won’t be able to do it. It’s not enough to access your data through Facebook. First, people have to take ownership of their data. All these new tools use people as content providers and sell data to advertisers. We need to own the data and then make intelligent decisions how to share the data on our terms. In the market for a car: open up the data stream for a a week or so to OEM’s and let them send you offers. Ready to fly to New York: Share with travel agencies/airlines, hotels your intent and let them send you proposals. This can’t be done in walled garde, this has to live in an open environment that can be closed down by people whenever they want.

    Doc Searls was mentioned already, there are many people thinking about Social CRM and the move to VRM. My latest blog post talked about it as well.

    http://bit.ly/dsz95G

  17. Alex Iskold says:

    Hey John,

    Great post!

    We’ve done I think exactly what you are describing with GetGlue. You can check into entertainment like shows, movies, books, music and also general topics.

    Take a look at the iPhone app: http://bit.ly/glueiphone

    Would love to hear what you think of the experience.

  18. Taylor says:

    I love the idea as a marketer and would be happy to try it out myself; but, I have a strong feeling most everyday consumers wouldn’t opt in to being bombarded with advertising messaging around their state of mind. Big ticket items such as car purchases can be stressful decisions in and of themselves. To opt in to another layer of marketers fighting over you might not be something the everyday consumer would jump on the band wagon for.

  19. I think this is the next generation of community forums which already serve this purpose in a far more arcane way (discrete sites / logins, etc)

    Imagine a world where one platform / account allowed you to check in / out of forums without having to find , sign up, manage, and remember x number of different forums …

    Anyone want to aggregate the leading community forums into foursquare style model?

  20. Shawn says:

    Hot Potato and Get Glue