The value of pre check-in services

A few weeks ago, I saw an email chain flying amongst my friends. It was “what are you up to on Friday night?” and “where will we meet you?”.  Locations, venues and times were being scattered all over the interwebs. The fundamental problem was meeting up at a similar time during the night, essentially a co-ordination problem as everyone has their own agenda.

As I have gotten older and the use of mobile phones have become more prevalent, there’s a culture of I’m out and about, I’ll give you a call and see where you are. I might have an approximate idea from an earlier conversation of where my friends are. But there’s no guarantee that I’ll stay there because I’ll see where the night takes me. We have more opportunities, more friends and more venues to visit.

An application like Foursquare / Gowalla tells you where you friends are when they have arrived and they decide to check-in. You can also see who else is at the venue. It’s great as post check-in data. However, you don’t know if your friend has left the building and moved on, and where they might be heading.

It would be *fantastic* if you could do a pre-checkin into a venue using a service like Plancast.

This could prove quite stalkerish intrusive, however hear me out.

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Foursquare News And Notes

Yup I’m a big fan of location based services, particularly foursquare. I’ve blogged about some various news items as well as some improvements that could be made to the service.

Let me break it down for you.

First Foursquare Mayor Meetup in Australia

I participated in #officemayor, where Microsoft were doing a promotion to hand out copies of Office 2010. You had a to be a mayor of a venue and you needed to checkin at the venue in Martin Place to get a free copy. Unfortunately, my phone and Optus didn’t want to co-operate, however I did manage to show them my treasured Mayorships and collect my free copy of Office 2010.

Officemayor at Martin Place

Officemayor at Martin Place

The problem was that there wasn’t much mingling or stickiness about this event. Most people came, saw, collected and left within 5 minutes. What they did though was broadcast the event to their social network, creating a ripple effect about it. Whether these same people are going to twitter/blog/etc… about the use of Office 2010 and to upgrade from Office 2007 is another matter. As a launch event it was not bad. Another issue is that not many people other than the digerati know about foursquare so it was a limited audience as not all connect their foursquare check-ins to twitter or facebook (to be honest I find these updates annoying in these news streams).

Foursquare Day Meetup

I also went to the first Foursquare Day meetup at Bar 333 a few months ago. It was on 16 April or 16/4 to Americans… so 4 Square… get it? Whilst there were a few people mocking me for going and the fact that there were only a few people attending made it hard to find. I actually had to go around and ask a few people if they were there for the event.

I think about 12 people turned up, and I had brought 3 friends along that also use the service. Hey it won’t be long before the rest of the crowd are on foursquare (just like how they joined twitter). All I can say is this – there are people that use it and those that demonstrate their passion for it – we call these people fanboys =)

NBA final badges

Also importantly, I discovered how to get two badges during the NBA finals. If you shouted “Go Lakers” or “Go Celtics” on foursquare, you could obtain the badges. Pretty awesome to have the 4 leaf clover as a badge. And you know I had to get both badges!

Location Based Stickers

I’m not so sold on these foursquare stickers that can be placed on shop windows / doors / walls. It kinda looks tacky. I do like the concept of notifying people physically before you enter that it is a foursquare venue. It doesn’t mean that the restaurant or bar is actually good or whether the special is good value. I prefer those crowdsourced comments.

Though the definition of good is relative, so how can we combat this?

If those comments are from people that frequent those types of venues or restaurants, we can attribute a value or a priority to them.

Robert Scoble talks about this and you look at Quora, the new Q&A service. We should be placing a premium on those that have expertise in a particular subject matter or experience.

I drink a lot of milkshakes, in fact its my favourite drink. I’ve had more than my fair share and I’ve had it all around the world. So my tip on whether a milkshake is good or not in a particular restaurant means a lot more than the average joe. A few years ago, my colleague and I were working at the BNP Paribas building on Elizabeth Street. I stumbled across this cafe inside the building that made the most awesome bannana milkshake I had in a long time. And I told her it was good (TRUST!). She had one sip of it and beamed the widest smile and said “you’re right! Its good!!”. Of course, I know my shakes. Now if you ask me about coffee, I have no idea. I never drink the stuff.

I do occassionally have the odd cappucino when I’m in a cafe, but my tip on whether the coffee is good or not doesn’t really mean much. But my tip on milkshakes, YOU BETTER BELIEVE DAT!

Its like those Zagat stickers you see everywhere in New York. It means its been rated by Zagat. So what? It doesn’t mean it was rated highly. We need to be ranking these crowdsourced tips and leveraging off our social networks of people that are like us. We should be able to vote on those tips to increase that peer’s expertise (and vote down if they suck). The more that they frequent cafes, the higher the value should be. It doesn’t necessarily mean there is a direct correlation, but I would tend to trust someone that drinks a lot of coffee at cafes more than someone who drinks it occasionally.

Next post will be about pre check-in as opposed to post check-in service.

I’m out like the Celtics,

Matthew Ho

Foursquare – location based social networks

We’re back into the swing of things for 2010, and I’d like to write about a couple of things I’ve seen in the last 12 months in the digital world. I don’t like to do predictions because the web moves so fast and technology is changing at such a fast pace. But I’d like to tell you about services I am using and what I want to use more of. I’m going to start with Foursquare in 2010.

