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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Geo-based Social Networking

I've known about the location-based social networking tool, Foursquare, for a while now. I've always thought it was rather silly - checking into places and earning points and badges along the way. Not to mention earning the dubious title of "mayor" of your favourite hang-out.

I was perfectly happy with the other geo-based social tool I was already using: Google Latitude. It was more convenient (automatically broadcasting my location to my friends, no check-in required) and didn't have that silly gaming element to it - so it was more serious.



When Google Buzz was released, it added an extra dimension to my geo-social world. Suddenly the tool I was already using for Latitude (Google Maps for Mobile) allowed me to post things, attaching them not only to coordinates on a map, but to places that have been indexed by Google Maps.

My biggest gripe with it was, and is, if the place I wanted to buzz about hadn't been indexed, as is far too often the case, the whole thing got kind of messy. I had to try and link it to an address, or to my own current location (which, if I am indoors and can't get a GPS signal, can sometimes be off by a couple of Kilometers).

A couple of weeks ago I started noticing something interesting: there was a sudden upswing in the number of Buzz posts in and around Joburg in Google Maps for Mobile. Looking at the posts, I noticed that almost all of them were coming through from Twitter. I knew that Twitter supported geo-tagging of tweets (provided you have a Twitter client that lets you do it), and it seemed that those geo-tags were being pulled through into Buzz via the Twitter integration. Awesome.

Lots of Buzz in Joburg today

Upon further scrutiny, I noticed that a substantial portion of those buzzes were being posted via Twitter from Foursquare. I was intrigued, so I took a look another look at it.

I still think the gaming side of it is rather silly. But the one thing I particularly like about Foursquare that Google Buzz lacks, is the ability for end users (like me) to add new places to the database if the place I'm sitting in isn't there already. Although there's still a little fiddling with addresses and things to create the place to begin with, once it's in there I (or anyone else) can check into it with no further fuss.

So, I'm giving Foursquare a go. I'm still not entirely happy with the manual check-in process. Also, the fact that there's no native app for my mobile device means that I'm forced to rely on the mobile website, which can also be a bit of a hassle (my network's DNS isn't exactly the fastest).

So far I'm liking it. I'm finding it a rather fun addition to my existing suite of geo-social apps (not a replacement, a supplement). I haven't had any situations where it filled a serious need. We'll see if it does that.

In the mean-time, I'd suggest you try it out too, and add me as your Foursquare friend so we can compete on points and stuff. See you there!