The check-in earns the latest declaration of death

Posted on April 14, 2011 8:45 am by | Death Watch | Location-based Services

Last night, I joined some other members of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media advisory board, along with some others attending a conference here in Seattle, at the trendy pan-Asian restaurant, Wild Ginger. Once seated, a Singha cradled in my left hand, I used my right to grab my smartphone and check in.

How 15 minutes ago, right? After all, ReadWriteWeb has proclaimed the check-in dead, pointing out that FourSquare has lost half its web traffic over a recent five-month period, pretty serious stuff, especially in light of FourSquare’s announcement that it had amassed 8.5 million users.

As the company signs up new users, check-in per user has dropped. According to ReadWriteWeb, the signs are equally, if not more, distressing for FourSquare competitors like Facebook Places. The anonymously guest-authored article suggests that there’s life in companies like FourSquare, but that they must figure out how to add value beyond the check-in.

Delivering greater value is never a bad thing. In light of the rise of companies like IntoNow (praised to the high heavens by Robert Scoble (and several similar competitors that let people check in to the TV shows they’re watching), the checkin isn’t dying. It’s evolving.

imageDespite declining checkins, companies that have established relationships with FourSquare are taking steps that could reinvigorate the service. For example, at the new Virgin America terminal at San Francisco International Airport, according to a ClickZ report, “the five travelers that check in via the two geo-social platforms most often will appear on a check-ins leaderboard monitor in the terminal.” The leaderboard factors in checkins from both FourSquare and Facebook Places.

Virgin has created a Facebook page dedicated to the new terminal; the leaderboard appears there, as well. And Virgin has placed Easter Eggs throughout the terminal. “We want customers to discover them when they check in,” according to Virgin’s social media manager, Jill Fletcher. “They are in unusual places so they can discover all of the unique things our terminal has to offer.”

For some time, Virgin has been rewarding check-ins with real-world rewards.

But Virgin America isn’t the only positive attention FourSquare is getting. Saturday is FourSquare Day. (Saturday is April 16, and 16 is 4 squared. Cute.) The celebration isn’t a promotion by the company, but rather a user-generated event, started by a Foursquare enthusiast/optometrist and and bolstered by the enthusiastic promotions from a couple of social media heavyweights.

It remains to be seen how many people will gather in favorite places for mass check-ins, but the incentive is being bolstered by businesses seeking to leverage the opportunity. For example, McDonald’s will play host to Foursqauare parties at some of its restaurants, distributing Mayor McCheese t-shirts to those who become mayors. And we all know the lengths to which people will go for a free t-shirt.

Such meetups, whether business-sponsored or not, are scheduled in thousands of locations worldwide. And local news outlets are letting locals know, as evidenced by this article from the Seacoast Online reporting on Portsmouth’s event.

The National Post carried a story about the Toronto event.


People are also finding new uses for checkins. An article about Meal Snap, an app to help count calories, cites DailyBurn CEO Andy Smith, whose company created the app: ” “The database can quickly help identity the food, how many calories there are, proteins, fat, carbs, vitamins, whatever you may want to know. Users can then choose to share what they’ve eaten on Twitter or FourSquare, leading to social accountability.”

And I can tell you from personal experience that social accountabilty works when it comes to weight loss efforts. Through a small online group of peers with whom I’ve been engaged, I’ve shed a pound a week since the first of the year.

I’ve also grown more fond of the Foursquare tips, whether it’s finding the spot at the airport where the WiFi is strongest or the most AC outlets are available to items to try on the menu of a restuarant. (I checked in at Wild Ginger last night and checked the tips, identifying two dishes that seemed to appeal to a lot of those who had been there before me. The Seven Flavor beef was, in fact, amazing.)

I wrote earlier this year about a checkin that could have saved lives.

So, on the one hand we have declining numbers of checkins. Other the other, we have businesses signing on with unique promotions and campaigns and enthusiastic users promoting the service and gaining substantial media coverage as a result.

These seem to be contradictory trends, but they’re not. It’s actually fairly typical and was easily predicted.

Remember the early days of Mosaic, Netscape and the first Internet Explorer? Sociologists and psychologists were falling over each other to issue warnings about the dangers inherent in spending inordinate amounts of time “surfing,” how it would lead to de-socialization and increased isolation.

Of course,  none of that panned out. We weren’t spending our evenings “surfing” the web because it was compelling. We did it because we were learning to navigate hyperlinks in a two-dimensional enviornment. Once we figured it out, we stopped doing it.

The initial surge of checkins occurred when the idea of geo-loocation services was brand-spanking new. Early adopters checked in everywhere to see what would happen. Now that we know what will happen, we’re no longer interested in checking in at the laundromat, the gas station, the bank. We reserve check-ins for those instances in which we accrue value (beyond earning a badge). The special offer from companies like Virgin America and useful tips for a location where such tips can make a difference are two examples of value. A community effort to lose weight is another.

And, as Foursquare (and other services’) users get more accustomed to the service, they’ll come up with other uses. Don’t forget, the hashtag is but one of the conventions taken for granted on Twitter that was introduced by the community, not the company.

Checkins are declining, then as we stop checking in everywhere. But the usefulness of checkin tools will only continue to grow as users find new reasons to use it, as businesses get more creative with their promotions, and as Foursquare, Gowalla and the other companies behind the services identify additional value they can add to their products.

A lot can happen to either boost or restrict the growth of checkin services. But these are early days. It’s far too soon to proclaim the checkin dead.



  • 1.Another great post, Shel. It seems that many of us are much too quick to pronounce something as either "king" of something, or "dead."

    Donna Papacosta | June 2011 | Toronto

  • 2.Great post. I think the easier we make it for users, the more users there will be. ShopKick is a good example of this.

    When a user walks into a Best Buy store, the app listens for inaudible sounds generated in the stores by a special device. This confirms their check-in.

    All you need is a push notification to ask if you would like to check-in at Best Buy. Click YES and you receive a new message with a special offer, discount, etc.

    Dave Delaney | June 2011 | Nashville, TN

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