Letting Go

On the plane ride home today, my pen exploded.

I have carried a pen in my pocket since I was in grade 6 - despite the extra cargo, it has allowed me to doodle when I've been bored, write down ideas when the spirit moves me, and get contact information when I meet someone I want to see again. In over 20 years of carrying this type of pen (Uniball Micro), it's maybe exploded on me twice. Still, I realize that this is not an Earth shattering event. The thing that is significant: it made me realize I don't actually need a pen on hand anymore. I've had an iPhone for well over a year now and it does everything that a pen ever did for me. It's already loaded with all of my contacts, many lists, various brainwaves, and maps of anywhere I want to go. It has replaced my home phone, my old flip phone, my PDA (remember those?!), my point & shoot digital camera, and now MY PEN. **recalling Kids in the Hall sketch**

And yes, I realize this may be the most boring blog post ever written, filled with all kinds of obvious - but sometimes something needs to explode before you recognize the simple thing that's been in front of you all along.

Ego Stroking/Killing Made Easy

I love web stats and am a bit of a Google Analytics junkie. With that said, the iPhone app 'Ego' is really all you need for a quick dashboard view of your traffic. It only gives you the website visits and pageviews, but that's all you really need at a glance. It also hooks in to your Twitter followers and feedburner accounts.

Also - you gotta love the name of the app.

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 bit.ly, 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 www.twitter.com.

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.