What If I Just Don't Want to 'Check-In,' Dammit?'

"Sorry, Ma, I meant to check in a while ago." After two weeks of travel for MediaPost shows, I realized I had not called my parents in a while, but Mom beat me to it with a morning call. 

"You are 53 years old. You don't need to check-in with your MOTHER. I know you are busy." 

"52, actually." 

"Really, just 52?" 

"Let's move on, shall we?" There was enough subtext in her opening line to keep me guilt-ridden for the rest of the day. I didn't need to figure out if Mom was playing head games with me over my age, too. Of course, in an enmeshed Italian family you are never too old to be the child. Being busy is a lame excuse for neglecting family. And "checking in" is a poor substitute for the level of total involvement in all aspects of your existence a tightly knit Italian clan is supposed to exert. In five words, cleverly crafted, Mom gave me a kindly reprimand in a loving tone. There is a genius to this.  

But it is the preciousness of personal relationships that also makes me reticent to engage in the "checking-in" behavior that local mobile models like Foursquare and now Facebook Places want me to adopt. I admit that likely I am behind the curve on this one, but I don't think I am alone. "Checking In" with a phone app is asking people to adopt a new behavior -- and to do so mainly for the benefit of a merchant, not for oneself. More to the point, it is asking us to transfer onto impersonal commercial entities what for many of us is a personal activity we share with people we know.  

I understand that the check-ins encouraged by these apps are supposed to have social functions by tying you in with the people you know. But let's face it, the real business models here rely on conflating the personal social graph with commerce in ways that I think are new and alien to many of us. When I "check-in" in Foursquare, whose interests am I serving, and why exactly am I transferring to this cool little start-up the same sort of relationship I have with my mother and family? I don't think I am engaging in George Carlin-like semantics here. I really am not sure why I am "checking in," with whom and to what end.   

I continue to be befuddled by the value of Foursquare for me. I fire it up and find it generally an empty experience unless I really decide to invest in it, invite friends in, check in regularly. Sorry, but I just don't see the upside here. In my Places section of Facebook, a small handful of my contacts regularly check in, and I occasionally look here out of idle curiosity. Now Facebook is trying to give me a reason for checking in by enticing my local merchants to offer deals. I understand that JC Penney and the Gap are launch partners in this, but my Places radius doesn't even embrace the mall with both stores two miles away. Another local retail app, ShopKick, tries to induce me to check in by accruing points, especially when I enter the nearby BestBuy. But I have had the app for months and been to Best Buy at least a dozen times and never once has it occurred to me to fire up the ShopKick app. I have, however, used the Best Buy app in-store many times. The brand linkage is clear, the payoff immediate in terms of information.  

Facebook Places, Shopkick and Foursquare fail to grab me because none of them give me much I really need in these different locations, but all of them seem to ask me for an investment either of effort or personal information.  On the other hand, the local app Yelp, in my experience, delivers loads of content without asking a thing of me. In my area, the relatively remote environs of northern Delaware, the directory of local establishments is filled with reviews from people who just like to share their opinion of a place. It is the 90/10 rule of user-generated content working brilliantly. A small percentage of people in a UGC system will provide most of the content, which is enjoyed by the rest of us. Who needs to check in with anyone or anything? This app has proven its value in our everyday lives countless times in helping us discover new restaurants. The crowd has been right every time. Meanwhile I keep loading Foursquare, Shopkick and Facebook Places waiting for the payoff.   

Or maybe I am just being 52 and easily befuddled by models that make better sense to an earlier generation who just can't wait to "check in" with Starbucks. Or maybe I am 53. I have to check into that. 

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12 comments about "What If I Just Don't Want to 'Check-In,' Dammit?'".
  1. Marielle Sokolowski from Pinot's Palette , November 4, 2010 at 4:30 p.m.

    I rarely check in on Foursquare - mostly at airports when I'm passing time at the gate. Gernally when I'm traveling and I want to share where I am with my friends on Facebook (my accounts are linked). I have taken advantage of 'deals' which directed me to Ra Sushi over other eateries in the area.

  2. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC , November 4, 2010 at 4:56 p.m.

    Isn't it odd how the check-in became the dominant metaphor for interacting with location based services? It's a behavior that isn't natural for anyone, although right now it's probably the best way to indicate (to your social graph or to a marketer) that you have entered a premises of some kind.

    But there are plenty of use cases for LBS that don't depend on the crossing of a threshold and therefore don't require a check in. I think it was Charmin that produced an app that mapped public restrooms (with ratings!). I haven't used it but I assume no check in was required.

    Even when an app does need a check in, there are ways to make it less the focal point of the interaction. I'm not sure how it's done but I believe Tasti-D-Lite has a mobile loyalty program on the Foursquare platform that somehow automates the check in but uses it to trigger a notification.

    Bottom line: No one wants to check in, and before too long you might not have to. Can't happen soon enough for me.

  3. Jake Wengroff from Frost & Sullivan , November 4, 2010 at 5:16 p.m.

    I wholeheartedly agree: the value of Foursquare is more to the retailer or restaurant chain that it is to the consumer. I guess it's another version of the age-old retail strategy of getting people to buy your clothing with your brand name splashed across the front: the merchant makes money AND gets free advertising.

  4. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc , November 4, 2010 at 6:14 p.m.

    Dennis Crowley spoke yesterday at Adtech about how Foursquare expected to move to a GPS solution that buzzed you to ask if you wanted to check in if you visited a place you had checked i previously eg turning a 4 step process into a 2 step process (though requiring a back end application to be running continuously....how you going to do that on a iPhone?)

    I do agree though, checking in for the sake of checking in seems to be wearing out it's welcome.

