The services Foursquare and Gowalla, while not for everyone, point to a new and important dimension to our online activity: the ability to apply the power of the Internet to our immediate geographical neighbourhood.
We can find cafes, ATMs, cultural activities with just a quick look into an application such as Vicinity. But shopkeepers and stores can also find us. We can be offered all sorts of goodies such as sales offers, discounts in cafes, lunch du jours at nearby restaurants, notifications of special events that are happening soon and just around the corner. “Come along if you have few minutes spare, why not?”
With these hyper-local services we now have a street full of shop windows in our pocket. It will get easier, social media strategist Ted Vickey says:
“By using little bits of technology, even the smallest business in Galway, [Ireland] can compete with the big companies who are advertising to the same customers. So it’s making it more personal. It’s taking that online community and putting a face to it. And it’s allowing businesses to attract customers. And the customer really is in the core of the decision-making process to buy something.”
I should say here that it was while having a cup of tea and a flapjack in a cafe that I first saw an ad offering an aspect of his professional services while I was checking into Foursquare.
Very soon, the the term smart in smartphone will be made redundant as more and more phones will be able to manage apps and handle the Internet more efficiently. These phones will still allow us to access the great yonder that is the Internet, but they will help us navigate in our third space, the place where we spend our time when not at work or at home.
This third space is the physical space where we do most of our shopping and socialising and seek out entertainment and diversion. This physical space is now being augmented by cyberspace. This is a place where social media meets social.
Foursquare has been expecting to reach a million checkins by mid-June of 2010. Not bad for something a little over two years old which started out as a sort of a game, where one would collect badges and points for checking into various venues and places.
It has gone beyond that (I hope) to the point where it has become a navigation tool for some of the destinations I go to. Not in a map sense but in a points of interest sense. Its value is not in where I can find something but in who and what I can find.
This makes these sorts of applications very effective social media tools. Our online communities have moved from our desks or laptops to our pockets or purses. In some strange kind of meld, our virtual lives are mixing with our real lives.