The Future of Check-ins (at evolt.org)

Last week Mashable featured a post asking if location-based services are all just hype (my take: Too Much Hype over Location-Based Services?). Continuing the geolocation theme Mashable has a new post, What the Future Holds for the Checkin, by a guest blogger/columnist.

She opens up by explaining that in the early days of location-based social media (a couple years ago) checking in alone was enough to get users interested. In my case, as an early user of Brightkite, I liked the notion that it would notify me via text when I had friends nearby. The issue there was that I had to cajole my friends into using it, and then they only did it sporadically.

She continues by pointing out that badges and leaderboards are now the driving motivator behind people checking in. Given the number of sites that track badges, or the number of times that people cheating Foursquare comes up as a topic of debate on blogs and other social media fora (On foursquare, cheating, and claiming mayorships from your couch…), I tend to agree with that.

Sadly, from here the article gets a little underwhelming. She asks a valid question: what is the next feature to keep people engaged? Her answers center around a baseball game and a movie theater. There are a couple pedestrian examples in each, but nothing really groundbreaking (I've already done the remote gaming with strangers thing on a Cathay Pacific flight to Malaysia with a Vietnamese girl who was far better than I at Tetris). Given the title of the article, I expected a lot more content, or at least some pie-in-the-sky ideas.

It's not hard to come up with some ideas, either. For example, in March I posted an article (Real World Hyperlinks) about how QR codes, scanned by any camera-enabled smartphone, could be used in conjunction with Google Favorite Places to allow quick check-ins. There is a service called StickyBits (Bar Codes as Web Portals) that could do the same thing. Allowing users to print scannable check-in codes for flashmobs or other random or new venues could be a boon to the medium.

Those are just technology examples. Consider recent discussions of location-based advertising and what that can mean for consumers in one store being offered discounts by another store up the street. I seem to recall Google won a patent for location-based advertising back in February (Google wins patent for location-based advertising). Enough people have debated that topic that there could be a goldmine of ideas. I might be willing to give up my personal details to retailers if I knew they might engage in a real-time bidding war for my business based on where I am.

There are mash-ups of mapping tools that promote people leaving reviews of favorite (or hated) places all over the web (Mapping Location-Based Social Media). People could leave breadcrumbs of their activities, create special tours (The Ferris Bueller's Day Off Movie Experience), cross the streams so different services can feed into one another (like Check.in), and so on. Some variation on this could supplant Yelp or other city-based review and recommendation platforms.

Perhaps a cottage industry could pop up revolving around fears of your home being ransacked in your absence, or some crazed fan tracking you down in the bathroom (Don't Let Social Media Get You Robbed (or Stalked)). Couple this with fear of identity theft (in the virtual world), smear campaigns, and general paranoia, and there may be many services that help you track down and protect information you have inadvertently deposited as you trek about town with your smart phone.

My point is that the future of checking in, of location-based social media in general, is pretty clear based on current trends. We can project them out and prepare for many of them. What we don't know is what killer app has yet to be developed that will turn this process upside down and show us a new way to use it. I'd like to see a little more of that insightful, crazed speculation. The other stuff I can figure out on my own.

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