Recently I've once again begun getting more and more into foursquare, the location based social networking site. I first signed up when it became available in London sometime late 2009 and after a few months of avidly checking in everywhere that I went I began finding it less and less useful and eventually stopped using it.
Then earlier this year prior to attending SXSW I recalled someone saying how useful a service it was during the previous year for helping to keep track of where everyone was during the conference and throughout the evening parties. And it was. Throughout the conference the convenience of notifications each time a friend moved from one venue to another was invaluable both in terms of knowing where to go next and of course saving on costs of expensive SMS and voice messages.
Coming back to London post SXSW I continued using foursquare, although the benefit of knowing where my friends were quickly subsided due to the small number of people I knew who used it. My check ins were becoming less and less frequent, often occurring when I was stood in a queue, or I happened to notice the foursquare sticker on an entrance door. That was until I attended a London Quantified Self / Self Hacking meet up.
At the London Quantified Self meet up I heard from a bunch of people who were using data collected about themselves (from mood, to weight, to productivity) to help analysis and improve themselves. This got me thinking about the data that I collected about myself (at the time I wrote a short blog post) and other data that I may like to capture. One personal data set that I have which is fairly vast is a list of music I've listened to. The data goes back to pretty much all (digitally recorded) music that I've listened to since 18th July 2008. In a similar vain I also have a fairly comprehensive list of all the gigs I've been to. Many of these pre-2008 were added from memory or from rifling through a shoe box full of ticket stubs!
On the point of the listened to (or scrobbled) music I could have had a much richer data set. Pre-signing up to LastFM, the service which allows you to scrobble your music, there was a period where I didn't know why I'd want to capture a record of all the music I'd listened to. It seemed a bit pointless and I'd have no idea as to what want to do with that listening history. So I didn't sign up and I carried on listening to music.
Granted, right now I'm not doing massive amounts with that listening history. It provides a great mechanism for recommending new music to listen to, and via being hooked up to Songkick it serves well in notifying me of upcoming gigs based upon the music I listen to the most. And of course it provides great ammunition for bragging rights over who listened to a particular band first! I'm also certain that in the coming months, year, and years there'll be many more services that will call on that data to provide me with great things. So in hindsight I'm annoyed that during the period when I could have been scrobbling my music listening but chose not to I'm now missing out on having access to (personally) valuable data.
Back to the point of foursquare location data. I'm now thinking that although I don't know just how useful the data will be if I don't start capturing it now then it's lost forever. And when there's a revelation as to its use I'd be at risk of missing out due to not having that data available to me. Capturing the data is cheap in terms of effort, and there are all ready some obvious immediate benefits such as knowing where friends are hanging out, seeing places I've visited before, or the restaurants friends are liking. The potential future of location based data is exciting and I'm keen to make sure I'm set up for it!
Explaining my rationale for using foursquare has helped encourage a few more friends to also sign up or to revert back to checking in. This has evoked another side to foursquare, gamification, the use of points, badges and leaderboards to encourage some healthy competition amongst peers. Clearly this provides some added fun to process of checking in, some instant gratification to the process of collecting longer term useful data. It has also stirred up some healthy debate in the Osmosoft office, particularly around what constitutes a suitable check in. I thought I'd share a few of the unwritten rules that we've been playing by and highlight some areas of contention!
- Your home – a check in here is borderline acceptable. Personally I don't do it but I wouldn't take offence against any of my friends who checked into their own home. Discussions around this point inevitably led to debates around the wider security implications of letting people know where you are and when you're not home. Lots to think about but given you could likely garner the same information from Facebook status updates or recent tweets its all a bit of a non-issue.
- Train stations, bus garages, airports – this is fine as from the perspective to collecting data about where you've been this is all useful stuff. However I draw the line at checking into a specific platform, unless its platform 9¾!
- Coffee shops, restaurants, bars – these are all clear yes's although there are some finer points which need to be considered. For example, on Friday two of my colleagues and I went for lunch. We fancied some jerk chicken so headed to Caribbean Lunches on Strutton Ground. We were a little late for lunch and whilst queuing I checked in. Reaching the counter we were told that there was only enough food left for two people, Ben and Jon had jerk chicken and I went off to get some other goodness from another place nearby. I didn't check in at the other second place as I'd already completed my lunchtime check in and didn't want to be accused of hoarding points! I'm not sure whether this is the right etiquette to follow?
- The office – this is cool, however typically should only be done once a day. Going out to lunch and returning to the office doesn't warrant another check in! Exceptions to a once a day check in may be if you move between offices.
- Shops – this is a tricky one. One of my general rules is to check into places of significant importance or a place where some form of social interaction may occur. Checking into a supermarket or a pharmacy may be frowned upon, however checking into somewhere like Magma, one of my book shops in London, is fine as friends who've seen this check in would likely ask what awesomeness was acquired in that trip.
- Multiple checkings – similar to the office scenario there are certain times when checking into a single venue more than once in a day is perfectly acceptable. Perhaps you've met some friends in a bar, moved on for dinner and then return to the same bar later in the evening. This would warrant three legitimate check ins. However going to a bar, ducking out to visit an ATM and then returning to the bar should probably require just the one check in for the bar.
- Dubious check ins – a statue walked passed en route home (ahem, Jon) or north-west corner of a park followed by south-east corner of the same park would be considered dodgy check ins.
Clearly this list is neither exhaustive nor is it official, its all a bit of fun. Standards for using the service will continue to adapt and evolve amongst groups, and new applications that utilise location data will open up exciting new possibilities. Lots to think about but right now I'm off to my local coffee shop to claim my mayorship!