Now I'm I'm there

So my friend PaulBe asked me how useful I find the check-in features of certain social media sites. We swapped a few messages about it and he laid down the gauntlet for me to share my thoughts here.

I use two check-in services: Gowalla and Facebook's Places. Let's start with Gowalla, which may be something of a Betamax to Four Square's VHS. I went with it, however, after reading this and deciding that it suited me as one who travels place to place more than interacts with friends at, say, a local coffee shop. Further, I really have no interest in competing for mayorships, or even being in one particular place more or less than someone else, which seems to be more of the goal with FS. I'm mostly more interested in recording where I've been, especially places outside of my local community, and Gowalla serves me well in that regard.

One thing I wish Gowalla (and for that matter, Places) offered would be a report of some kind that shows when I was where. For example, I did a bunch of check-ins on my Maine and Vermont ski trip back in February. But, if I look back on my check-ins on Gowalla, all I see are details such as my being at Stowe's "The Octagon" restaurant five months ago. I was also several hours away at Sugarloaf that same five months ago. Now, was I at Stowe first or Sugarloaf? I also met a friend in Boston and a cousin in Maine on that trip, but what was my route? Hmmm...Wish the info presented was a bit more detailed, customizable, and even exportable to, say, here in particular, and, as noted in the blog mentioned above, say, on my TripAdvisor map.

Now, I'm not an isolationist, and there are plenty of times where I'll happily tag friends with me, or have others tag me. Gowalla doesn't strike me as ideal for that, but the Facebook Places feature works fine. And, I do like how Gowalla and FB Places are in sync on FB for noting check-ins; that is, a Gowalla check in shows on Places so that my friends can see where I am. But, sometimes I might be with friends in a Tweet-worthy spot--FB Places won't cover me there, right? I know I can have Twitter display my location, but I have that turned off. In those instances, it's easy enough for me to do both: tag my friends on Places, and then do a Gowalla check-in that sends only a Tweet. That is another nice feature of Gowalla: I can easily have it toggle to just choose FB or Twitter; I can share it to FB and Twitter, which is what I mostly do; or I can just silently check-in some place and have it stamped that I was there.

"Does my sharing my location result in anything interesting, comment or otherwise," I was effectively asked. Sure, sometimes, especially on Facebook, friends seem interested to know where I am, and some comments may follow. Likewise, I am interested to see where they are, particularly when they're traveling (but much less so when they're at their local coffee chain, gym, etc). So, yes, these check-ins do enhance my social networking experience in that regard, I suppose.

The more I think about it, though, it's the "I was here" stamping that is most important to me. One of my greatest travel regrets is not getting a National Parks Cancellation Book--a little booklet that you bring to National Parks, and use their park's date stamp to record the date of your visit. When I started hitting National Parks en masse in 1992, I failed to really notice these little books sold in every gift store until I had hit about a dozen parks, and figured that it was too late to start, that I wouldn't get to too many more, and that I had lost the chance to record the earlier visits. With scores of National Park visits under my belt, what a nice record of my travel that would have been, even with a late start. So, Gowalla, for example, has something of that kind of record keeping ability. It has at least kept track of each new state I visit. Now, I know I've been to all of them, but, it's kind of cool to see the state pins it's collected for me (about 15, I think). I would love for it to do the same with National Parks, ballparks, football stadiums, etc.

I should add that I've been using these apps on my Droid, which handles them infinitely better than my BlackBerry did. I'm also wondering how these devices will play out on Google+ (not to mention how that will play out when it gets rolling). One drawback I've noticed, though, is that these check-ins can cause me to look down at the device longer than I feel comfortable doing, waiting for the device to find the geographic location and then scrolling through a list of options to find the intended spot--many of us have our heads buried in our phones too much, and these apps don't always let you get your head out of them any quicker. But, it is nice when the location pops up, check-in selected, and "Done" shows up.

Again, no mayor stuff needed; just a simple "HKHWR was here" will do just fine.


  1. Nicely articulated. I think I'd prefer Gowalla.

    I too wonder about the head-buried-in-phone aspect. I can imagine (a) getting in a habit of checking in everywhere (i.e., lots of phone diddling), (b) evaluating places for check-in worthiness (distraction from being "present"), or (c) forgetting to check in, rendering the app pointless.

    For the moment, it's moot: I don't have e capable phone. I had both FS and Gowalla on the Blackberry I used last year, but I ditched that phone because of abysmal call quality. There may be an Android in my future though.

  2. It looks like Gowalla will be emphasizing exactly those features that make it more appealing as a sort of travel diary:


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