Checking In, Isn’t Catching On – At Least Not Yet

Not only do they know your name... they know where you are.

On a personal level, I’ve never been a big fan of location-based social networks (LBS) like Foursquare or Gowalla.  In fact, I’ve resisted using them, mostly due to privacy concerns.

And, yes, you can argue that a blogger with a LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, Posterous account, Twitter account, etc… must be nuts if he draws the privacy line at LBS.  But I do.

For those not familiar with it, a LBS is an application downloaded onto your mobile device that allows users to publicly post their location.  This informs your friends and family (and anyone else out there for that matter) where you are at any given moment.  Marketers have been flush with excitement about the possibilities of LBS.  It has the potential for them to push advertising, marketing materials, coupons and other communications directly to their customers while they are still at or inside their establishments.

It’s also a way to foster community and build closer relationships with your customers, especially those avid customers who like to tell everyone they are fans of your products and services through an LBS.

For individuals, LBS allows them to meet like-minded people.  It gives them a chance to compete to be the “mayor” of a given location – to become the ultimate regular, if you will (Think of Norm from the old “Cheers” sitcom).  And many establishments are rewarding their most loyal customers with extra benefits when they post from their locations.

Yet despite all the hype (and there has been a lot of it), LBS have not caught on with mainstream users.  A recent report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that only 4 percent of adults have signed up for LBS.  And only 1 percent of them are using it regularly.

No surprise that Pew found that younger people (8 percent) were more likely to use LBS.  But, surprisingly, at least to me, was that Hispanics were the biggest ethnic group using it (10 percent).

The idea of checking in everywhere has been a hard sell.  There are definite benefits, but also enormous disadvantages.  When you use Foursquare and Gowalla you sacrifice the idea of being alone.  You are broadcasting not only your location, but what you are doing.  Is it wise to check-in at six different bars on Saturday night so that your parents, spouse or your boss gets to experience your binge with you?  Do you really want everyone to know where you are going on a date?  Do you want the coffee shop pushing you marketing messages while sipping coffee with your sister?

Aren’t we all – at least a little bit – concerned about Big Brother watching us?  So why opt in for that constant surveillance feeling?

What about you?  Do you Foursquare?  Do you like the benefits of LBS?  And, most importantly, do you think it will catch on?


Why I Don’t Use Foursquare

Pew Internet & American Life Project report on location-based social networks

Photo by Laram777 (via Flickr)

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4 Responses to “Checking In, Isn’t Catching On – At Least Not Yet”

  1. I’m with you, George. I’ve embraced most other social media, but I am resisting location-based apps for the same reasons you outlined above (although I never really make it past one bar, if any, on a Sat. night). It just seems too invasive. One or two people in my Facebook circle use it but do so selectively. The fact that it’s been so slow to catch on makes me wonder if it ever will.

  2. Hi Michelle:
    Never say never. But as constituted I’m not sure the general public is ready to publicly check-in at every store, restaurant and dry cleaner they visit on a daily basis. But in my circle, admittedly that includes too many social media geeks, I’ve been surprised at the number of colleagues that check-in absolutely every where.

  3. Hi Sean:
    Great insights. Thanks for including me in your post.


  1. Location, Location, Location | The Fosbury Flop - November 8, 2010

    […] Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I maintain exactly zero presence on any LBS network. Simply said, I’m a happy, active participant in many online venues, but for personal privacy reasons, I’m just not willing to disclose my every daily step. And, according to my good friend George Snell at, I’m not alone. […]

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