Thursday, February 18, 2010

Foursquare and the Location-Sharing Trend...

Social media is rapidly evolving into its next phase... location-sharing. The idea is that, more and more frequently, people are sharing their whereabouts on Twitter and in their Facebook status messages - simple posts like "On my way to the Bahamas for two weeks and very excited!". While relatively harmless on the surface, enough people are doing it that, when taken in aggregate, the information is starting to attract attention; some of it good, some of it bad.

Companies like Foursquare are trying to capitalize on location-sharing. Foursquare hopes that people will download their mobile app and then "check-in" wherever they go. In other words, if you go to a restaurant, you can "check-in" to Foursquare with a few clicks on your cell phone, and consequently receive recommendations, friends' comments, lists of other highly rated places nearby, etc., all based on your location. As the website explains it...

Think of foursquare as an "urban mix tape." We'll help you make lists of your favorite things to do and let you share them with friends. Think beyond your standard review - we're looking less for "The food here is top notch" and more for "Go to Dumont Burger and try the most amazing Mac and Cheese ever." Foursquare will keep track of the things you've done, help you create To-Do lists and even suggest new experiences to seek out.

As you check-in around the city, you'll start finding tips that other users have left behind. After checking-in at a restaurant, it's not uncommon to unlock a tip suggesting the best thing on the menu. Checking-in at a bar will often offer advice on what your next stop should be. Every tip you create is discoverable by other users just by checking-in.

The problem with location-sharing is that you're exposing information that could potentially put you at risk. Mashable describes how stories about status updates leading to burglaries are becoming commonplace. One video podcaster was robbed after tweeting that he was out of town, and there’s even some evidence to suggest that burglars are turning to social media to find their targets.

A clever new website called highlights some of these dangers. All it does is aggregate publicly shared "check-ins", yet when you view the live stream of "Recent Empty Homes", it paints a shocking picture. In one memorable line, the creators write...

The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not... home. So here we are; on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the Internet we’re not home.

It's a great point. There's been some awareness-building that people should be careful of what they post on Facebook and other websites for fear of it coming back to haunt you. Location-sharing seems to be right up there in terms of danger. It may eventually pan out as the next Big Thing and shouldn't necessarily be avoided, but before creating your Foursquare account and "checking-in" everywhere you go, put some thought into exactly what you're sharing.

As you should with everything :-)


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