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Foursquare Check-in Etiquette

Anyone remember the early complaints about Twitter? That people were posting updates about what they’re eating for lunch? Robert Scoble noted this phenomenon in a blog post from last September about Twitter’s rise:

It tells me that Twitter isn’t lame anymore. Remember those days when Twitter was for telling all your friends you were having a tuna sandwich at Subway in Half Moon Bay?

I do.

Yes, Twitter has grown up and become much more than the report of what you’re eating for lunch. Which brings us to Foursquare and Gowalla.

These services are in their early stages, with Foursquare outnumbering Gowalla four-to-one in members. Some of us are experimenting with these location-based services. For me personally, it feels like those early days of Twitter (“What should I tweet?”).

The biggest difference since my early Twitter days is that I’ve got more experience with this sharing behavior, and I’m comfortable trying different approaches.

With that in mind, I wanted to describe some early thoughts on Foursquare and Gowalla etiquette.

The Check-in Sharing Hierarchy

Louis Gray wrote a post recently asking whether people are censoring their check-ins to maintain hipster cred. It’s a good, if somewhat painful, examination of the fact that we do have some serious hum-drum in our lives. People’s comments on the post are illuminating, as some admit this behavior, but also note that they don’t want to bore everyone.

There are three levels of sharing check-ins that Foursquare provides (Gowalla only has the latter two):

The three levels each have their own unique use cases, and their own check-in etiquette.

Share It with No One

I’ve done this before. I check in, but I don’t share it with anyone. Why? Two reasons:

  1. Just maintaining a record of my days’ activities
  2. Like to stay on top of the mayorships, badges and points

See, a valuable use case of checking in with Foursquare and Gowalla is the maintenance of a personal activity history. The combination of GPS location, pre-existing locations and one-click check-in makes it quite easy to create your personal record. Now, some of those check-ins are less-than-interesting. Like…

Checking in at a gas station

Now it may be boring, but I’ll bet there’s a badge out there for multiple gas station check-ins. Maybe someone will earn a Gas Guzzler badge (as opposed to the Douchebag badge). It’s all part of the fun. A festooned Foursquare profile.

But there is a role for curating your check-ins. I really don’t need to know about your gas station check-ins. That applies to my interests, and it applies to what I assume to be the interests of my connections on the location-based services. Sure, share your whereabouts, but please have some mercy on those who follow you. We successfully graduated past the “What are you eating for lunch?” stage of Twitter.

And good luck with that Gas Guzzler badge.

Share Only with Foursquare, Gowalla Connections

People that follow you on Foursquare and Gowalla are participating in another aspect of location-based social networks. The “keeping tabs” aspect. You see what others are doing in the course of their day. For instance, I was able to see that Techcrunch’s MG Siegler was in Japan a few weeks back, via his various Gowalla updates.

One commenter on Louis Gray’s blog post noted this use case:

I’ve also found a use case in ethically “stalking” various tech pundits (I hate that word) and found a couple of high value events I would otherwise have missed.

Personally, I look at things like work check-ins as de rigeur for this level of sharing. Whereas gas station check-ins may bore your connections, the work stuff is of greater interest. I’ll often see CEO Eugene Lee’s check-ins at Socialtext headquarters. As head of a major software company, I’m sure he has to travel a fair amount. So the check-ins to HQ tell me he’s working away in the office.

I check in to Spigit every day. Proud to say I’m the Foursquare “mayor” of Spigit, oh yes. But I’m competing with several colleagues for that title. I share these check-ins with my Foursquare and Gowalla connections.

But not with my Twitter/Facebook connections. Those folks didn’t decide to follow me based on my daily work check-ins.

Share with Twitter, Facebook Friends

However, I do share check-ins, even mundane ones, on Twitter at times. I’ll explain in a second.

First, interesting ones are a no-brainer. Should you find yourself with Anne Hathaway at a post-Oscars party, by all means, share that check-in! Or maybe you’re in a working session at the White House. Definitely passes the interestingness test.

There’s also a good use case for alerting your wider social networks as to your location for meet-ups. It’s a commonly cited use case for Foursquare/Gowalla.

However, I’ll admit as a father with a full-time job and a mortgage, my “interesting” check-ins are few and far between, and I rarely am trying to connect with others at Trader Joe’s. And I’m not alone. The majority of people will have mundane check-ins as they go about daily life.

It’s making the mundane interesting where the Foursquare/Gowalla art is.

Create “tweetable” check-ins. What’s going on around you that would be worth sharing? What will some people on Twitter and Facebook find interesting?

It’s something I do, and I admit it’s a bit of a game for me. “What can I tweet with this check-in?” I find it forces me to observe what’s around me, or step back from where I am consider the larger moment.

A couple examples below:

I’ll never do a straight  tweet of my check-in at a BART station. At least, I won’t unless I fat finger my iPhone, that is. But if I can report out the unusually cold weather we’re experiencing, yeah, tweet that!

As I said above, we’re early in this location-based check-in thing. Consider the observations above a start.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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The Two-Year Lag from Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0

The Enterprise 2.0 sector draws heavy inspiration from innovations in the Web 2.0 world. Indeed, the name itself, Enterprise “2.0” reflects this influence. From a product management perspective, Web 2.0, and its derivations social networking and social media are great proving grounds for features before coding them into your application.

A fruitful area to review is how long it takes for a feature to go from some level of decent adoption in the consumer realm to becoming part of the mainstream Enterprise 2.0 vendor landscape. The list of features that have made the jump – forums, wikis, blogs, tagging, social networking, activity streams, status updates – is impressive. Let’s look at three features that made the leap, with an eye toward how long it took.

