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Geo-Social: My experience with 4Square and Gowalla

OK, I’ve been on two geo-social apps for a week. And I have a small personal report of my experience.

Last Sunday, I loaded Foursquare and Gowalla on my iPhone (although they work on other smart phones and Touch as well). I tried to get Loopt but it wouldn’t load on a Canadian phone but I’d enjoy hearing from anyone who has tried that or any other geo-application).

Then I headed off to the Public Library Association (PLA) conference in Portland Maine Oregon for the week. It was a great conference. As an aside I found none of the woe-is-me-our-budgets-are-bad whining but a refreshingly positive group of thousands of people working on solving problems and being awesome community resources. I hope that’s a good omen. Life goes on.

Anyway, I made a goal to change my location on my iPhone every time I moved about Portland – libraries, convention centers, hotels, the zoo, etc. I added a number of my e-mail. Facebook and Twitter friends too. And I uploaded any changes I made to my location automatically to Foursquare. It took a while to develop the habit but it was easy to place my mark in seconds.

I probably can’t make this a habit every day but I felt that a little week long experiment was worth the effort. So what did I find?

1. I earned a bunch of badges and virtual prizes and rewards. I must have been well trained by cereal box prizes and Cracker Jack since I found these rewards surprisingly helpful for making me know that I was learning the app. (I wonder if we can add these to library training and orientation programs?)
2. I did feel more connected to the larger conference as a whole. I find this with conference Twitter hashtags too. I can’t be everywhere at once but I do enjoy knowing what’s going on. I even learn things like librarians will tell you when they’re at Starbucks but less so at the lobby bar!
3. When friends checked in at the Starbucks near me (or the weird and edgy Portland doughnut places!), I could sometimes even meet up. I even found the cool doughnut places this way that I wouldn’t have found otherwsie.
4. I can’t say if I liked Foursquare or Gowalla better so I’ll continue to try both. I found Foursquare easier to use and that Gowalla’s sites inventory as better in Portland. I am pretty sure I’ll always use them at events and while I travel. At this point my neighbourhood activities might stay quieter online but you never know.
5. I often found that I wished I could quickly message someone through Foursquare or Gowalla like I can with Facebook and Twitter, and I suspect that will come to be.
6. I see a whole lot of library potential in geo-social apps. I wonder if we can integrate features into library sites along the lines that Facebook Digg and Twitter and others are integrated into Foursquare and Gowalla? Are there ideas about improving social glue here?

Lastly, I continued to blog, tweet, and Facebook throughout the conference. That worked socially too. I connected with two friends at various airports since we found eachother through those means and had nice conversations before and after the conference. It made airports nicer places and avoided a missed opportunity to hug a friend.

So, I will reserve judgement on the long term implications of so much of the web going geo-social. I will state that I strongly believe that this is a major part of the future of search, websites, ads, and more. Part of being social is being together. It’s not all of it since we have so many virtual social lives now too. It’s nice to see some of the face-to-face ‘presence’ being an opportunity in the virtual space too.

I am thinking about what this might mean for libraries. Things like Gale’s AccessMyLibrary iPhone app have the potential to have social interactions built in (book clubs, recommendations, hmmmm…), and just ask yourself, do I know who is the mayor of my library?

My next few big trials of these geo-social apps will be at Computers in Libraries in Arlington VA and Texas LA in San Antonio TX. Friend me and see if we can connect. It’s fun to play with new features and apps and have a discussion. This would make a great unconference session. Hey we could even organize an unconference on the fly like LobbyCon last year at CIL through Twitter.

We can all be the cool kids.

Stephen
(Keep Learning Til You Die)

Posted on: March 28, 2010, 2:11 pm Category: Uncategorized