I’m fascinated by the increased conversation about Location based Social Networks as i personally find them really interesting. Back in January this year i predicted they would be big in 2010 (albeit my rationale was deeply flawed and influenced by a particular phone!!).
However they do seem to be growing in value and more and more people are seeing business opportunities and benefits from working with them. It is also interesting to see Google and Facebook both supporting Location based features of varying levels that if they see value then i guess we won’t actually get much choice. Location will just be another feature of our interaction with our friends and colleagues.
I was thinking the other day – what would happen if all of the content from TripAdvisor (ratings, feedback, pricing etc) was integrated with a location-based network like Foursquare or Gowalla. In fact there is almost a duplication of content happening at some level anyway. The power of that information is already influencing people’s decision – but if you could see that someone who actually said they liked the place had “checked in” say 10-15 times, would you believe them more than someone who checked in only once?
This is where these tools are starting to move, if businesses are savvy, and want to manage their brand they will need to understand this stuff. I say understand as it is still early days and most of the benefits and new features are becoming useful because the companies themselves are adding value by linking with other sites or companies.
But there is a dark side – isn’t there always!
Privacy is something that a lot of people care about, most people were vocal about Facebook’s dealings of privacy – so we can assume that it is an important thing to get right – it is also an important thing an individual needs to get right so that it doesn’t back fire.
An example of how weird and creepy it can get can be found on Shea Sylvia’s blog. It is the type of story that people will use to say that these sites don’t offer value and that they will only lead to bad things – well i don’t agree with that….Shea’s situation and experience is not something i’d like to go through – i’m glad she shared the story, but it does offer us all a valuable lesson and one which made me think about how all this stuff fits together.
In Facebook i have quite tight privacy controls and only (as a rule) except friends who i have actually met in person – Facebook is a place where i share photos of my family and more personal events. So i’m happy to share this with people i consider to be friends in one form or another.
On twitter, i have a public profile (i don’t protect my tweets) but i generally use this as a professional tool and only occasionally use this in a personal capacity – i do however consider a good proportion of people i follow on twitter (those i have met and some i haven’t) as friends also.
Foursquare and Gowalla – These tools don’t really do privacy that well in my opinion or at least create an illusion on privacy, yes you can accept friends but when you check in somewhere it will share that with anyone who visits that location. I can see the value in this, but why can’t you restrict you check in information to only those people you accept as friends?
My point being that when you decide to share something, it should be based on your own understanding of how you have set your privacy settings – it can’t create loop holes for your information to leak out to anyone.
I will personally be revisiting all of my privacy settings and how they interact with each other so that i can be sure who has access to the information i post to the web.