I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a ton of companies have popped up in the past few years that bank on people’s desire to broadcast their whereabouts. Unfortunately, a lot of these applications make it more confusing than necessary to do just that, begging the question, “What’s the point?”
The first time I ever used Facebook’s “Check In” application was when I was sitting at an airport in Argentina. It wasn’t the best experience since, ironically enough, Facebook couldn’t track down my location and I got an error message. The next (and only other) time I used it was when I discovered a really neat movie theater where the waiters brought food to your seat. I jumped on FB Check-In to let my friends know about it, but as soon as I did, FB shared with me all the other people that had also checked in and were only a few feet from me. That weirded me out, because I had no desire to let strangers in such close proximity know about my whereabouts and all my information.
Another popular check-in company is Foursquare, which markets itself as a location-based mobile platform to help you “explore” your city. As opposed to Facebook, where you simply broadcast your location, Foursquare turned the whole idea of “being found” into a game, by allowing you to become the “mayor” of the location(s) you frequent the most and to collect an array of badges. But the whole concept, while unquestionably creative, ultimately left me feeling confused.
And tons of other companies – such as GetGlue, Shopkick, Foodspotting, Gowalla & Tunerfish – have also jumped onto this trend with targeted niches that allow you to not only share where you are, but what music you’re listening to and what TV show you’re currently watching.
All this seems a bit vain to me, but there are certain times when these applications are used for more than egotism. Google’s Person Finder is currently being used to help locate victims of the horrific earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan. This user-populated search tool, in which people can post their location and report their status, was also set up for disasters in Haiti, Chile and New Zealand.
In these cases, it’s pretty amazing that technology can be used to find missing people; as of Monday afternoon, Google helped track down about 162,200 records. Can Facebook or Foursquare make such a claim? Google’s first core principle for all its offerings is “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” They put their customers first and foremost, are quick on their feet in times of crisis and keep impressing people with their numerous projects. The company’s use of their software for humanitarian causes should be an example to the rest of these ‘check-in” programs, whose applications just end up making me a little more lost.