Recent noise over location-based services (LBS) and geotagging (i.e., tagging and confirming your GPS-based location online) coupled with mixed reactions over the seemingly lackluster showing of tech prowess hoped for by some SXSW attendees have finally backed my brain into a corner to force a few scribbles on the subject.
Well okay, the SXSW fascination is somewhat unrelated and concerns a certain tech journalist (whose company I closely follow on Twitter) who vowed never to go back to the SXSW again. But on a related note, el BS– I mean, LBS was in fact a hot topic at this year’s SXSW.
After coming across some splattering of opinions surrounding potential abuses on privacy, creating inadvertent opportunities to rob you (pleaserobme.com) and the rising popularity of LBS apps like foursquare and Gowalla, I’ve determined, despite the negative backlash, that I must strive to identify a happy medium I can comfortably describe as practicing the “art of geotagging”.
Location, location what’s your function
Remember Sesame Street? (Ya okay, if you weren’t a kid growing up when that show aired on TV then Google it) ♫ Conjunction, junction..what’s your function..♫
The same could be asked about LBS. What is the value of tagging all these places where you’ve “checked in” and left a traceable trail of what you’ve been doing and where you’ve been?
Well so far, in my usual attempt to eagerly explore foursquare and Gowalla, the first thing that popped into my head: marketing. It’s got to be one of the most obvious reasons why these apps were developed.
In my mind, the marketing equation is simple: The more “check-in’s”, reviews and shares you get of your organization/business, not only would this spell more exposure but also additional opportunities to connect online with customers and prospects.
Oh and yeah, as a side note, I prefer Gowalla over foursquare mainly because the user experience (U/X) is much nicer and you can take photos! Trite but true.
And we’ll have fun fun fun..till our privacy is slowly stripped away
A large part of the geotagging experience is fun. So the clever developers of foursquare and Gowalla naturally built apps that would have game-oriented goals.
And then there’s Google Latitude, which is not quite a game…but I won’t get into that.
So you sign up to play a game (a fun, cool game at that). And hook, line and sinker you start ‘playing’ this geotagging game all the while being encouraged to ‘check-in’ (tag your it), aim to be mayor, founder, galactic ruler or whatever, add places (foursquare) or create spots (Gowalla), leave details about the place, giving it a review and sharing it online.
There’s no material reward. All the badges, pins, stamps on the forehead (I wish they’d include that) are online “want-to-have-must-have’s”. And as you find friends and begin to add them, you’re once again given another layer of interactivity with whom you’re already connected in your social channels or email lists. Inevitably, you become compelled to keep playing the game.
Harmless enough right?
Some privacy folks are cautious. A recent Canadian Press article suggests that most users are oblivious to the ramifications of freely sharing and constantly marking a permanent impression on one’s geographic location.
Last year, in a similar vein, there was much debate over whether or not agencies were effectively disclosing how certain behavioral targeting campaigns work and what they in fact do with the data they collect from consumers. I have not followed up on the issue closely and can only assume that nothing concrete has been resolved to date.
Will unpredictability save the day?
As the collective momentum to “share and share alike” increases to patterns never before seen in history (yes, that’s a visceral observation on my part), and as advances in technology drive many of us to explore with unchecked abandon, I can’t help but ask myself if we are in fact doomed to lead excessively transparent lives.
As with all things that lure you to verge on extremes, balance should always serve as guidance. So if you’re in the ‘explorer’ camp and are keen on sharing but cautious about your overall privacy, here are some tips:
- Staggered Pacing – based on lessons learned from addictive behaviors caused by Twitter, make sure you don’t get too caught up in geotagging every single moment of your life. Focus on your actual life not on the game.
- Randomized Activities – be more spontaneous, less contrived in playing the game and aim to show random patterns of activities. Avoid tagging the same place, at the same time, and in the same series of similar instances. You want to avoid creating discernable patterns.
- Planned Duplicity – sounds awful and wrong but you want to emphasize the notion that your geotagged information is not always going to be accurate. Honest mistakes don’t happen often enough for you to accumulate inaccurate coordinates. You don’t want to wilfully mislead but in an effort to continue randomizing your movements, I’d say feel free to do the odd “oopsie..that’s not quite the name of this place” or “well, I was actually doing the dishes when I checked in at the grocery store down the street”
- Deliberate Absence – like Twitter and many other social networks, no one will really miss you if you’re not tagging your brains off 24/7. Be absent. Stay off the grid for long periods of time and let your next tag be somewhere completely different from your last known location.
What do you think of all this tagging…when will you start ‘tagging’ to see if you’re ‘it’?