Every now and then, I rethink why the “check-in” matters to people. I wrote about it last year, and I still more or less feel the same way. What problems does a service like Foursquare solve? Clearly there’s a social aspect to it, but beyond that, it’s about discovering interesting new places to visit. Discovery is clearly an issue. I face this myself and see it as a noble problem to solve. I’ve lived in Vancouver all of my life, and yet I still discover amazing places to eat all the time–thanks to services like Yelp. Yelp was primarily built with the intent of helping connect people to businesses, but once the check-in fad started with Gowalla and Foursquare before it, Yelp tacked on a check-in component. I still love Yelp. but I don’t really use the check-in features. I find little use for checking in to places I visit.
I classify Foursquare users two ways: those that check-in for the purpose of attaining “mayorship,” and those that check-in because they want to keep a journal of places they’ve been to. If you want to keep a log of important places you visited, it strikes me that there should be some visual component to the service, so you can look back at a later date and see a summary of where you’ve been. Facebook shows you your “year in review”, which uses an algorithm to summarize and highlight important events in your life (e.g., you started a relationship or became engaged). This is something I’ve wanted from Foursquare, but since it doesn’t offer this or even an way of easily exporting my data (I’m not sure if you can do it via their API), their service is of little value. Relying on Foursquare is worrisome as they don’t charge you to use it. Foursquare doesn’t seem to have any solid business model as far as I can tell. They do have an advertising model for businesses, but it’s not clear to me if they charge for that, and if so, is it profitable? They have an API you can utilize, for example, building a third party app that can send location data to it, but I would be concerned about building a dependency on that. As Foursquare’s core business is location data, building an app that overlaps their own functionality is risky for developers. We’ve seen just how risky this can be over the last couple of years, as Twitter started warning developers about reproducing the Twitter experience.
Since August 2012, I’ve been a pretty big proponent of App.net — a social networking service that’s somewhat similar to Twitter, but diverges on many different levels. Their powerful and robust APIs enable developers to build a vast array of innovate apps and services that can use their Search, File, and Places (for location) APIs. Recently I switched to using Ohai, which is a journaling app that allows you to either check-in to places, or simply take photos and notes without adding location data. The app uses the ADN location API, which uses Factual as the backend for the data source. What I love about Ohai is that because my data is stored in my ADN account, I can easily grab this data via their user user export feature (like how Google allows you to get all of your data before leaving the service). If Ohai was pulled from the App Store, I could use another third party app that uses the Places API to store and retrieve check-in data. Because ADN’s business model is that of the freemium kind (meaning there’s a free tier, but mostly premium paid user base), I have much less concern that my data will disappear due to evaporating venture capital.
Once someone decides to build a front end for Places data, I’ll be far more invested in journaling my daily activities. I’d be willing to pay for this service too.