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.