Remember when check-ins were the future of social media? Remember when Foursquare was the next Facebook, Gowalla was the next Foursquare, and Whrrl was the next Gowalla? Yeah, I’m glad we’ve moved on, too.
Yet it wasn’t long ago that these check-in apps were so prevalent that I used eight of them concurrently, and then showed how they differed by including a celebrity persona that embodied each one. Things have changedm though. At last week’s OMMA Social event in San Francisco, I kept winding up in conversations with people wondering what happened to the check-in craze. The hype has faded, leaving check-ins in the proverbial chasm that must be crossed for the activity to become mainstream.
So what happened to the one-time pioneers of the check-in world? Here’s a review of the Check-In Class of January 2010.
Buzzd (Lindsay Lohan)
2010: “Buzzd is a little too cool for me so I don't use it as much as the others, but if you're more into bottle service than cupcake trucks, party on.”
Today: Buzzd quietly faded as a consumer app, and founder Nihal Mehta pivoted the business. Today it’s LocalResponse, “the world’s first cross-platform check-in based ad network,” allowing marketers to reach consumers publicly sharing their locations (full disclosure: I’m a LocalResponse advisor).
CauseWorld (Lance Armstrong)
2010: “Every time you check in somewhere, largely at retailers and restaurants, you earn karma points that you can donate to a number of charities, all thanks to sponsors.”
Today: CauseWorld is gone, but its good karma has been reincarnated into Shopkick. Now, points are earned not just for checking in but for scanning objects at a store, creating more opportunities for marketers to reach consumers. With 2.5 million users so far, it has achieved more success than many check-in apps ever did, though it still has a long way to go before it scales.
Foursquare (Ashton Kutcher)
2010: “Foursquare is responsible for a lot of how we think about mobile social media, from ‘merit’ badges to local advertising. It's tough to say how well Foursquare will play to the masses, as the whole idea of checking in creeps some people out.”
Today: Foursquare remains the king of check-ins, which sounds great except when you find out the rest of the royal family either contracted cholera or left to join the clergy. Foursquare has grown, notching 10 million users, but most people still don’t get the point of checking in. I still love Foursquare and look forward to its next act. It needs that next act, though.
Gowalla (Anna Kendrick)
2010: “You might be thinking, ‘Anna who?’ That's the reaction I still get when talking about Gowalla, even as it racks up investments and increases its global appeal.”
Today: Gowalla squandered its opportunity. You know when I knew it was dead? At South by Southwest, the hallmark tech event in Gowalla’s home city of Austin, no one was using it. Think I’m exaggerating? Check Google Trends on Gowalla versus Foursquare. Gowalla flatlined so much that you can hardly tell it’s still declining. I was wrong. Gowalla wasn’t Anna Kendrick. It’s more like Quinn Culkin, the younger sister of Macauley who had a couple brief acting roles before fading from public life.
Loopt (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, circa "Saved by the Bell")
2010: “Sure, it was in Apple's ads for awhile and may have a passionate fan base. But it seems short on features compared to its competition… It's the one I keep forgetting about.”
Today: It still exists. Every now and then, it inks some marketing deal. But it remains as forgettable as ever. Oddly though, if you check Google Trends, it seems like its entire fan base is in the Netherlands. Veel succes, Loopt!
MyTown by Booyah (Ellen DeGeneres)
2010: “MyTown has the most fun with location-based checkins… In MyTown, you buy properties and upgrade them, and then you keep collecting rent while finding new items to boost your points.”
Today: MyTown went from a market leader to a ghost town. Following a slew of frequent updates in 2010, Booyah’s only announcement between December 2010 and September 2011 was hiring a COO. Now it’s resurfacing, having just released MyTown 2 last week. Veel succes, Booyah! (Dutch is the fifth most popular language for “MyTown” searches; the Dutch sure love experimenting.)
Whrrl (Dame Helen Mirren)
2010: “Whrrl's not the newest or the hottest of the apps… It's not a must-use for me...”
Today: In April 2011, Groupon acquired Whrrl creator Pelago, naming Pelago CEO Jeff Holden its SVP of Product Management. Unlike Groupon’s share price, you can bet Holden’s undervalued. My favorite thing about Whrrl was the team behind it, and I wish the old Pelago crew the best.
Yelp (Michael Jordan -- on the Chicago White Sox)
2010: “It has the chance to be the Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls style) of review sites, if it doesn't get crushed by Google. But now it's trying a new game, adding check-ins. While users love it for reviews, the notion of checking in is not part of its core purpose.”
Today: It’s not a check-in app and never was. Yelp’s growth remains meteoric; just check its own infographic from this summer. It needs all the success it can muster, because now that Google’s acquired Zagat, Yelp has bigger competition than ever.
If you’re keeping score, there’s hardly a resounding endorsement for check-ins. But there’s more to the story.
First, it’s odd that I didn’t include former check-in star Brightkite in the round-up, but it killed that functionality late in 2010 to focus on group texting.
The column also ran before the launch of SCVNGR, which includes check-ins but really hinges on rewards for location-based challenges. Even in that short window, it has quasi-pivoted, launching mobile payments spin-off LevelUp, though SCVNGR remains alive and well.
The biggest change to happen during this span is Facebook introducing check-ins in August 2010 and killing off the feature a year later. Tellingly though, Facebook made it much easier to share one’s location with every post. Thus, the check-in is dead but location is much more central to its functionality.
If you’re overwhelmed by this review, imagine using all these apps. I noted in the original post, “It gets to be a problem when you start interacting with the apps so much that you're not interacting with the people in front of you.” That’s a problem that is only getting worse. Yet that’s an issue that’s much bigger than check-ins. And on the flipside, the marketing opportunities for mobile social media are much bigger than just check-ins. The era of the check-in may have been short-lived, but the era of brands creating meaningful experiences through the combination of mobile, social and location-based marketing is just beginning.