Making use of your location

Within the past 6 months, location apps such as foursquare, Gowalla, and MyTown (not available in Canada) have become commonplace among the nerd/hipster/tech-savvy/social-marketing/iPhone crowd. They are so popular that maybe you are commonly asked what the point of it is. This is a fair question.

Originally, the point was to provide social people with a way to let their friends know where they were so they could meet up and have great times. For example, I tell my friends that I'm going out but haven't decided where... when I reach my destination I can 'check-in' and it automatically lets everyone know I'm at the Ship and Anchor, then they all join me there and we party. However, in order to make the experience more fun, these location apps added little games & gimmicks within the software (the accumulation of points, stuff to trade, imaginary governance over the establishments). This made the experience much more addictive, and since most of your real friends who you'd want to party with are not using these apps the original intent has kind of been lost.

Count me among the addicted. I use foursquare. I started using it as a way to log the places I went when I traveled, but I'm still using it here in Calgary. Oddly, I really like the idea of being mayor of all the places I frequent. I'm a nerd, sue me.

There are definitely privacy and other concerns with software like this. A while ago, someone illustrated this point with a web site called Please Rob Me - the premise was that if you've checked in somewhere other than you're home, then you are announcing that your home is empty and waiting to be robbed. The site isn't working anymore, but it was listing anyone that posted their check-ins to Twitter.

Those concerns aside, I am intrigued by the possibilities of these applications. As the use of the APIs from these platforms get to be used in mashups and other applications, I think that an app like foursquare will have the same impact on the customer review that Twitter had on the blog.


Blogging was already popular well before Twitter reared it's head (in fact, Twitter was co-founded by Evan Williams, who had created the Blogger platform), but with its emphasis on succinctness and digestibility Twitter actually supported the blogging community rather than replaced it. Publishers didn't have to come up with wordy articles every time they had an opinion and readers could get snippets of insight with a way to link through to more detail if it was available.

As someone who makes a living helping companies and people with their web presence, the advice that was commonly dispensed around blogging used to be "don't do it if you can't commit to posting something (anything) regularly". This was because you would want people to keep coming back, and infrequency would cause them to think that you'd gone away. With Twitter, the advice is closer to "always post something of value and don't piss people off". Of course, you're not always going to please everyone with every single tweet, but the point is that you create a following for yourself by adding to the person's day, not disrupting it. Most corporations and marketers are still figuring that whole thing out, but news-makers, celebrities, comedians, techno-geeks and regular people are creating some great content within 140 characters. If that's not enough, then posting extra information to a blog post and linking to it is the perfect solution.

With all the content and the incredible user base that resides within Twitter, a mess of other companies have chipped in with technology that is separate from Twitter, but enhances the platform. URL-shorteners like, image hosting services like Twitpic, search integration with Google & Bing, and mobile/desktop readers like Tweetie are examples of how the Twitter experience is enhanced beyond the confines of

The Customer Review & foursquare

The ability to post a customer review to the internet has fundamentally changed the way we, as consumers, research and buy products. Amazon, eBay and TripAdvisor are just a few examples of the importance of customer reviews. However, writing a review can be time consuming and if it's not part of my buying experience than I'm probably unlikely to post one. For example, I might be more willing to post a review when I've bought something online from Amazon and I go back to the site for something else, or they send me a follow up email prompting me to post a review.

I'm much less likely to go find a place to post a review for the coffee shop I go to twice a day (Caffe Beano) or the dumpy diner I go to every Sunday for reliable eggs benedict and a chance at being berated by an attractive waitress (Phil's). Places exist for reviews to be posted, so I wouldn't have to look long for a place to post my opinion. In fact, I rely on Yelp for their customer reviews of restaurants... I'm just not the type to go sit down and post reviews on every customer service experience I have.

This is where services like foursquare come in. Foursquare in and of itself is maybe somewhat pointless, but the fact that they make it Twitter-like (quick, easy, and somewhat addictive) to log where I go in a day, I unwittingly start to participate in a popularity contest that enhances the online customer review. If I go somewhere, I'm letting people know that I've experienced that place, if I go there multiple times I imply that I might like it, and if many other people go there it likely means that the place has something great about it.

If I'm searching Google for a nearby restaurant, it will mean something to me if I see that a friend has gone there many times and maybe posted a small tip like 'try the linguini'.

So now that foursquare & company have been around for a while, are there web sites out there that make use of this data? Yes. I've found a couple and I'm sure there are many more that exist and coming soon.

Sites That Use Location Data

The first one is from the image above. It's called Checkin Mania. It basically allows you to use Google Maps to see how many people have checked in with various location apps close to the area you specify.

