Are Automated Status Updates From Location Check-In Apps Degrading Your Social Network?

from the this-dept.-is-checking-out dept

Does this look familiar?

@YourBuddy
 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.

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Comments on “Are Automated Status Updates From Location Check-In Apps Degrading Your Social Network?”

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27 Comments
Shawn Tutt (profile) says:

Give 'em a chance

I too have noticed this but I’ve noticed something else. It’s usually self correcting. I signed up for FourSquare and must have hit the publish to Twitter button without realizing it. The next day, I started checking into places and noticed that they were all these checkins were going to Twitter. So I turned it off, sent a tween apologizing to followers, and that was that.

I’ve noticed a couple of people that I follow do the same thing, I usually give them a day or two before I unfollow, but I haven’t seen anyone that I follow keep it up for more than a day or two.

Brandon (profile) says:

Re: Give 'em a chance

Right off I disabled twitter updates (except for trophies) for foursquare. People don’t seem to mind the occasional location tweet (it happens about once a month or so with me) but when I follow people that seem to spam where they are every 10min, I’ll unfollow.

It’d be nice if it had an option for limited tweets/fb updates right from the get-go and if you wanted more you could select that option.

I’ll admit though, I like foursquare. I’ve found a few neat places thanks to friends.

Derek Kerton says:

Re: Re:

Well, social media, and tools like Twitter are only as bad as your use of them. They are “content neutral” like the telephone.

For example: you could use the telephone to call a bunch of idiots, or a bunch of teenage hipsters, and they could talk your ear off with nonsense, jargon, and gibberish. Alternatively, you could select the people you call, limiting your calls to people who say something which interests you. I do this with the phone, and with Twitter, to my great satisfaction.

Twitter is just a pipe. You can tune yours to whatever you want to receive, and whatever you choose to broadcast. That’s why these auto updates bug me: they are not what I tuned in to hear. I can “unfollow” if the chaff continues. But as Shawn Tutt says, above, it might be self-repairing.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You make a valid point. CB was always useful, and remains in use to this day.

But it had a peak where it was ridiculously in fashion, movies were made, songs sung, and every white-collar dude and kid was learning “CB Lingo”.

I remember buying collector cards, like baseball cards, with pictures of trucks, CB jargon lessons on the back, plus a stale piece of terrible chewing gum.

While I like Twitter and FourSquare, I can appreciate that it is arguably a fad.

“Calling all trucks, this here’s the Duck, and I’m about to put the hammer down!”

Mike says:

Funny Timing

The timing of this article is funny, since I set up a Facebook group last night called “Foursquare and Lost are ruining the Internet“.

Personally, I think the main problem is that Twitter/Facebook/etc have no effective filtering mechanisms. I don’t want to block entire people, I want to block people during specified times (like when the show “Lost” is on and people insist on live tweeting it) or block certain words (like “check in”).

DV Henkel-Wallace (profile) says:

This is a UI problem

The problem isn’t the info, it’s the spam.

A winning interface would be more like an RSS feed that you could glance at when you wanted to know where someone in particular was. And a smart filter that would mail/txr/whatever you when someone was in an interesting spot (perhaps close to you, or someplace unusual, or something else).

Another interface would be to be able to see a historical overlay on a map, again on an on-demand rather than push mode.

Lots of other ways to think of it too. I have ignored these services because they’re so crude, but someday someone will take them seriously and think about how they could usefully be used, rather than just how to get the data out there at all.

In other words, don’t blame the message, blame the messenger!

Anonymous Coward says:

I see some potential utility here, though. I mean, yes it’s sending out these “check-in” messages that probably just link to advertisements in the name of the person who has the service activated. But you could write up a script that immediately follows up the check-in messages with another post that says “and it’s laaaaaaaaaame!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sure, tell people when you're not home...

People said the same thing about the answering machine when it hit the scene. And there are significant flaws with this argument. First off, casing for robberies via Facebook would be inefficient and difficult at best unless you’re looking to rob a specific person, and in either case simply getting off your ass and *looking* to see a person’s comings and goings or whether someone is at home would be a far easier and more effective means of robbing someone. Second, if you’re a) not using your privacy settings or b) are Facebook or Twitter friends with someone who would rob you…well, I hate to say you’re asking for it, but you’re kinda asking for it.

Michael (profile) says:

I don't think it is a problem

Twitter has just not matured enough yet. It is a relatively simple communications platform. As these uses start popping up, someone will come up with the next set of filtering tools to make the platform useful again.

I think these location spam messages could be incredibly useful. If, for instance, there was a tool that matched my location to my friends locations and just informed me when someone was at a coffee shop nearby or sent a notification to me if three or more of my friends met at a bar…

Spitting out lots of data will inevitably create noise. This noise can make tools less useful initially, but as the tools become overwhelmed by this noise, clever people will have new opportunities to adjust the tools to make use of the noise in ways that could not have happened before.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: I don't think it is a problem

Well, as I said in the article, it’s like email: Originally just content from your friends, spam entered and created the noise. But eventually, we got filters and tools to reduce the spam.

Meanwhile, though (still agreeing with you) it’s both a pain…and an opportunity for entrepreneurs to fix the problem.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Facebook and hiding apps

Facebook handles this pretty well. First time I see an automated status update from an app, I click hide, say I want to hide the app and not the person, and then I never see those automated messages again, no matter how many of my friends install the relevant app.

Automated tools that post “normal” status messages are still a problem, but fortunately those seem to be pretty rare.

TheStupidOne says:

Great Info, Wrong Place

This is awesome information, but unfortunately it isn’t being broadcast in the right location. Twitter (or twitter apps) should adapt to harness this data. create a separate feed for location only data. This way your friends location is available to you when you want it, but doesn’t interfere with the real tweets. Even better would be if your twitter app was location aware and showed you the location tweets of your friends that are close to you.

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