I would put my current opinion of the popular and public use of “lo-so” (location-based social networks) somewhere between silly and dangerous.
When I take myself out of my tech lover mindset, I’m just not sure what the point of all of this public “checking in” really is. My general feeling is this – If you want someone specific to know where you are, just tell them? And if you’re not a social media fan boy, or someone enjoying their 15 minutes of technorati fame, or a Realtor trying to turn every mundane daily activity into a sphere-of-influence-building mission, then you probably couldn’t care less if your entire network knows you’re at your local Chevron. I have to believe that if you’re just an average Joe or Jane, telling the whole world where you are at every turn just seems kind of silly.
I’m not alone in my house. In fact, my wife, Rocky, has heavily influenced my opinion. She is not anti-social media by any stretch. She has witnessed the value of Twitter and Facebook in encouraging public conversation. It has helped her charity, MFFO.ORG, raise thousands and thousands of dollars for an extremely worthy cause. But she falls squarely into the “average Jane” description above. It would be accurate to say she thinks all of the public Foursquare announcements are stupid in most cases and dangerous in others. She’s was not a happy camper when I was using Brightkite, Foursquare and Gowalla in real time to broadcast where I was to my Twitter stream. She was less considerably less happy if I checked in when we were all together as a family. She wouldn’t even consider doing it herself.
If I’m a business, I’m hoping guys like me and gals like my wife change their mind fast. Why? Because these services represent a major opportunity to influence our buying decisions. And the new Foursquare analytic tools for business being tested offer a good look at the wealth of data that could be available if the consumer begins to see a benefit in using the services ubiquitously. But what is it going to take to get people like my wife to use them? It’s going to take more than cool tech to sway them. She has no idea I’m writing this post right now, so I’m going to go ask her and then come back.
I’m back. And I’m a bit surprised.
I won’t beat around the bush. She agreed with my descriptions above. She feels all of the public check in activity is dangerous, especially for women. And said, “Unless I was at a social media conference, trying to keep up with where my friends were, I just can’t see myself using it.”
Then I said, “OK, but let’s pretend you’re Julie in Illinois or Kim in West Virginia. You’re never going to go to a social media conference and you rarely, if ever, travel without your family. You’re you as you are in your day-to-day life here in Santa Clarita.” She put herself in that place and I asked, “What would it take for you to use it if you could keep your check in activity completely private?”
That spurred some thought. And I was surprised by her answer.
“You mean if I could limit who saw my check in to just my small local sphere of friends, the people I interact with face-t0-face, people who live nearby?” Yes. “Then I could see a real value in getting an alert if Alana or Susan were at Whole Foods, for example. I could ask them to pick something up for me. It would be a benefit for them to know if I was at a store as well. That would have REAL value to me.”
I would never have gone there. I can see real value in that as well.
Encouraged, I pushed on and asked, “What if when you checked into Whole Foods, the Pei Wei across the parking lot could push a message to you that offered a discount if you showed them them your iPhone screen, or if a new organic cereal company offered you a free sample as you were in the store shopping, would that encourage you to check in more often and at more places?” She paused a second and said, “Yes, that would make me check in more often. No question. But I still wouldn’t care if I were the Mayor of Whole Foods.” (That’s my girl!)
What’s interesting is that she could use Foursquare as she envisions it right this very second. She was totally unaware that her check in activity could be kept private and limited to just a few people. Her understanding of Foursqure and other “lo-so” services was solely based on the public behavior being displayed by the technorati on a daily basis and at conferences like SXSW.
I’m going to help my wife use it as she described above. I want to see if it provides value for her. But I’m left wondering how many other average Janes and average Joes are being negatively influenced by the popular uses of these services? It may be time to take a step back and ask the question, “is the popular public use of location-based social networking attracting people or driving them away?”
Photo credit: Bits