Hello! I’m Samantha Stocks.

I’m a writer based in Bristol, UK.

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Can we archive our social history using location-based apps?

Location-based apps are really taking off in a big way. From check-ins to reminders, from tags to pictures to comments, it seems that people really enjoy having apps that allow them to interact with the world they live in.

Foursquare

Foursquare have reached a billion check-ins. ONE BILLION!

They visually mapped their 1 billion check-ins for the week in the form of a video. As of June 2011, the company had 10 million registered users, with approximately 3 million check-ins per day. Foursquare is clearly onto a winner.

There are a number of reasons for Foursquare’s phenomenal continued growth: the company has recently added a new privacy setting that allows users to keep their address hidden, tailoring itself to the needs and desires of its consumers; they released a self-service option that allows small business owners to make the most of promotional opportunities offered by Foursquare. With more business attracted to Foursquare, the service perpetuates itself further with more customers checking in.

But the most obvious reason is that we are living in something of a smartphone revolution: this is becoming more and more of the standard phone to have, and with this advanced GPS technology becomes available to the masses. comScore reports that the US had in excess of 80 million smartphone users in July of this year, with nearly 20 per cent of smartphone owners using a check-in service on their phone.

People are clearly happy to make the most of this technology. And why not? You may be rewarded for your purchases and for your loyalty to certain stores/restaurants/cafes if you check in frequently enough by getting a free coffee, for example. But ultimately perhaps it is so popular because people love to interact with their environment.

Gowalla

Gowalla have somewhat revamped their service and their website and shifted their focus. They are stepping away from check-ins and stepping toward travel and location-based stories. This could be because they don’t want to directly compete with Foursquare and have seen a gap in the market that they could fill, and fill well. In which case, their move to become a travel app could be a very good move indeed.

Chief Executive of Gowalla, Josh Williams, had said that they will focus on creating more than 60 guides to cities worldwide. The app will enable people to record photos, make comments about the location, and tag other users, which will enable them to join the narrative.

I really like this idea: an ongoing social narrative relating to experiences. Perhaps ultimately this is more important than simply ‘checking-in’ to a location?

Mapalong

Mapalong is an app set up with the purpose of ‘mapping’ your experiences. This has the potential to be a very useful app. I remember a trip I went on to Ljubljiana in Slovenia where I visited a lovely little teahouse; but I can’t remember the name of the teahouse, and I can’t remember the name of the street. How will I find it again? How will I describe where to find this cafe to my friend who is going to visit there?

By saving a location of the place you visit, adding a picture linked to the location, or a note, link, or a tag, you can literally link your memories to a location via an app, and record the exact location. As well as being useful, this information can be saved for posterity. Imagine being able to check where your parents where and what they were doing 20 years ago. This could be possible for generations of people in the future.

Apps are more than just tools you use

Ultimately, checking-in, sharing location-based information – including photos and notes – serve to paint a fuller and more intricate picture of the social world we live in. We can now archive the history of our modern society in painstaking detail. Think of the recent hurricane in the US; we can search for information on this in any number of places. Twitter is especially useful for this: here we can see an overview of people’s comments and conversations (and even pictures) about the hurricane, including their personal experiences.

As writer and speaker Craig Mod has written of the Sendai quake in Japan, ‘Twitter was overwhelmingly the go-to service for first-person reportage on what was happening during the quake. In fact, I used Twitter to go back in time and ‘relive’ the moment the quake hit for a number of my friends. I was able to experience the quake through their eyes and immediately perceive – on a tremendously intimate micro-scale – the gravity of events.’

He suggests that Twitter needs a more efficient method of archiving tweets, especially if they are on a certain topic, be that a particular event or otherwise. Hashtags are indeed one way of keeping track of this, but Craig argues that this is not yet an efficient interface. He comments that in the case of reportage, ‘Twitter could provide smart meta-data groupings (geo, for example) to aid in surfacing and consolidating historically resonant narratives from the muck.’

Could apps such as Gowalla an Mapalong be the future of this? Might they provide us with a more efficient means of archiving our personal lives, and consequently our social history?