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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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