Have you heard of the ‘next big thing’ in social networking? It’s called geo-social networking and it makes use of users’ location data to connect and co-ordinate users with local people or events that match their interests. Foursquare is a service which incorporates this technology, and certainly seems to be one of the popular choices, having reached the million user mark at less than a year old.
I think what makes Foursquare so popular is that it includes agaming element, whereby users check-in at various locations via their smartphones and are awarded points for doing so – after checking in a certain number of times, or at different locations, they are awarded badges, and users who have checked in the most times at a certain venue are crowned ‘Mayor’. Users are also able to link their Foursquare account to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, so that an automatic status update on these sites appears each time they check-in. This really makes use of the social media aspect of the application and consolidates users’ activities across platforms.
It seems that while the location-based service has enjoyed significant popularity in the US, however, it is yet to fully take off in South Africa, with only a few media mavens experimenting – including TomorrowToday.biz’s Barrie Bramley, who sees the technology’s potential if only it is leveraged, and local blogger, Paul Jacobson, who enjoys using it but feels that “location-based services need to mature and become more useful in real terms rather than as a hi-tech gimmick.”
As Beth Snyder Bilik comments, “Social media is embedded in our lives. It’s why people go to a restaurant and check Foursquare before they sit down with their friends.” Of course, we can ask questions about its lifespan in South Africa, with our bandwidth issues and sometimes reluctance to step away from the traditional marketing we are used to, and even go a step beyond our borders to look at the privacy and security issues of making your exact location known to a potentially unknown group of people. But whatever our feelings may be, new social networking technologies keep cropping up, and only time will tell how successful or useful any of them really are in the media space and in our daily lives.