TVtag, the brand that acquired the TV check-in platform best known as GetGlue. announced quietly last week it was shutting down. Likening itself to TV series, the company said on its site: “Breaking Bad. Lost. The Office. Friends. Good things come to an end.”
OK, we hate to kick a startup when it is winding down, so we’ll let the analogy pass.
You may remember that Getglue had its hot moment several years ago at the unfortunate nexus of two mobile conceits that have proven wanting: check-ins and second-screen apps. The apps let you check in while watching a TV show, eventually other media, and gain badges. Some media companies and consumer brands partnered with GetGlue to create branded badges.
As GigaOm notes, after parent company i.TV acquired GetGlue last year and relaunched it under the TVtag brand, it tried to move away from the check-in behavior a bit, hiring curators who posted key moments from TV shows that users could share.
There were germs of good ideas in all of this, of course. These guys weren’t crazy. Second-screen is still a massive activity that everyone is wondering how to harness. And media fandom is never to be underrated. The problem comes when institutions struggle too hard to channel people’s spontaneous and personal behaviors.
Checking in was always in my mind among the worst ideas mobility ever foisted on us. It echoed the same hubris that led to early do-tcom overinvestment and exuberance: the belief that companies could mold consumer behavior to their specific will and business model. I guess the freedom fighter in me takes special offense at some of the digital schemes that to me seem to rely on slavish behaviors from users and a duplicity about the corporation as person. Like “following” and “liking” before it, checking in was stupidly trying to appropriate a relationship and behavior we reserved for people we know and like to themselves.
Among the many fundamentals I think marketers miss about our attachment to mobile media is how much of it is driven by a sense of personal control. Much like the automobile in the first half of this century, the mobile phone gets its peculiar power in American culture from its ability to untether us from old restraints. The car liberated us from old notions of time, place and space and put those parameters under our control.
The mobile phone lets us reshape and redefine space and place. Any place can be anywhere. The drive home is your office if you like. No one needs to know the context in which you are talking to them. And we can share contexts instantly with others in a wider variety of formats (Instagram, voice messages). Likewise, these devices give us tools that control and contain traditional communications: SMS, chat, etc. Messaging apps came out of nowhere in recent years because they offered young users new and different ways of further containing and controlling conversations.
The check-in was aimed in exactly the opposite direction of evolving smartphone culture. Control is the ”value” users get from the best new mobile ideas. It is not about trading some marketer-defined “value” for the user’s servile behavior that serves the narrow interests of a startup’s business model.