The geniuses behind Foursquare had a simple but brilliant idea: a location-based social network. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could send a quick shout to all your friends telling them where you are? However, this wasn’t enough. The real innovation that made their idea work was that they realized there would need to be some incentive to come back and use the app. A goal system with prizes was born and the rest is history. Foursquare now works across several mobile platforms and boasts millions of daily users.
Foursquare began in 2009 and triggered the social check-in revolution that is still very much in its infancy. Today we’re going to look at what developments have been made in this area in addition to a few notable newcomers that you might want to check out.
A Rivalry is Born
By the end of 2009 there were two main competitors in the social check-in game: Foursquare and Gowalla. Gowalla’s service was conceptually almost identical to that of Foursquare, but their UI design set them apart and provided a clear point for users to compare and choose their favorite. Back in April of 2010, we did just that in our article “Head to Head: Gowalla vs. FourSquare”
Ultimately I think this rivalry has been great for both platforms. Rather than one service ruling and becoming stagnant, both have had to engage in a strong push towards innovation that has led to several new features and interface upgrades in a pretty short amount of time.
Facebook Checks In
By August of 2010, the social check-in game was in full stride. Not one to sit idly by while other social networks gain steam, Facebook decided they wanted a piece of this business and launched their own location-based check-in feature.
At the time, many of us were quite concerned that the entrance of Internet giant Facebook into this arena would spell doom for Foursquare and Gowalla, the two little guys who worked hard to pioneer the market. It seemed like a cheap move for Facebook to simply take the idea and run with it as their own.
Fortunately, the doom and gloom predictions turned out to be over-stated. Around half a year after Facebook launched Places, the impact that it has had on the social Check-In industry appears to be quite minimal. In fact, if anything it has added yet another interesting layer as Foursquare and Gowalla can now interact with Facebook on a useful level that wasn’t possible before. Using only one app, Gowalla, you can now check in and keep up with friends on the Gowalla, Foursquare and Facebook networks! I personally love that the competitors in this market are choosing to play so well together.
It’s interesting to note that Twitter also has a location layer, but it doesn’t really seem like a truly integral part of the service and definitely never felt like a threat to Gowalla and Foursquare.
New Kids on the Block
So here we are in 2011. Foursquare and Gowalla are still going strong, meanwhile, Facebook Places has had some trouble taking off and has yet to ruin the industry like we feared. There’s still plenty of room for innovation and fresh blood and I think it’s entirely possible there will be a few more really big names in this list a few years from now.
For now, here’s a few promising apps that you should definitely check out and keep an eye on.
Kickball isn’t really a Foursquare competitor, because it actually is Foursquare, just in a different wrapper. If you love the Foursquare service but aren’t a fan of the relatively boring interface, Kickball provides you with a gorgeous alternative that utilizes the same exact network. Even if your friends have never heard of Kickball, they’ll still see all of your check-ins and shouts just as if you were in the Foursquare app.
Kickball goes one step further by actually improving your Foursquare experience with a few new features. For starters, you can now see the location of friends and places around you in a live map view (a nice upgrade from the simple list), there are also some improvements for linking photos to specific places.
For now, Kickball only allows you to check in on Foursquare, but Gowalla and Facebook Places integration is coming soon. Interestingly enough, the app actually functions as a decent browser for your Facebook and Twitter feeds as well, making it a hard-to-beat social hub!
SCVNGR is a fairly new location-based app that, on the surface appears to be just another Foursquare clone, but actually brings some new functionality to the mix.
Beyond simply checking in and earning badges, each location you visit presents you with a series of challenges that you have to complete to earn points. For instance, at the location I visited, you could take a picture, Bump with another contact, or write something about the location, each of which had a unique point value.
The coolest part is that as you rack up points at various locations, you can earn savings and rewards. So some local business could give you $5 off for earning 25 points, which gives you incentive to keep returning. It’s a great feature that is very close to what already happens with Foursquare, but is integrated into the app on a much deeper level.
Wingman is yet another interesting use of the existing Foursquare network. This time the goal is digital flirting. You can use the app to check into a location and then see what other single Foursquare users are around you. You’ll get an alert when someone shows interest and you can chat to get to know them and decide whether or not to meet up.
I’m a happily married man so I haven’t personally tried this one, but the idea seems to have a lot of potential. Approaching someone in public is dreadfully awkward and having an impersonal piece of technology bridge the gap is a great way to reduce the stress of finding a potential partner. Obviously, there’s potential here for predators looking for trouble, so ladies, pack your pepper spray!
What do you get when you mix Foursqaure-like functionality with beer? Untappd! This browser-based mobile app allows you to check into your favorite drinking spot and share what you’re drinking with your friends. It’s a great way to not only discover new places and people, but to find new and popular beer. What could be better?
If you’re looking for a native Untappd iPhone app, check out iTappd on the App Store for $1.99. It’s a third party solution but looks like it integrates with the service pretty well.
Shopkick is similar in concept to SCVNGR in that it’s geared heavily towards earning real-world savings. By checking into certain stores and/or scanning the barcodes of specific items, you earn “kickbucks” which you can then cash in for gift cards, song downloads and more.
From a business perspective, it’s a fantastic way to actually get people into your store. Sure, they’ll get plenty of people just looking for some quick points, but once you walk through those doors they have you right where they want you and can reel you in with sales pitches and discounts.
As more and more people make the switch to smartphones, I expect to see a mountain of growth in the social check-in arena. As we saw above, there are already a number of interesting and even wacky ideas for how to apply this technology, everything from snagging discounts to getting a date! More and more we’re starting to see location sharing not only as a stand-alone platform, but a must-have feature for nearly every social app out there.
Leave a comment below and tell us about the check-in services that you’ve seen and used. Do you stick primarily to Foursquare/Gowalla or have you branched out to other apps? Better yet, are you confused by the whole trend and still wondering why anyone would want to share their location with the world? Let us know!