June 7, 2010

My foursquare “Aha” Moment

You remember your first time, right? The moment you realized email was more than just cool? Or the web, or blogging, or Facebook, or cellphones, or or or – take your pick. There’s always that moment where you realize that this shiny, new thing actually has value for you, and that’s when you really buy into integrating it into your life.

I’ve been using foursquare for a while and having fun with it, but my “aha” moment finally came last month on a trip to Washington D.C. Foursquare (and services like it) use GPS built-in to your smartphone to locate you. They show you venues nearby and let you “check in” at a specific one. Foursquare treats this like a game, and if you check in often enough at a specific location (and more often than anyone else), you become “the mayor” until someone else has more check-ins there than you do. Foursquare also allows businesses to offer “specials” to those checking in, such as discounts or free items. Other services, like Gowalla, BrightKite, and Loopt, mostly just show you where your friends are, which can be handy if you end up near each other and don’t know it. In general, you can also broadcast your location on Twitter or Facebook, and sometime this year Facebook is supposed to implement its own location-based check-in service.

I'm currently the Mayor of ALA

Sure, it was fun when I was the original mayor of MPOW, and I got a glimpse of how useful a location-based service could be during ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston in January, when I could see friends checked in at the convention center or a nearby restaurant. But let’s face it – it wasn’t difficult to become the first mayor of ALA, and you expect to see specific types of checkins at a conference. It’s really the unexpected moments that result in a “whoa” or “aha.”

I had two of those on the D.C. trip. The first happened when I checked in at the National Building Museum and foursquare showed me that “Fiesta Asia Street Fair” was a nearby trending place. This piqued my interest, so I looked it up on the web and found out it was actually the National Asian Heritage Festival, which was happening just a few blocks away on Pennsylvania Avenue. I changed my plans, headed down there, and found music, food, vendors, and more. I had a great time, and I wouldn’t even have known about the Festival if I hadn’t checked in on foursquare at the right time in the right-ish place.

I caught another glimpse of the power of information plus location when we went to dinner that night. I checked in at Rosa Mexicano and got a little popup with historical information about where we were courtesy of The History Channel. I’d read about THC’s campaign using foursquare, but surprisingly I only ran into two factoids twice while in D.C. This first one noted we were at the spot where Samuel Morse opened the world’s first telegraph office.

History Channel factoid that popped up during dinner

The second one popped up when I checked in at the National Portrait Gallery. Unfortunately, we’re still at a point where “location” can be a little geographically-challenged, so even though I was precise about where I was checking in, the factoid that displayed was for the nearby International Spy Museum. It was also worded in a way that implied the information was about the Portrait Gallery, which is unfortunate. It’s a good heads up that if you end up writing these kinds of descriptions for a local history tour or other orientation to your town, be sure to be explicit in naming places in the description.

History Channel factoid about the International Spy Museum

Still, it was pretty cool to have information displayed to me based on my location with very little effort on my part. And while I’m calling this my “foursquare moment,” it’s really my location-based services one. It could have happened on any of them, although foursquare seems to have the most critical mass (I very rarely have to enter a venue anymore) and the “trending places” feature has been unique for me so far.

That said, I’m very interested in Gowalla’s trips feature, which lets you create a tour or itinerary for friends. I’m very intrigued by this, and I believe it could be a great opportunity for libraries to offer local information, but Gowalla didn’t click for me on this trip the way foursquare did. I did dual checkins to both services, and while I think I picked up a couple of random “items” on Gowalla, I also had to enter a couple of venues myself, a sign that it doesn’t have the same adoption rate. I had hoped to find some good D.C. “trips” to consider following, but unfortunately the Gowalla app doesn’t show nearby trips, which sorely limits the utility of the service. Every time I checked nearby trips, I got the same list of national ones, even though the Washington Post recently created one specifically for D.C., as did National Geographic.

I expect to see a lot more use of both services during ALA’s Annual Conference in a few weeks. If you’re attending, make a note of the Gowalla trips ahead of time, because you won’t find them serendipitously via the app. If you’re using foursquare, help us make the conference hotspots trending places. And if you have a smartphone and aren’t using either of these services, you might want to give them a try onsite to see if you have your own aha moment.


January 7, 2009

Choosing Your Social Media Drug

Last week I noted that of all of the social media sites, I’m probably most engaged with Facebook right now. Twitter tends to fragment my attention too much, so I started restricting my time on it to about an hour a day. The conversation there is too disjointed for me, and it’s impossible to find and refer back to all the pieces of a conversation even just a few days later. The best I’ve been able to manage is to use TweetDeck to create groups to check in on periodically, as opposed to trying to keep up with everyone all the time. I still don’t let myself sit on Twitter for too long because as Ed Vielmetti says, “If you keep refreshing it will never, ever stop..” In fact, my rule of thumb on any social site is that I never hit the “older” button.

Then FriendFeed came along, which helped unify conversations and brought pictures, audio, and video into the mix. The breadth of services it aggregates is pretty impressive, so when a critical mass of friends hit there, I switched my hour a day to check in there.

Let me preface this next statement by saying that I love the serendipity of FriendFeed, and it definitely restores fun to aggregation. That said, it moves way too fast for me. As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that FriendFeed is Twitter on speed, while Facebook is Twitter on Ritalin, and for where I’m at right now, Facebook is my primary drug of choice. I need something to help me control the firehose so that I can more easily focus on specific pieces, and the fact that I can separate the links and posts from the status updates on FB does exactly that. I have the status of about three dozen folks texted to my phone, which means I see what I consider to be the most important function of the site for me front and center.

I had been friending people there for a while, watched what libraries were doing, and gone through the “play with various applications” stage of Facebook love, but then I found myself using it less and less. I fell back in love with it, though, when they added the ability to comment on a friend’s status, because that’s the piece I was having trouble tracking and participating in amongst all of the conversations taking place on Twitter. Even better was a change in the way SMS responses are handled so that replies from my phone now appear as comments on statuses, not inbox messages attached to previous emails. That means there’s conversation around updates, and it’s at a manageable pace.

I still check FriendFeed a couple of times a day, but I’m swamped with enough stuff right now that I use my social networks first and foremost for friend updates, and Facebook turns out to be perfect for that, especially for my non-library friends. I can literally see others getting a lot out of Twitter and FriendFeed because they monitor those sites a lot more closely, and more power to them. There are a lot of conversations right now about the ROI of blogging versus Twitter versus FriendFeed, but it’s important to examine what you want to get from these tools in order to evaluate which one(s) are best for you at any given time, remembering that it’s all cyclical and is likely to change just when you get comfortable with your routine. Of course, that can be a good thing.