A lot of location-based/check-in apps have an option to automatically post your latest activity to a social network. This is really fun, but after awhile, especially if you’re using the application a lot, people can get burned out on all the posts. They might, depending on their social networking tool, block those posts, or even block you!
Another problem is that there is no real meaning to this information. Sure, it’s nice to let people know what spots you like, but by posting each individual check-in, you’re putting the onus of aggregating that information to find the meaning on yourself and your friends. Nobody’s going to go back and read all your check-ins to try to come up with a conclusion, and you’re not likely to do it either.
A third problem, which I mentioned in my post about using iPhones as travel tools, is safety and privacy. Simply put, it can be unsafe to constantly broadcast your location or other information to the world.
To deal with these issues, I suggest services offer a “weekly roundup” option. Instead of posting to social networks multiple times a day, services would do one post a week. That post would include a link to a webpage with that user’s activities for the whole week. For example, Gowalla’s weekly roundup on Twitter might look like this:
@cosleia went to Teresa’s Mexican Restaurant and 15 other places this week! Click here for roundup: http://bit.ly/link
Already, by having one post a week, the deluge of information is dammed up and released as a very manageable stream. And roundups would provide much-needed context, as well. For example, there could be various messages for different situations; if a person went to the same place several times, the message could say:
@cosleia went to Teresa’s Mexican Restaurant five times this week! See where else she went: http://bit.ly/link
And then I would know that I need to stop eating out so much ;)
Similarly, with RunKeeper, a weekly roundup could let people know how many times I ran that week, how far I went, how many calories I burned, what my best time was that week, or any number of things. People who saw the post would be able to tell if I’d improved over the course of the week, and if so, how.
We’re emerging into an age where information on almost anything and anyone is constantly available…but once the initial novelty has worn off, what’s the use of all that data? Putting a week’s worth of data together would provide context for both the viewer and the user of the app.
And finally, weekly roundups would eliminate the danger of posting your exact location in real time. You’d still be sharing your favorite places with your friends, but in a less immediate way.
Ultimately, it’s great that we have the ability to store and broadcast so much data. But if we don’t turn that data into something useful, it’s pretty pointless. Weekly roundups would be a great first step towards generating real, meaningful information from all that data.
Perhaps eventually apps could offer a special section on their sites where users could view their activity trends for weeks, months, or years at a time. It would be like Mint.com for activities! In the case of location-based apps, this part would probably need to be private, so it wouldn’t be easy for someone else to track where the user is likely to be at any given time.
Here’s hoping app creators start thinking about how user data can be utilized–not just for advertising revenue, but for the user’s own benefit.