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The check-in is dead. Long live the check-in.

There has been talk lately about 2011 being the year check-ins died. Haven’t we proven that “X is dead” articles mean that X is actually far from dead? As Dave Obasanjo put it, “You’ll know when RSS is dead when no one bothers writing ‘RSS is dead’ articles anymore.” The argument that check-ins are dead is missing the point. Check-ins are but one part of the larger movement that’s quickly redefining how we live our lives.

Before we get to the broader trend, let’s review the value of the check-in. I can’t imagine anyone has ever thought the check-in was the end goal. The end goal has always been to give the user a positive experience in exchange for the check-in. An experience that makes the effort of that check-in worth it. Up to now that benefit has been one of the following:

  1. I want to let my friends know I’m out and doing something cool (social glue + status)
  2. I want to get a deal (money).
  3. I want some stinking badges and to be better than my friends (status).
  4. I want a record of my awesome life (memory+status).
  5. Encourage serendipity (discovery)

Obviously, to stay relavent, that cost-benefit ratio of the check-in must stay above a certain threshold. This won’t be a surprise to “check-in companies.” From what I’ve seen from Foursquare/Facebook/Google and others over the past few months, I think the trend is very much in the right direction. Not only are checkins going to become easier and more natural (e.g. NFC, auto-checkins), we’re already seeing more opportunities for deals, more opportunities for discovery (see Foursquare 3.0 Explore tab), and more opportunities for status (gamification is hot for a reason). Every reason we’ve ever checked-in is getting stronger. Early adopters are losing their “this is new and cool” motivation, while the rest of the world has more reason than ever to check-in.

How about the future? Today, check-ins are necessary in order to capture your intent. The fact that you want someone (sometimes just yourself) to know you are/were there. The check-in is also extremely valuable in telling the system that you are at a specific venue, versus just a random GPS coordinate. We’re approaching a time when location-based services can recognize your location automatically (Google Latitude already does this), and the work to check-in is becoming automatic. Pretty quickly we’ll be at always-on ambient  location sharing (with various levels of privacy), where check-ins are left for special occasions. In that world, a new class of opportunities arise. 

 Companies like Geoloqi are already betting on this future. It’s something we at Localmind have been thinking about for a while. What kind of value can you provide not only the specific user that is sharing their location, but to the community they are a part of. We expect new opportunities for serendipity (i.e. you’re standing 30 feet from someone that has the perfect job for you), new opportunities for discovery (i.e. getting notified that you should go to a bar because 3 of your friends are there, your favorite band is coming on next, and they have your favorite beer on tab), and new opportunities for helping others (i.e. there’s someone right now in the airport security line that can tell you how long the wait is). The check-in as we know it today may be dead, but the value behind the check-in is going to blow our minds.

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