Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Publicize my location & location history and somehow I win. Huh?

In late 2008, I opened my facebook account. I had heard friends talking about it and I didn’t understand it. So I cautiously created an account. After almost no time, I had figured out why people were so excited about facebook. It’s a revolution in keeping in contact with people. It makes distant friendships much easier to keep up with than email. Email focuses too much on the immediate message. Everytime you want to update via email, you have to refigure out who should get it. Facebook reverses that. You figure out your connections, and then focus on what you want to say.

Not too long after facebook, I figured that if I don’t understand something, it’s worth trying it and then maybe the experience will help me understand. So I tried twitter because that made no sense to me. I’m kind of wordy. Restricting myself to only 140 characters seemed the equivalent of trying to fit into my children’s clothes. But now I get it. Twitter is my news source. I search for things that interest me, then find the people who seem to have the best news, and follow them. From that point, I can just go to my twitter feed and get news about things that are interesting to me. Also, twitter provides a way for me to contribute to trends. I get to say the tiniest thing that is on my mind, and twitter aggregates it through search for those who are also interested in it. It helps me feel less alone in my thoughts.

Long and short: I now understand the appeal of both twitter and facebook. And a bunch of other things that I didn’t understand until I tried them. Blogs, Podcasts & RSS feeds come to mind.

But I’ve come to a service that I really don’t understand and am hesitant to try: location based check-ins. These services provide a mechanism for telling the internet where you are. Presumably the value in this is that you can figure out where your friends are and meet up with them w/out having to do the coordination thing. You know what I mean. You want to go to lunch with your friends. So you invite a bunch of them. One wants Thai food. Another wants Indian. Someone else wants Japanese. So you hem and haw for 30 minutes trying to figure out where to go. And all you really care about is going somewhere with friends.

Location based services (like Gowalla, Foursquare and Google’s Latitude) allow you to look up where your friends are and just show up, avoiding the whole coordination issue. The location service provider gets to gather interesting information about where people congregate, and then use that information for marketing. Locations want to participate so as to encourage people to congregate at their location, and buy services from them.

So, in one sense I understand location services. The problem that I have with them, and why I haven’t yet tried them, is that I’m not really sure that I want to tell the internet where I am and where I’ve been. I don’t like the idea of telling the world that, for example, I’m not at home at the moment. If I were someone interested in burglary, that’d be useful information. Especially, if (as seems common) people frequently check-in at home.

Location services just seem to provide too much information about me to the wide internet. With twitter and this blog, I am very careful not to post any personally identifying information. So far as I’m aware I have never revealed the name of my employer. Nor the names of my children or family. And I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned where I live. With facebook, it’s a little different. I reveal a lot more information, but I make thorough use of the privacy features of the site, which allows me pretty good control of who gets to see what I post.

But I can’t imagine a way to use gowalla, foursquare or latitude which doesn’t reveal too much. In particular my location.

So my question, dear Internet, is this? Do you use those services? If so, what benefit do you see from using them? Are you at all concerned with revealing your location to the world? What do you think of my concerns?