Does this look familiar?
I'm at the Apple Store Palo Alto in Palo Alto http://gowalla.com/spots/9591
about 7 hours ago via Gowalla
It looks all too familiar to me. And these messages are increasing in frequency in inboxes and social sites. What's going on here is that a fairly new kind of app, the "location check-in" service, is starting to get more traction among early adopters, and the usage is resulting in rapidly increasing "10-20" updates. Last week, the SXSW conference was ground-zero for this battle, as two of the hottest players, Foursquare and Gowalla, battled it out a year after both launching at the same event. Gowalla, behind for most of the year, gained steam at SXSW, winning a SXSW Web Award. Gowalla launched an updated app in Austin...and that's where my trouble began.
It seems that many of my social contacts have decided to try Gowalla this past week, and as a result, my Status Updates from my Contacts in LinkedIn, and "What's Hapenning" in Twitter are getting stuffed with spammy updates of every time one of them shows up at some coffee shop. This is the worst of social...the anecdotal "I'm brushing my teeth now" update that we all made fun of before we discovered the real value of Twitter.
What has happened is that these Check-In apps are degrading the average value of the messages my friends send. As a "follower", I tend to only follow people who put tight filters on their tweets, usually offering some deliberate thought about politics, telecom, or technology. But once these people connected Check-In apps to Twitter, their deliberate, pensive, witty tweets are being overrun by location spam. I'm not your mom, and I don't care where you are!
To be fair, the Check-In apps, by themselves, are not bad, and can be quite cool. I like being able to sign into locations, leave virtual notes there, leave pictures on a virtual board, rate the place, get discounts. Many of the uses are fun, informative, and even whimsical. I like the goofy competition for "being the mayor" of the bubble tea shop. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, Shane Snow over at Mashable describes the leading apps well, including a head-to-head feature chart. So while the apps can be engaging, it's just the optional connection of these apps to automatic outbound messages that is problematic and can generate too much chaff.
Not only can automated messages add up in quantity, but they can occasionally send the wrong signals, or be cause for embarassement. On one funny occasion, my wife visited someone at the hospital, and she turned on Foursquare. Because of the lingo of these apps, her Facebook page and friends were pushed the message "Liz just checked-in @ Kaiser Permanente Medical Center - Walnut Creek". Now, much as we liked the free flowers, we're not sure she was sending the right signals.
Like email and spam in the 90s, the good-quality, human written missives are being substituted by pointless, automated messages. It's far easier for a server to crank me out a message than for a person to type out 140 characters, so I predict this unfortunate trend to continue. An increasing number of status updates will be coming - not from your friends - but from machines they've allowed to send on their behalf. Too bad. I wanted to stay in touch with my friends, not their software.