tech, simplified.

Should You Really Tell the World Where You Are All The Time?

Editor's Note: Following is our first guest post, written by Patrick Bisch, a blogger that reached out to me a couple of weeks ago about writing a guest post for Techinch. He did a great job explaining the craze of location-based social networks, a trend I've never gotten into. I keep my Facebook profile quite private, and seldom share location info - let alone use Foursquare or the rest. Should you, though? Keep reading to see what Bisch says.

I really want to hire a private investigator - just not for the typical reason people hire private investigators. I want to hire one to ask, "How hard is your job?". I mean really... do private investigators need to exist in today's world? We now willingly offer up what used to be considered private information with a few taps on a phone.

The Private Investigator

Picture yourself as a private investigator in the early 1990's. Now think about the routine you would have to endure just to gather information about your target. There are no social networking sites. No Google to search your way to your victim's personal life. If you have to find out where they went out to dinner last night, how would you go about doing so? I hope you're willing to spend a few hours waiting outside their house until they jump in their car and rush to meet their reservation. Want to know who they met at the restaurant and their relationship? That will cost you another few hours in your car. I hope you had time to pick up some Chinese to go - this might take a while.

Okay... so what if I'm letting typical Hollywood stake-out movies distort reality to prove a point? My point being that gathering this type of information used to take a lot of time and patience. But with social check-in services it's gotten a whole lot easier. So as you sit in your car waiting for your target to finish his meal, you think to yourself, "I hope there's an easier way to do this in the future".

The Check-In Services

Now fast forward to the Internet-age of social check-in services such as Foursquare and Gowalla. These websites must be a private investigator's dream. It's becoming overwhelming with new check-in services popping up so frequently and detailing our every move. I'm not even considering Facebook profiles whose owners haven't touched the privacy settings or people tweeting information that shouldn't be posted online. Those websites are gold mine for private investigators and lawyers, but I'm strictly talking about these new age check-in services.

[caption id="attachment_2997" align="aligncenter" width="641" caption="Screenshots of the Foursquare iPhone app"][/caption]

Arguably the biggest name in location-based check-in services is Foursquare, a mobile application that allows users to "check-in" to physical locations such as restaurants, recreation centers, or literally any place in the world. In the case of Foursquare, the app uses your phone's GPS to determine where you are and displays a list of known places around you. When you check into these places your location is then broadcast to your friends on Foursquare or anyone you choose to share it with.

Check-in services have been popping up left and right ever since Foursquare debuted its service in mid-2009. It seems you can check-in to almost any activity that a human being is capable of now, whether it's eating at a favorite restaurant or chatting about a celebrity. I pulled together a list of check-in services and couldn't believe how many there were. Behold, the new world of check-in services:

[caption id="attachment_2995" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="A list of social check-in services"][/caption]

So, there's a lot of them. These are just a handful of services I'm familiar with, but I'm sure I missed a few. Undoubtedly you've heard of Foursquare (if not, I hope you have by now) or Gowalla, but some of them are a little less popular. For example, let's take a look at Meebo, the online chat service that integrates several IM services into . Recently Meebo rolled out a check-in service for its users that allows you to check-in to websites. Let me repeat that. You check-in to websites. Dear Meebo, I present to you the Most Over-the-Top Check-In Service Award. Congratulations. Who needs packet sniffing or zombie cookies anymore? Just use Meebo to find out where your victim is going online! Honestly, when are we going to ask ourselves, "When is enough, enough?".

The Proposal

Yes, I'm guilty. I use a fair amount of these check-in services myself, and always feel the need to check-in to TV shows, places, restaurants, and more. It feels like if we don't check-in then there is less value in the activity itself. Checking-in to a restaurant or TV show seems to bring a greater sense of importance instead of just doing the activity alone. It's as if your visit to your favorite restaurant would be rendered meaningless if you don't check-in and let all your friends know.

So here's my proposal: let's not let check-in services define our social activities. Let's do these activities for the sake of filling our stomachs or learning something new or - hey, even just browsing the Internet - without having to check-in. You don't have to check-in somewhere just to make that experience more meaningful. Plus, using these services less may also remind you of that long-lost sense of privacy you give up every time you tap Check-in.

I also want to add that I'm not encouraging people to start removing the Foursquare app from their phone or disabling their Facebook Places app. Like I said before, I'm a big check-in user myself. Recently I've thought about how much information these apps are exposing to others. The information itself is harmless. It's the person on the other end that knows where you are that might not be. So next time you're out at a restaurant or watching your favorite TV show, think about this proposal before you check-in.

So what do you think? I think I'm still doing the right things staying off of Foursquare et al., and hey, Facebook and Twitter are too much to keep up with on their own. What do you think? Do you use social check-in services, and why? We'd love to see everyone's opinion on it!


This guest post was written by myself, Patrick Bisch. I reside in the great city of Chicago, Illinois and started my own technology blog back in mid-2010. If you liked this post or want to lash out in a fit of rage, you can find more of my writings and ways to contact me at pinglio. If you can contain your rage in under 140 characters you can follow me on Twitter, too.

Thoughts? @reply me on Twitter.