Out of what-seems-like nowhere, location-aware social media tools with names like “Foursquare“, “Gowalla“, “Facebook Places“, and “I know what time you shower“, have sprung up as the next evolution of online over-sharing.
No longer content with simply posting the insignificant details of our day-to-day over Twitter and Facebook, Social Media early adopters have flocked to these new capabilities, allowing them to keep everyone from closest friends, to the guy using a proxy to mask his IP while he views your public Twitter feed, up-to-date with your location during every waking hours.
These tools have seen massive growth over a very short span of time. And it’s not hard to see why. The smartphone has unchained the internet from our desktops, and arguments from just a few years back suggesting “Social Media” an oxymoron (you can’t really be sociable sitting at a computer in your bedroom) are all but forgotten.
Now, we use Facebook to organise events, message guests on the tram to the way to the location, take and upload photos in real time, and gain access to wealth of personal background and information as we forgo the concept of exchanging phone numbers in lieu of exchanging facebook IDs.
Being able to share an even greater level of personal details – in this case location, event, and who you’re there with – is nothing if not a natural evolution.
And there is definitely a place for Facebook Places. The serendipity that can occur when you random discover a good friend has just checked into a bar moments away is a concept that just didn’t exist 18 months ago. And, it’s f*cking cool!
This is where Social Media shines, leveraging your friendship group – your most trusted source of information – to find discover the places to be and things to do, it probably the killer app that’s going to take Facebook to a higher market cap than Google.
..but it isn’t all good. As we continue to sacrifice privacy for functionality the consequences start of get a bit scary.
Here are a couple of scenarios you probably want to be aware of before you start checking-in everytime you feel the need for a bathroom break.
Tom’s smart about his privacy. Yeah he’s got Facebook, and Twitter, and Foursquare, and something called Grindr (stupid app, barely any girls are ever online), but he’s played with the privacy settings, and he’s pretty sure no one he’s not friend with can see his details.
Tom’s just started playing with Foursquare, and he LOVES it. You get to tell everyone where you’ve been so they know how cool you are when you check into CQ on a Saturday night, and sometimes when you check into different places, you get BADGES!! I’M ON A BOAT LOLZ!
Plus anyway, who would want to read my stuff, it’s only interesting to my 600 Facebook friends.
What Tom doesn’t understand is lots of other people are listening. They seen he checks into work at 8:45am each morning, and “Homez” at 5:30 each evening.
Tom lives with his parents, and when Tom tweets “AWESOME Parentals on Holz, HOME ALONE for 7 days”, he might as well be waiving a red flag to anyone looking for a spot of home invasion.
But, you protest, just because Foursquare offers a vague GPS location doesn’t mean you can necessarily pinpoint Tom’s home. Don’t forget Tom uses his real name online, and he’s parents still hold a landline, and are in the Whitepages. In the end it’s incredibly simple to work out, where Tom lives, when he’s going to be home or not… and even what’s worth stealing; “OMG 27″ iMac for Christmas!!”
Nikki is 24. She has a big group of girlfriends, but like all big groups, sometimes they piss each other off. Recently, everytime Nikki’s been around, all she wants to do is bitch and moan about her ex-boyfriend. Nikki’s friends are getting a bit tired of this, and recently have been excluding her from some of the smaller gatherings.
One Wednesday night, while the girls are out for cocktails in the city, one of the girls checks into Facebook Places, tagging the other four girls out at the time.
Immediately, this check-in shows on Nikki’s Facebook Feed. Where pre-Places she need be none the wiser, now this exclusion is brought out front-and-centre not only to her, but all also to all other mutual friends. Drama entails.
Sarah’s been in a relationship with James for going-on three years now. Things haven’t been perfect, and recently Sarah’s been catching up with an old flame, Sam, to discuss what’s been happening and where the relationship is going. James is by no means comfortable with Sarah doing this, so on the occasions Sarah does go out, she uses the excuse of “at my sisters” instead of saying where she’s really been.
One evening, while out at a bar with Sam, she runs into a colleague from work. They make small talk, and then Sarah quickly excuses herself. Heading back to their table, her workmate checks into the bar, and rembering he had seen Sarah, checks her in to.
As Facebook Places works on the basis of no authorisation required to confirm check-ins. Her colleagues actions, unbeknownst to Sarah, then displays under her profile.
When she returns home, James asks her where she has been. After replying with the the claim of “at my sisters” he confronts her with the check in. Relationship over.
The launch of Facebook six years ago heralded a modern trade of privacy for the opportunity of social interaction never before possible. Now, the introduction of these location aware services continues this journey into new and strange places.
It’s still too early to really understand where all this will take us, but like any of these new capabilities, use your common sense, think about the potential impacts, and when in doubt, hold back a few months while everyone else makes the mistakes, learning from their errors.