The reason that I am writing this post is because I went to a presentation on the future of digital in 2008 and one of the speakers was Michael Kordahi, Microsoft Evangelist for Microsoft Surface which I have previously blogged about. One thing that stood out was how he said he had to bring his clients along with him for the journey, as he’s often so far ahead and in a different space. He does that with his blog and that’s what I am trying to do too!


An app that I’ve been using quite a lot in the last few months is Foursquare. I’ve actually been wanting to write about this for a while but I wanted to evaluate the service for a few months first.



I had signed up about 6 months before it was available in Australia and there were only a few Aussies on the network. I must admit that I sign up to a lot of services that I hear about on tech blogs. I’m one of those people that like to experiment.  I noticed a lot of them were tweeting about it on one day and some had added me – that’s when I realised it was available in Aus. There were a flurry of blog posts from local tech / internet peers in the few days after it was released in Australia.

I could see that there was a lot of potential. Foursquare is a location based social networks where you could update your location using your mobile.  I was already using my mobile a lot to update my status using facebook and twitter. I also noticed that a lot of my friends were updating with location based tweets/fb updates saying which restaurant they were at, which country they were travelling to, etc….. Everywhere I was going, particularly on the trains, out in the clubs/bars, people were accessing the internet on their smart phones and logging into facebook/twitter with location based information. It just made sense. I was already experimenting with Google Latitude, BrightKite, and then GoWalla so I could see the space was hotting up.

Where are your friends and what are they doing?

The thing I like about foursquare is that you can see where your friends are and what they are doing. Often when you are out, you might just miss them. The next time you see them you’re like “I can’t believe you were there! I was there too!” or “You just missed me!” or you call them and ask “Where are you tonight?”. With foursquare, I know exactly where they are (if they choose to disclose this information). I can find out new venues which my friends are checking out, and it encourages me to go there too.

There are also some other interesting outcomes. An example from last Friday, I was at the Arthouse for my high school reunion. One of my colleagues was meeting up with another friend at Arthouse. He saw on foursquare that I was there! So he walked around looking for me, and I found him!

You choose to follow people in your network and I try to find similar minded people and see where they hang out. I also like seeing who else has checked-in to a venue. So social networking is an important element in Foursquare.

Where are your friends?

Where are your friends?


You can also get tips at venues ala eatability. I love going to a restaurant, check-in to a venue and reading the tips other people have left. One of my favourite restaurants at the moment is Chat Thai, in Sydney’s chinatown. I read a tip on Foursquare to try out the strawberry blend. I did and it was awesome! If I eat something which I like, or have a tip on my favourite dish on a venue or even a bad experience, I will write about it on foursquare. I also leave tips which other people may find helpful. For example, at Museum station, I left a note saying that some of the entrances close at 8pm (it might be earlier), but thats useful for people to know.

Gameplay addiction – The checkins

Another element that is quite addictive and in my opinion makes it standout is the gameplay. When you enter a venue, you can checkin. You find the location using your phone – it will pull up a list of nearby locations or you can enter your own. After that, you choose to check-in to show you are there and it will notify your network. You get points for checking in. If you have 3 or more checkins, you can become Mayor of the venue. That is, if no one else is already Mayor. If someone else has more checkins, you have to have more than them to take over as Mayor.

In fact, I’ve been battling for control of Museum station for some time now! Another user had 10+ checkins at Musuem, so I decided to check-in twice a day (when I arrived in the morning and left at night). I became Mayor and then someone else overtook me. Now I have to get back on top again!! That keeps me coming back to Foursquare.

I’m currently holding down two mayor-ships (is that a word?). I’ve the mayor of Equilibrium (World Square Pub) and Bikaner Namkeen. I’ve actually reached super-user level 1, so I have the authority to edit and merge venues, which I intend to do with World Square Pub.

Player please! Get crunked! And more foursquare badges

Player please! Get crunked! And more foursquare badges

You also get points for checkins, but I don’t really care too much about the points. What I do care about is the badges. There are different badges for various purposes. Your first checkin gets you the “newbie” badge. Then there are badges for 10 checkins, 25, and 50 (they must be unique venues). The interesting ones are “local” (3 x in one week), “crunked” (4+ checkins in one night), and my favourite “player please” (checkin with 3 members of the opposite sex).

If you want a good post about the check-ins which foursquare pioneered, read this from the Scobelizer, someone I respect who blogs about the social networking space and the web in general. He talks about how the other social networking services are going to start adopting checkins as well, including Facebook, Twitter and Yelp.

Opportunities for business

There are some exciting opportunities for business. Potentially they can send out location sensitive offers. If you happen to walk past a venue, they could push out a notification with an offer to entice you in e.g. free entree with every meal. Alternatively, offer discounts to people that checkin. I’ve seen examples in the US of offering discounts to people that are Mayors of venues.

I must admit I’ve become a bit of a mini-evangelist for foursquare. I have convinced several people from work to sign up as well as some of my friends and associates. Now that I’ve got a fair amount of people on the service, its becoming a lot more useful. So don’t delay, signup!

I’m out like threesquare,