Dec 9, 2010

Do Location Based Check-Ins Have To Be Real Time?

One of the biggest hassles of location based services like FourSquare is the actual process of checking in. You arrive at the restaurant, your friends are already waiting at the table and there’s not really a socially acceptable way  to whip out your phone and begin the 5 minute ignore-everyone-at-the-table-and-stare-at-your-phone process that a check-in often entails.

But what if check-ins weren’t real time? The original reason for making them real time was so that your friends could find you if you were out in a nearby bar. (It also played into the whole badge/mayor game thing.) Which is one reason to use an LBS, but far from the only one: more often than not we’re checking in from our office or the supermarket or a client lunch and no one’s really looking for us at those places.

What if location based services evolved into recommendation engines: here’s where I was today, I ate at Elm Street Café and recommend the artichoke soup. I bought a Calvin Klein sweater at Macy’s. They’re on sale this week.

Most of the time when I check in to FourSquare (or Gowalla, or Facebook Places) the results I’m seeing from my friends are several hours old anyway. So at lunchtime, I’m finding out where they had breakfast or drinks the night before.

A location-based service that was not real time would seem to have a number of benefits:

  1. Ease of Use: I’m thinking most people would be more prone to “check-in” at the end of the day or whenever they had a spare 5 minutes alone and could input the highlights of their day rather than the random stops that comprise most people’s LBS check-in log. It also stops checking-in from interrupting a fun experience and forcing us out of participant mode and into reporter mode (e.g. the restaurant scene I laid out earlier.)
  2. Deeper Engagement: Rather than just a rushed click to let the world know “Hey! I’m at the dry cleaners!” someone doing an end-of-day check-in is more likely to add tips and recommendations too, especially given that they’ve had some time to reflect on the day’s experiences. 
  3. Increased Loyalty: If I’m bothering to check in at Elm Street Café after the fact, chances are I’m a fan of the place. And if they were to send me a coupon for a free artichoke soup, chances are I’d use it next time I went. That’s a lot more appealing than getting hit with random coupons from a store I’m already in, particularly if I’m checking in as I’m waiting on line to pay. (Which is often where I find myself pulling out my phone - not, as many have postulated, upon entering.) 
  4. More Valuable Information: When checking in becomes thoughtful rather than random, informed rather than scattered, marketers (and other users) are provided with more useful information: did Bob check in from the dry cleaners because there was someone in front of him on line and he was bored, or did he check in to give them props for the way they iron his shirts? That sort of information is much more likely to be offered during a non-spontaneous check-in. 
There are still plenty of situations (concerts, conferences. etc/) where real-time check-in can be a valuable tool and I’m not proposing that sites eliminate it. I’d also think these sites would want to set some sort of limit (24 hours?) on how much time passed between visit and check-in.

I think eliminating the requirement that all check-ins be real-time would greatly enhance both the appeal and the value of location-based services.

If nothing else, it would make the process a whole lot easier.

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