Something similar, but perhaps a bit more valuable is FourWhere. This site only uses information from foursquare, but tells you how many people have checked in as well as user "tips". A tip in foursquare is like a mini-review. The interface needs a bit of work on this site, but it is a very cool concept.

Something that might be interesting for the foursquare user, but provides little value is a site called Where Do You Go which creates a heatmap out of all the places you have checked in to.

Coming Soon: Microsoft just announced that Bing will add a layer of foursquare information to Bing Maps.

So long NY! Hello Malaga!

Some final notes which will bring me up to my first Malaga post:
  • I ended up #89 on the foursquare top 100 for NYC when I left on Thursday. I know I couldn't sustain it through Fri/Sat, so its a good thing I left when I did.
  • One of the final places I visited was Washington Sq. Park with a Mamoun's falafel... a good send-off.
  • They served Nanton water on my British Airlines flight from NY to London.
  • When I asked for wine & expected to get charged $20 for a very small bottle, they gave me 2 full serving bottles at no cost, as well as 2 great full meals (and I was in coach)

So I started the week off strong...

My friends left on a Tuesday. When they left I was in 82nd place for all of NY on foursquare for the week. Like I said, I'm a nerd... but being in the top 100 was something I'd never accomplished & NY is massive with tons going on (goes without saying), and foursquare was originally developed in & for NYC so the userbase is pretty solid. I got a massive geek high when I saw that.


I was in NY for about 10 weeks, and I was very lucky to have 3 sets of visitors from home and seeing some familiar faces is definitely something I'm going to miss on my European leg.

It was my birthday last week and I was especially fortunate to have a couple of good friends visit so we could celebrate Alberta-style. By the time they made it down, I was already a well-seasoned tour guide, so I was able to become the mayor of several places on foursquare... something that gave me a lot of nerdly pleasure. I was also able to knock a number of things off my to-do list, including: have a NY bagel, skate at Rockefeller Center, have a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery, visit the Guggenheim Museum, go to a fancy NY nightclub, eat NY cheesecake, and go to Tom & Jerry's bar.

The last thing on the above list was the first thing that we did. Over the course of my trip Yelp! had become something that I'd come to rely on to find great places to go. The reviews for Tom & Jerry's was pretty much the kind of pub that I was looking to find in NYC. It delivered. There were several large animal heads on the wall, which I found interesting, and had an atmosphere similar to the Black Dog in Edmonton. We did a lot of bar hopping that night and 2 of us got good and drunk... my other friend is pregnant, so she is an unbelievable saint to let us be hammered well in to 3 of their 4 nights there.

My b-day is Jan 26, but since they flew out that day we celebrated on the 23rd. This was basically the day:
  • went to square diner for breakfast (my Phil's equivilant in NY);
  • went on the Staten Island ferry to see Statue of Liberty (was a great day btw);
  • walk through West Village and along High Line Park;
  • Chelsea Market where we rested up from an afternoon of walking and drank some tea (they had Roibus & I mention it because they are Roibus connoisseurs and I have another friend who has an unreasonable distaste for Roibus which makes me laugh... anyways, I had Yerba Matte);
  • Magnolia Bakery for a delicious cupcake - although I think Crave might make a better one;
  • met another mutual friend who was in town visiting some Torontonians who were in NY on business. It was one of their birthdays as well so we all had a great birthday dinner at a place called Malatesta Trattoria. I got a chocolate mousse with a candle on it brought out for me, which was very nice;
  • went to a place called the Sullivan Room, which I call "fancy" because the cover was $25 and it was a normal night. I'm the opposite of a "club" guy as I don't dance, but every once in a while it makes for a nice change of pace and I at least wanted to experience it one time in NY. Turns out the guy from TO that shared the birthday was a DJ and knew some people to get us in the back door. The cover was waived for me and him, reduced for everyone else and we got a private table with bottle service, including a complimentary bottle of vodka and champagne. I don't think the champagne ever showed up and we went through enough vodka that we'd worked up a $700 tab by the end of the night... but was a great time. There was a mural of 2 wolves painted on the wall, and I think that was what I needed to get my dance on;
  • moved on to a little establishment called Cafe Wha? where they were finishing their final set;
  • ate a falafel at Mamoun's... which was my second home in NY.
At the end of it we realized that we lost their camera at Cafe Wha? so it meant that most of the evening was lost with it (although I got a couple with my iPhone which I've posted below). The next day the camera woahs continued as I fell while skating at Rockefeller Center & broke my zoom lens (the rental place only gave out figure skates... the toe picks are my excuse). Aside from the camera mishaps the rest of the visit was solid with a trip over to Brooklyn for some Grimaldi's pizza and a pub find in the Lower East Side that topped Tom & Jerry's: 2A.

Below are a couple of the photos from my iPhone.