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Understanding Location – As An Individual

By April 16, 20104 Comments3 min read

This is actually one half of the rant I want to spew, the other half is how businesses are misunderstanding the true use of Location Based Services. I’ll post that later today. This rant really covers only the following tools: Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Latitude. Why am I not going into Loopt or Brightkite or any of these other LBS services? Well they aren’t as exciting to me, and there is only a small amount of time for me to get my point across.

So first up, let’s talk about the privacy issues surrounding LBS. I’ll assume you are familiar with Twitter and Facebook at this point, and the privacy implications therein. So in those big social services you are sharing your thoughts, free speech, thats great. However that doesn’t really get any more intrusive than doing what I’m doing right now, publishing my thoughts on a blog. The dynamics might be different, but the idea is the same. I’m publishing words for the world. Location services have shifted the message from being about what you’re thinking to where you are doing that thinking. There is an important safety issue to take into account here, especially as your network grows, and your checkins get publicized (strangers might not see them on your 4SQ page, but they see them when you cross-post to twitter). Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not even touching on the “please rob me” site that shows when people check in away from home, that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

Oh yeah, did you know foursquare shares your phone number with your new “friends” ? Maybe I should go through with my plan to only accept friend requests from cute women on foursquare… hmm.

Beyond the safety issues inherent in all these services, is the quality of the connections. I have a substantial twitter following compared to the average user, but I don’t want them knowing where I am all the time. Those are loose connections, loose bonds. Very few of the people I follow/follow me on twitter are my real friends who I would want to hang out with in real life. Actually it may even be simpler: I have no interest in knowing where some random person from twitter whom I’ve never met is going tonight. So I ask you, why would you want to automatically connect with all your twitter or possibly facebook friends on location based services?

Real friendships = real trust = safe for LBS/interesting to follow
Loose friendships = no real trust = not safe for LBS/uninteresting to follow

Maybe I’m missing the point, but I welcome you to correct my viewpoint. Unless you are an event promoter, why would you want/need 5000 people knowing where you are going (cough Scoble cough).

So if you take nothing away from this post, please don’t take offense when I don’t accept your foursquare/gowalla/brightkite friendship.


  • I think sharing your location with a big number of users (especially local users) makes sense only if you add value to that with comments, tips or pictures (shameless plug to SquarePik). At that point it becomes just like the classic tweet “OMG Barracuda has some really good beer,” but with more informations on the venue itself.

  • Good article Brian and I agree with you entirely on the privacy front. It seems the veil of privacy is getting thinner and thinner in the social sphere. I can't imagine what it will be like when Facebook introduces their location services. One of the reasons I prefer Gowalla as my check-in service is that I can choose whether to post to Twitter on each individual check-in. I love having that level of control so I can think each time, “Do I really want the world to know I am checking in here?”.

  • right now there are no good ways to be that local guide so to speak.
    I'd like to see tips like “try the lambic framboise at xyz, its on sale”

    plug for you:

  • Foursquare now has that granular level of control but its on by default for most people.