Tool Year of Web Adoption Year of E2.0 Adoption
Wikis 2002 2004
Social networking 2006 2008
Microblogging 2007 2009

Here’s the back-up for those dates.

Wikis: Wikis got their start back in 1995. From there they grew, and the application became popular with computer programmers. But it hadn’t caught hold outside that culture. Wikipedia was launched in January 2001, and grew rapidly over its first two years. It wasn’t yet mainstream, but it clearly had caught a wave among early adopters. As recounted on the history of wikis page in Wikipedia, 2004 – 2006 saw an explosion of interest in wikis from companies.

Social networking: Defined as enabling social profiles, and connecting with others. Facebook started in 2004, and grew very popular among colleges. In 2006, it opened up its membership beyond college students, and turned down a $1 billion offer from Yahoo! Clearly, the company was on fire (even then).

In April 2008, Jive released Clearspace 2.0, which was touted as Facebook for the enterprise. Socialtext 3.0 was released in September 2008, and it included Socialtext People, its social networking feature. And I can tell you that at BEA Systems, there was a second quarter 2008 release of a Facebook for the enterprise in the Aqualogic product line.

Microblogging: Twitter. The source of it all. Twitter actually was conceived as an idea back in 2000, and company was started from a 2006 brainstorming session at Odeo. But it really hit big with the early adopter set at 2007’s South by Southwest.

Microblogging broke into the Enterprise 2.0 world when Yammer won best-of-show at the September 2008 TechCrunch 50. But that doesn’t count as mainstreaming into Enterprise 2.0. Yammer proceeded to grow strongly the next few months. And Socialtext introduced Signals in March 2009.

So there’s some documentation backing my 2-year cycle for Web 2.0 innovations to move from hitting the early adopter set to the Enterprise 2.0 sector. Note that this doesn’t apply to every Web 2.0 innovation. No one ever talked about “MySpace for the Enterprise” and there’s really not a Flickr in the Enterprise 2.0 umbrella.

Which raises a question about today’s hottest Web 2.0 trend…

Foursquare for the Enterprise?

Foursquare, and its up-n-coming competitor Gowalla, are all the rage these days. These location-based social networks are good for seeing what friends are doing. Foursquare also integrates features that reward participation (points), add a sense of competition (mayors) and provide recognition (badges).

Mark Fidelman recently wrote about Foursquare and Enterprise 2.0. And using our handy two-year lag calculation, somewhere in early 2012 the first mainstream Enterprise 2.0 will integrate Foursquare features. Actually, two of them.

Location check-ins

Employees will check in their locations from all around the globe. Sales meetings, customer on-site deployments, sourcing trips, conferences, etc. Sure, this info might be in the Outlook Calendar. But even if it is, Outlook Calendar entries aren’t social objects. These check-ins will allow you to know where colleagues are, including those you don’t know well. But wouldn’t it be nice to know if some other employee visited someplace you’re investigating?

These check-ins can be even more tactical. Folks who are part of a meeting in a conference room all check-in. Voila! Meeting attendance, which everyone can see. For an individual employee, these check-ins become a personal history of what you did over the past week.

Mayorships, Badges, Points

Foursquare makes it fun, and for many people, addicting, to check-in. You get points and *bonuses* when you check into the places you go. If you check in to the same place enough times, you get to be mayor of a venue and tweet it about it. You earn badges for accomplishing different things in the Foursquare system.

These features have had the effect of motivating legions of people to participate. It’s fun to see your stats. It’s fun to get a little competitive.  It’s great when you get that notification that you’ve earned a new badge.

Andrew McAfee wrote a series of posts exploring the question of whether knowledge workers should have Enterprise 2.0 ratings. This chart was from one of his posts:

Well, the Foursquare approach certainly takes us down this path, albeit in a fun way. I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out that Spigit already has these tools in place (ahead of its time?).

So what do you think? Personally, I’m looking forward to more Foursquare in the enterprise.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

PleaseRobMe Is the Logical Extension of Our Worst Fears about Location-Based Services

The rise of location-based social media holds a lot of promise and benefit for participants. But a legitimate concern about them is that they make it too easy to track where you are. For some people, that’s more information than they want out there.

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Well, three guys – Barry Borsboom, Frank Groeneveld, Boy van Amstel – have taken this fear to its logical extension, with their site Please Rob Me. It tracks all the location-based updates people put out there via Foursquare. I assume Gowalla, Brightkite and other applications wouldn’t be far behind. And “helpfully” posts them to its site, and to its Twitter account.

Here’s a screen shot of how the site displays these updates:

Note that message there at the bottom. Their intention is not to have people burglarized. So what is their intent? From their site:

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 gets even worse if you have “friends” who want to colonize your house. That means they have to enter your address, to tell everyone where they are. Your address.. on the internet.. Now you know what to do when people reach for their phone as soon as they enter your home. That’s right, slap them across the face.

The goal of this website is to raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc.

I do see the Google ads on the site. Which for some people will undercut the message and put the focus on the money-making opportunity. But in a conversation on Twitter about this with Keith Crawford, I likened what these guys are doing to hacking a system to show its vulnerability, not to corrupt it.

Because if these guys can pull this together, who else can?

Won’t stop me from my pedestrian check-ins (BART, Costco, Trader Joe’s, etc.). But these guys have made tangible the fear we have with these services.

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