Location, Location, Location

by Christopher Paul on March 19, 2010

I’m generally a fan of Location Based Services – including the social networks built around the concept. I’m a user of the major Location Based Social Networks, Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, and Loopt. At first, I used Brightkite exclusively but with Foursquare turning check ins into a game, I switched over quite some time ago. In fact, I’ve used the service long enough to become one of their superusers (as are many others, I’m sure) which lets me edit location details. But as I look at all the locations I could possibly check into, the less I feel inclined to participate and I wonder if this feeling will become a problem LBSN down the road.

When I look at all the possible locations I can check into in my area, I see locations like Becky’s Apartment, Joe’s Place, or Hot Dog Cart at 33rd & Broadway. They aren’t very descriptive nor do I consider them actual locations. Someone I follow on Twitter recently checked into a specific gate at Liberty International Airport. Yes, a gate. So when I’m trying to check into a legitimate location, I have to sift through all the fake ones and it bothers me.

First of all, with all the concerns about geolocation and the safety/privacy risks associated with broadcasting your location, would you actually create a location with your real address on it? Now maybe Becky didn’t put her apartment number down when she (or someone else) created that entry but if someone wanted to find her, it wouldn’t be hard to pick her out of a residency list like this one:

M Lee
D Jones
E Thomas
B Smith

Secondly, I don’t understand how someone can check into a location that has the ability to move. The halal food cart at the corner of the street isn’t a location… the corner is. If one day you move the cart, the business still exists, its just at some other corner. So I suppose you can check into a street corner but then you look like a… well, you look shady.

Lastly, micro locations within a location also seems like overkill. In addition to the airport gate, I’ve seen locations named after swings and slides in playgrounds – not the playground name, mind you… the swing set. I can understand checking into an airport terminal. I can understand checking into Sheeps Meadow instead of Central Park. But I can’t imagine the very granular “left tree next to the twisty slide” as being a valid location. Its as if people are gaming the game to get points and mayorships.

But its not just Foursquare. Gowalla has the same thing – in fact, they were the first service where I noticed “fake” locations. Brightkite is the same and the others will suffer from the same problem, too. Its not going to keep me from using the services but it certainly takes away from the fun. If I have to sort through 10 fake locations just to find the right one, it because too much of a hassle to check in and I stop using the service; I’ve attempted to check in to locations but gave up after sifting though so many fake entries.

Having these superfluous entries isn’t going to make me give up on LBSN sites (yet). But if it gets more crowded and it isn’t addressed, I’ll probably ditch the services until they’re cleaner. But I’ll be glad to help! I’m in support of crowd sourcing the cleaning of the database.

You know where I am, Foursquare.

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