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Instrumenting People Into Location Services

By - December 08, 2011

So this week a well known VC made the trek to my writing retreat in Marin, and we hung out in a room that until this year was a large storage closet behind my garage. I rethought the space, soundproofed it, added a hodge-podge of AV gear and musical instruments, and named the place the “Ross Social Club”  - on Foursquare, anyway. I haven’t really told anyone that I gave the place a name, but it was sort of an experiment – would anyone ever check in there besides me?

Now I chose that name for various reasons I won’t get into here (another story, one I’ll be glad to tell you over a bourbon). But I like being able to name a space on Foursquare, and it’s become a habit for me to “check in” whenever I actually use the room. It’s like  leaving a digital breadcrumb for me, a record of my new relationship to music (I’m learning to play the drums). A lot of friends hang out there too, often playing their own instruments or riffing on the whiteboards I’ve hung about the place. But  I don’t make it a habit to mention the room’s Foursquare doppelganger. It seems a bit … forced. And as far as I know, many of them don’t use the service.

On the same day I created the RSC on Foursquare (and probably because he asked me what I was doing on my phone), one fellow did check in. With some whimsy, he added a tip: “Try the wings.” It’d make you laugh if you’ve ever been there, trust me. Since then, in the past nine months, countless folks have been through the place, but only one other person has checked in.

Anyway, yesterday this well-known VC came by, and we met in the RSC mainly because it was too loud in my home office (construction going on outside). And as he walked in and sat, he put his iPhone down on a nearby table, as did I. I thought about asking him to check in, but….then I forgot. We spoke for an hour or so, reviewing all manner of things in our industry, discussed our business, and on his way he went.

Then I thought to myself – hey, he should have checked into that space. Then there’d be a record of his visit, and that’d be cool. Kind of like a guestbook of sorts.

But…I don’t even know if the fellow uses Foursquare. And he of course had no idea that the Ross Social Club was “lit up” on the service. And I wasn’t sure mentioning it to him wasn’t, well, kind of dorky.

You see all those social instrumentation and nuance problems I’m having?

Anyway, here’s a thought on one way to add just one wrinkle of nuance to location services. While I’m sure at some point in our collective future the concept of a “place” being digitally “alive” and communicable will be commonplace, at the moment, it’s rare and noteworthy.

As a transition between the two, I’d love a feature on Foursquare (or any other location service, er…say Google, or Facebook, or Twitter…) that allows me to send someone who I’ve been with somewhere (like the VC) an invitation to check in post facto. It’d kind of be like saying “Hey, send your phone over to my house. I’ll check you into the Ross Social Club.” The idea is, he didn’t know he could check in (and I forgot to tell him about it), but I can vouch for his presence there. He should get credit on Foursquare for being there (and the great Database of Intentions would get another bit of data), but he’s back in San Francisco now, so there’s no way for him to check in. But if he “sent his phone over” to me, I could do it for him.

Of course he wouldn’t actually send his phone over, the service would verify me as trustworthy and let me check the VC in on his behalf. But it’d add a rare human element to the service, and I for one would see many uses for it. If nothing else, it’d drive more interaction between people around the platform, and isn’t that what we all want anyway?

Just a random thought. OK, on with work…

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9 thoughts on “Instrumenting People Into Location Services

  1. perryevans says:

    Interesting thought line, John.  

    I’ve been working on a related issue from a purely commercial angle, which is reflected in the blog post linked below.  The increasing challenge for any business today is to leverage that point of live connection to create what we call “wallet bias” for a return visit.  The level of noise and new “decision layer” between one visit and the next (created by deals and live promotions) really increases the importance of full-on leverage of the “check-out”.  Of course, the publishing of anyone’s location-event context needs to be centered on the user ownership principles – being “trustworthy” isn’t enough, imho. The VC may well not have wanted other people (friends or foes) to have known they hung out at your place, for reasons known only to him/her.   http://www.closely.com/local_social/wallet-bias/

    • Anonymous says:

      Totally agree Perry. That’s why I think it has to be up to the person to decide, not me. I would have to send a note to the VC asking if he wanted to, and he’d have to say yes. This differs from the way Facebook does it (or did it, dunno if it’s changed), where people could check YOU in if they were with you. That strikes me a socially inept.

      • perryevans says:

        I assumed you agreed, but thought it was good to confirm – last thing we need is to be seeding Mark Z with fresh new boundary-pushing ideas on social publishing on behalf of your friends ;)

  2. I was laughing so hard by the end of this (you could be a comedy writer) that commenting on the idea of instrumenting people into location services didn’t even register. It’s a brilliant idea. Begs the question, why isn’t it in practice yet?

  3. Anonymous says:

    path tries to achieve that, no?

  4. The cloud is going to revolutionize mapping as it revolutionized telecom. I recommend; just accept it. Great article!

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