For the last couple of weeks I've been assiduously checking in to places using both Foursquare and Facebook Places. I was hoping to understand the logic behind the excitement that check ins allegedly generate. I have so far singularly failed to do so.
So far the only benefit I've received from checking in is a free slice of cake from Moo Cafeteria for my first check in there, but even that highlighted some difficulties in the process. That delicious incentive was a one-off, and immediately carries the risk to the merchant of me now heading off to find out which of his many competitors are also offering free stuff for a first check in and only returning when I've exhausted those offers.
The process wasn't without hassle for me, the consumer, either. First of all I find Foursquare's Android app deeply unusable. It is slow, often not returning any information before I loose patience and quit the app. Even when it does connect, it shows me a list of usually laughably out of date check ins from friends and acquaintances. I have to specifically selected a list of places, wait again, and only then check in.
This first time I checked in at Moo I get my cake voucher. The waitress understandably wanted to see the voucher, but I couldn't find any way of bringing it back on screen once I'd moved away from it. Some negotiation resulted and my claim was accepted. Just as well that the Moo owner is a really nice guy as my phone battery had died by this point and I couldn't show him the check in let alone the voucher.
Each time I use Foursquare I get the impression that I'm on a secondary user journey, while the main purpose is seeing where my friends are currently checked in. There are several issues with this concept. The first is that there is no check out so the location information is in most cases hopelessly out of date. Secondly I am blessed with good vision and it is just so much easier to look round and see if there is any one I know in the place. Thirdly, if I was planning on meeting up with someone I'd have planned it using some other social-media connection or that old fall back, a voice call, before arriving at the venue.
As for Foursquare's badges and majorships, all I can say is they are deeply, sadly pathetic. I managed to become major of one place I visited once - what value is there in that to anyone? Last time I was excited about badges I was still at school and discovered that I could use the Edinburgh Student Union badge making machine for 10p a shot. At least those had dayglo paper and sharp pins; Foursquare ones don't even raise a flicker of interest with me.
Facebook Places is generally faster and cleaner to use, but I'm afraid that is only because it is still new and as yet underdeveloped. News that their Offers system is being launched suggests that I might get some benefit from checking in, but that depends on whether I check in to anywhere that has offers.
Maybe if I lived in a larger city (ie London, San Francisco or New York) or if I had more mobile-active friends I'd see some utility in location check ins. Maybe if the interfaces were slicker, read instant, it would be better. But for the moment checking in is a chore with marginal benefit at best.