    There needs to be something else in the backend to "quid pro quo" the desire to interact.

    At http://www.LiveChatConcepts.com we "check in" users when they interact with one of our sites eg http://www.LiveFootballChat.com or http://www.LiveBasketballChat.com but at the end of the day checking in and posting a note out to your twitter and facebook accounts saying you just logged in secondary;The primary purpose is being on the site to chat live while watching the game.

    Yes badge information is interesting but you need to provide more to keep your users coming back.

    Cheers,
    Dean Collins

  5. Angela Cason from TempoStrategic , November 4, 2010 at 8:37 p.m.

    Thanks for the rant. Well done. My litmus test for new media is whether its an easier way to do something I already do -- i.e. emailing is easier than snailmailing -- or something completely new to do. If it's new, is it good or just new? Like augmented reality. Now that's useful and fun. Foursquare is both boring and simpleminded. I started with it and kept waiting for it to get interesting, knowing it would need more content, and some creative thinking, to be worth doing. But it stayed boring.

    One possible problem may be the company's set-up procedures with the vendors. One shop owner I met said the company was very hard to work with to set up a promotion, and then only two people ever walked in and mentioned it. With those kinds of odds the smaller, busier entrepreneurs don't have time to play with it and make it worthwhile. Big retailers have the resources to test, but are usually slow on concept turnaround -- they have to teach all those checkout people how to respond to a promotion claim.
    Much of the zippitydodah promise of our smartphones stalls at the old register, where personnel training makes or breaks the consumer experience. That's out of the technology developer's hands. And until that loop is closed, consumer product companies are just playing around.

  6. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , November 5, 2010 at 12:39 a.m.

    I have been exceptionally more open and trusting of social media than many of the folks I know who are not in the business - but I still know better than to be posting my every location online to strangers. Maybe I watch too much "Criminal Minds" but it really seems like a very bad idea to me.

  7. Richard Austin from 1973 Ltd , November 5, 2010 at 7:10 a.m.

    I think the key statement was "asking people to adopt a new behavior", for the generation growing up with this technology as always present, rather than shiny and new, and we're talking about the current crop of 6-8 years old, every day is about adopting new behaviour as they learn to interact with the world around them, mature and grow.

    Checking-in will just be another step in growing up and not be given a second thought, especially if it means they can check who's at the mall and decide if they're till in the popular clique or not.

    Unfortunately for those of us above 30 (or insert your own age bias), each new development in the social space means more learning and adopting.

  8. Grecia Serrano from Metro Traffic , November 5, 2010 at 9:11 a.m.

    I never check in and I refuse to; not because I don't care about the businesses I'm visiting, but because I think it is creepy. It is telling my entire social network "I'm not home right now I'm at starbucks!" which in lamest terms translates into "Hurry! come rob my house!" and that just freaks me out.

  9. CindyF Solomon from Global Product Management Talk , November 5, 2010 at 5:39 p.m.

    "conflating the personal social graph with commerce in ways that I think are new and alien to many of us."

    This is definitely a generational issue - if you talk to teenagers (if they'll talk to you) they don't think of it as something else laborious to do - there is a fun factor to checking in and using apps. (Android Zombies, anyone?) They are constantly connected and it doesn't matter what device or app they're using - the conversation is continuous, wherever they are. And what is important - is the connection with their friends, their community. Geoloco is just early and we (over 30?) are not necessarily the target users. Check out http://scvngr.com which turns it into a game where you can leave digital clues at locations.

  10. Erin Scruggs from Door Number 3 , November 5, 2010 at 5:48 p.m.

    I am a Foursquare user and Gowalla user. I have also tested Facebook Places, Whrrl, and other check-in apps. This article acts like the benefit is all on the merchant side, and well that simply isn't true. The purposed isn't completely socially based either, although this is at large the main appeal.

    I checked in on Foursquare to a restaurant in downtown Houston when I was visiting family. The restaurant was Haven and I had no idea what to order. Being a digital media planner/buyer and having a love for emerging media, I decided to check-in. I then proceeded to view the comments of those who had checked in to the spot before me. There was a recommendation from several people saying that the gourmet mini corn dogs & lemonade shot appetizer was absolutely worth trying and one of the best items on the menu. I decided to order it and we were all pleasantly surprised. Thanks to Foursquare, I was able to have a real person recommendation (similar to Yelp's primary business model) that was useful.

    My point is that just like StickyBits and QR codes, Foursquare allows an interactivity with a space, a group of people, and a particular moment in time. The ability to not only see current information but to look at the past (your own) or see comments by others creates another dimension to every real space. This digital dimension can house conversations about real events happening live or about products themselves. It can be a very powerful user experience if those who use it take it for more than just the face value of being able to see who is where and what's popular. Although, that is nice too.

    Do not assume that it is just the merchant who benefits just because you do not recognize all of the depth of the capacity that this new trend of digital technology can have on user experiences with locations. Essentially it's a win-win, because merchants are now able to participate in the conversation without eavesdropping so to speak at your actual dining table.

  11. Joanna Sammartino Bailey , November 10, 2010 at 1:31 p.m.

    My thoughts in a 30 second audio blurt (what do you think if this new platform?):

    http://blurts.com/2z4brq

  12. Marjone Jones from infinite , November 19, 2010 at 6:34 a.m.

    Hi, I am really mostly at aiports.It's a behavior that isn't natural for anyone, although right now it's probably the best way to indicate (to your social graph or to a marketer) that you have entered a premises of some kind.
    thanks
    <a href="http://www.lawyersoft.net" rel="dofollow">http://www.lawyersoft.net</a>