Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google Latitude Adds Check-Ins (How 2009!)

Today Google Latitude will give users the ability to share their location with friends and strangers by “checking in” to a particular establishment.

Many of the major location-based social networks launched in early 2009, including Latitude. But Latitude was different: Instead of asking users to manually check in, it continuously displayed their locations on a map in real time. The specificity of that information meant Latitude was primarily used for location-sharing with close friends and family.

Due in part to Google’s heft, the service is relatively popular; now available on all the big smartphone platforms, it has 10 million users who participate each month, compared with six million registered users for Foursquare.

Still, in the past year, just about every local-social pundit and competitor has announced a desire to go “beyond the check-in.” In that context, Latitude’s move to catch up seems oddly timed.

Ken Norton, senior PM for Latitude, justified today’s change by saying Latitude users have been asking for check-ins. Plus (and this is no small thing), Google is associating check-ins with its Google Places project, which means Latitude now has a business model: Connecting its users to local merchants.

Google is not facilitating Latitude-specific deals yet (as companies like Facebook and Foursquare already do), but Norton said there’s nothing stopping merchants from giving a discount to people who check in frequently.

What’s different about Latitude’s version of check-ins? There are a few innovative tweaks that some users may prefer. Google will automatically detect when users are stationary in a place it considers a business, and send them a notification asking if they want to check in.

Also, (with user permission) Latitude supports automatic check-ins for common venues, as well as supporting “checking out” of a place when the users’ location indicates they’ve left the building.

However, users cannot add locations; so, for instance, they can’t check into their homes (unless their homes are already businesses with Place pages).

And while Latitude is hopping on the trend, how about a sprinkle of gamification! Based on their participation, users can qualify to be a “Regular,” “VIP” or “Guru” of a specific establishment. However, there is no leaderboard or public acknowledgment of such users, yet.

Users can publish their locations to their public-facing Google Profile, if they want to share beyond their Latitude friend network. It’s expected that Google will increasingly include these public profiles in new social product launches.

The capability to check in on Latitude is only available on Android to start (through the new Google Maps 5.1 app), but should be coming to the BlackBerry, Symbian and iPhone, said Norton.

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