Location Based Services and Tracking

I remember coming across a blog entry shared by Louis Gray that kick started a number of thoughts on the topic of check-ins. The point that stood out the most was the idea that check-ins are like coupons and that eventually you’d have to pay people to check in. I strongly believe that the hype around LBS will die down a little but check-ins will still happen. The reality is that check-ins really are the geospatial version of tweets, reviews and wiki articles.

There are lot of pragmatic use cases for LBS services especially in the social setting. A check-in is a lot like the “what did you do on the weekend” question except that you can do it in real time. Often times, it’d be interesting to see where people had lunch and it serves as a recommendation of sorts. One of the bigger dilemmas for LBS will be privacy. I don’t always want everyone to know where I am. For example, when my mum was not well, it would have been nice to be able to check in to the hospital as a means of letting my siblings know that I was with her but given that I’m quite a private person, I would probably have wanted to limit it to just my family and friends.

A number of apps allow you to constantly broadcast where you. Google Latitude and BuddyMob come to mind. I would seriously only limit this kind of access to my life to my family and a handful of really close friends. These type of functions are most useful if you have young children and tracking them can be useful. It’s a bit creepier when it comes to adults. The only person I can see having the need to track me is my mum. To my mum, I’m still a young child and so I can live with it.

Foursquare and Gowalla are the two more renown check-in apps today although I think BrightKite is the grandaddy of check-ins. FourSquare made check-ins cool and acceptable. However, I think what makes it most useful is that you can see trending information in a location and that you can leave tips or comments about a place. Some people have made a business out of the mayorships but its pragmatism ends there. Gowalla, on the other hand, has functions like adding pictures on top of leaving comments. You can also build trips and that makes it quite useful and interesting as well.

Plancast really isn’t a location based service in the traditional sense. What it is though is provide you with the ability to tell people where you’re going to be. Still quite useful as it let’s you advertise for an event and try to gauge interest before you go.

The big thing for me is that LBS is really still in its infancy. There’s still so much room to grow and so much more capability to be built on top of this capability.