Geo-tagging helps pin down popular places

Competition is rising up over social media’s latest craze: geo-location. Designed for mobile users, geo-location allows you to share your location with friends.

There are several applications currently leading the geo-location bandwagon, including Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook’s Places, which was introduced Aug. 18.

Not surprisingly, the feature, just more than one year old, is not yet widely used. However, no social media application has ever evolved overnight. Internet users need time to adapt and adjust to the hottest socially acceptable invasion of our privacy.

Remember the skepticism over Facebook? I was a sophomore in high school when I first heard about Facebook, and I thought it was unnecessary, creepy and a waste of time. Now I can’t open an Internet browser without my hands typing “” by default.

It’s difficult to image a world without Facebook, and geo-location will become just as natural and regular for Internet fans.

My favorite geo-location application is Foursquare. Launched in March 2009, Foursquare originally targeted New York City’s nightlife. It was created to be a personalized radar used to find out which bars, clubs and restaurants were trending (meaning more than one person had checked in to the location) by friends. The developers quickly realized its potential and expanded the application to be used worldwide.

Using Foursquare is easy once you believe sharing your location with friends is normal. When you get to a new venue, all you have to do is select the Places tab in the mobile application to find your venue, and you also discover what is trending around you (Foursquare is available to multiple cell phone softwares, including the iPhone iOS, Android, webOS, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry OS). Wherever you go, be it the gym, a restaurant or even the 405 Freeway, known as L.A.’s parking lot, you can check yourself in, see who else is there and see where your friends are.

Upon checking in, you are prompted with the options to share your location with your Foursquare friends, as well as those on Facebook and Twitter. Users should not be too skeptical of checking in because they are in control of both the friends on their list and whether or not they share a check-in with friends. If you don’t want anyone to know where you are, then opt to keep your exact location private by not sharing it.

I used to share my Foursquare check-ins with my Twitter account until @Stalkmebot, a Twitter user who retweets geo-tags, retweeted my check-in at my home address.

Each check-in, whether shared or private, earns you points which can be used to unlock badges. Enough check-ins to the same venue and you could be dubbed the mayor — the person who frequents that venue the most. These game-like qualities of Foursquare were initially designed to provide incentive for users to continue using the application. However, businesses recently discovered Foursquare’s unique marketing potential.

Never before could businesses know what venues were trending and when, or who frequented them. Foursquare has unlocked a new platform for customer appreciation, but also customer dedication. Earlier this year, Foursquare partnered with companies such as Starbucks, Bravo TV, Zagat and The New York Times to offer special promotions and badges to users. For a brief time this summer, Starbucks offered a discount to “mayors” of their local coffeehouses. And now official Zagat tips are received when you check in to Zagat-reviewed restaurants, and enough check-ins can earn you the Zagat-sponsored “Foodie” badge.

At USC, Foursquare usage is growing. Since school has started, the check-ins for the USC campus, the new campus center and Leavey Library have been regularly trending. Perhaps Foursquare could even be a way of keeping attendance in the future.

Other social media developers are definitely acknowledging the power and potential of geo-location. Facebook’s newest Places feature, currently only available on the iPhone app and Facebook’s mobile website, could really expand the overall usage and popularity of geo-location.

Places is similar to Foursquare in that you check in wherever you are located. But unlike Foursquare, Places allows you to tag Facebook friends who are with you, and shares your location with all of your Facebook friends.

Facebook users could be Facebook friends with people whom they might not want to share their locations with. Foursquare provides a more intimate setting because you can hand-pick your friends based only on who you wish to regularly share your location with. Although all Facebook users may not utilize Places, the existence of the Places feature will contribute to the gradual adaptation of geo-location usage.

Sharing your location with the world can potentially be dangerous, so you have to be careful and conscious of how public make your updates. Still, everyone should be a frontrunner of this growing enterprise and get involved as soon as possible.

Rebecca Lett is a junior majoring in print journalism and economics. Her column, “Staying Connected,” runs Thursdays.

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