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May 05, 2010

Are You Filtering Your Checkins To Enhance Your Image?

A month or so ago, I told you how I'd finally jumped on the location check-in train, and mockingly asked if boring married people (like me) should be checking in on services like Foursquare and Gowalla. In the time since that post, I continue to be married, continue to be boring, and yes, I continue to check in. I believe that if one is truly going to commit themselves to a tool like this, they should do so in full. But from what I have seen, it looks like many people edit their comings and goings, in an effort to obscure the mundane, or possibly to make their average lives appear exemplary. And by going against the grain, I am becoming the unequalled Mayor of Mediocre.

As anticipated when I started my smirk-laden quest to prove the utility (or lack thereof) of location apps, I quickly gained mayorship of client offices up and down the Peninsula, and even in the East Bay. I picked up a crown at a supermarket in Woodside with only two stops and never looked back, and at one point, I achieved every man's dream - becoming mayor of a Burger King and Wendy's simultaneously. My mother must be so proud.

Yay me! Told You I Was Boring.

Because I decided I would use Foursquare to accurately show just where I go and what I do, I've racked up plenty of stops at the neighborhood Safeway, and even recently became the mayor of my kids' pediatrician's office (again after only two stops). Given the combination of relatively low use of such apps in the South Bay, and my own antisocial behavior, the overlap with other friend's activity has been inconsistent at best - and the lack of a challenge in overtaking these mundane places was due to what I believe is self-censoring on the part of many users, who don't really want to broadcast to the world what it is they are doing.

While I may have no hesitation in reporting I am at 7-Eleven, or pumping gas, or shopping for groceries, or asking the docs to look into my son's fever, and check in from the Drive Thru at McDonald's, many of those I am connected to are keeping their own check-in history to be more hipster friendly. One still sees the Friday night flurry as the singles chase each other from bar to bar, the self-important announcements of major travel from state to state, check-ins at "happening" venues and events, or at more classy restaurants than the grease pits I'm owning.

This sounds like fun. But is it representative?

But what's missing are the rest of the small updates. Post offices. Dry cleaners. Car rentals. Clothing stores. It looks like it's a lot more hip to check into an Apple Store than a Ross or a Mervyn's, or a Starbucks instead of a Jack in the Box.

Everyone Else's Life? More exciting?

The self-censorship and muting of life's reality adds cloak of dissonance to the entire process. While it's true I am still playing with checking in at random Apple buildings in Cupertino in an attempt to draw out Steve Jobs' henchmen, and thus have my own issues with "telling the truth", I wonder what those who are holding back on their check-ins are trying to hide. Do you think you're going to bore your friends with who you really are?

Good news for us. But it could have been bad.

One more thing - sharing your real life can have real life benefits. This week, when at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital for a 20-week ultrasound on our Fall addition to the family, I got an e-mail from a friend who had very real concern that maybe one of our kids had taken a turn for the worse. (See his writeup: Privacy vs Voyeurism) The world of virtual check-ins turned into a real one. If you become real, and share who you really are, you can get real-world connections with real people who really care, so stop hiding and stop filtering.