Expert feature – Checkin out the Checkin-in apps

What "check-in" app do you use? Or, I should rephrase that… Do you use a location based "check-in" app? I am sure you have heard of the check-in apps, but for those that have not yet discovered them, let me explain what they are.

 Basically these family of apps use what is popularly known as the "Check-in" model. This means you are at a place (business, park, beach,etc) and you whip out your cell phone, fire up the app, choose the place you are at (usually from a list of nearby places) and press the button that tells everyone "Hey, I am here". Voila! You are now "Checked-In" and can be tracked down by your friends (or strangers) and be harassed in person.

I can hear you ask yourself, "Why would a person do this?"

This is an excellent question! The answer to this would help determine what "Check-In" app you would use.

So, what are the reasons someone would "Check-In" anyway?

1) It is all about the badges! One of the things I forgot to mention is that along with the "Check-In" model came the idea of earning digital "badges" for specific behaviors you have done. Anything from being on a boat, to eating at 20 different pizza places, will earn you a badge. (at least on Foursquare). The need to "earn badges" can become quite overpowering and there are many folks out there that feel their badge collection is a thing of honor. (yours truly included!)

2) You want to show your facebook friends where you have been and what you have been up to. One of the cool features about these check-in apps, is their ability to post to your facebook wall. Let’s face it, pretty much everyone is on facebook these days. I’m on it, your on it, your 1st grade teacher is on it. Everyone is on facebook. Now, you can "Check-in" somewhere cool (or not-so-cool) and have all your facebook friends know about it. Yes, it is true, I really am at the bar at Epcot Center. See, my posting with this app proves it! Yay for me! I am cool!

3)Your can use the app to find out what your RL (Real-Life) friends are up to and where the party is at. This is the *real* reason many of these apps were first created. If all your RL friends are using one of these apps and are constantly checking-in, you can see what everyone is up to and try to meet up with them. This is especially useful if it is a Friday night and you are looking to go out. If all your friends are posting their location, you can scroll through the list to see who you want to meet up with based on where they are. This is really quite a cool feature. That is if all your RL friends are actually using one of these apps and updating. However, if you are like me, and none of your RL friends use these apps, then it is not as cool. Also, if, like me, you don’t go out on a Friday night, then you don’t use these apps for this particular feature. However, if you do go out on a Friday (or Saturday or Tuesday) night and all your friends are "checking-in", then this is about the coolest app ever invented. Back in my day, to find out what your friends were doing on a Friday night, you had to actually call them. On their land line. And you had to do it early in the evening so you made sure to catch them at home, before they left to whatever cool place they were going. I am telling you, the kids these days have it easy!

Ok, now that we have looked at some of the reasons someone would use a "Check-In" app, what apps are we talking about anyway?

The first, biggest and most popular by far is Foursquare. Foursquare was the first to popularize the "Check-In" model and they were the first to introduce the notion of "Badges". If my facebook news feed is to be believed, Foursquare is also the most popular check-in app by far. I personally like Foursquare and use it often (however, it is not my favorite). I like to collect the badges on Foursquare, especially the badges tied to a specific event or action (i.e the "Where 2.0" badge or the "Baggage Handler" badge.) You can find me on Foursquare (and check out my badges) at this link (

The second most popular of the location "Check-In" badges is my personal favorite: Gowalla. Instead of action based badges, Gowalla has a "passport" that you get "stamps" for places you visit. I am actually really into these cool little passport stamps, as I think the artwork is quite groovy. I am also liking how Gowalla is starting to create custom venue passport stamps based on the architecture of the venue. For example, I just checked into IKEA and the Gowalla passport stamp was a neat little picture of a blue IKEA store with yellow writing. Just like the real life store! I also like Gowalla, because they seem to be always launching something new and cool with their service. (Leaving your friend a virtual "note" for them to find is the newest feature that was launced). Mostly, I like Gowalla because their passport stamps look cool on my facebook page, and considering that is "important" to me, Gowalla is the service I choose most often to use. You can find me on Gowalla at this link (


GoWalla as seen on iPhone

Even though Foursqure and Gowalla are the most popular of the "Check-In" apps does not mean they are the only ones! As a matter of fact, facebook now has the ability to "check-in". Other apps based on the concept of "Checking-In" are Whrrl, Loopt, SCVNGR, MyTown, Shopkick, Foodspotting, and the list goes on and on. One of the apps that started them all but is not on this list is the original location based service, Brightkite. Brightkite is now defunct in the location based field, but is still alive and currently doing group texting. I really did like Brightkite’s "" website that let you check into Foursquare, Brightkite and Gowalla all at once! I am bummed that this service is no longer and that I have to check into each service manually, but such is the life of an internet web page.

So there you have it. You now know all about the "Check-In" model as well as my favorite "Check-In" service. To get back to my original question…what is the Check-In app you use? 


Greg Rose is currently a Technology Evangelist for the NAVTEQ Network for Developers ( where he blogs, tweets and creates Developer focused videos.  You can follow him on Twitter @gregrose

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Glenn is a geographer and a GIS professional with over 20 years experience in the industry. He's the co-founder of GISuser and several other technology web publications.

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