I Can't Navigate My Location Friend Requests

Leading up to South by Southwest my inbox has been littered with friend requests on Gowalla, a check-in service that I can use to show those friends where I am at any point in time. Underneath each request is a line that reads: “We recommend you accept friend requests only from people you know and want to share your travels with.” I confess, I read these friend requests from folks I have never met, talked to, tweeted with or emailed, and I don’t really know what to do. Accept them? Ignore them? Bemoan them on Twitter?

I have included a poll below asking when and with whom you guys share your location, because as a shy and privacy-focused person I tend to err on keeping my digital presence online and my real-world presence, not…anonymous, exactly, but I certainly don’t broadcast it to the world. And I think that will eventually mean I lose out on those serendipitous connections that location services can provide. For example, I might miss out on meeting the stranger sitting next to me in a coffee shop who reads the site and could offer a great conversation on the future of semiconductors.

With more than 400,000 users of Foursquare and Gowalla already, there are plenty of interesting connections I or anyone else could make. But there are also plenty of people who, like me, are clearly waiting to see how this check-in concept — and by extension, always-on location services like Google’s Latitude or Loopt — plays out. I’m hoping that at SXSW we’ll start seeing tools that use the check-in concept, not to award points or badges, but to facilitate useful interactions among relative strangers, such as, if you see a neighbor checking in at your kid’s school every afternoon, then maybe you can meet them and set up a carpool.

Much like it took time for people to see use cases and value in Twitter, which was an entirely new means of communicating, it will take time and a display of beneficial results before folks will see the value in displaying their location rather than focusing on the loss of anonymity. Until that happens, many people, when faced with an unfamiliar friend request, will likely hit delete. And without that large network of strangers, then the idea of machine-mediated serendipity remains just that — an idea.

Related research from GigaOM Pro:

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