Foursquare Ping needs context

I’ve been evaluating Foursquare’s Ping feature that I recently uncovered in the Android release.  In this post I’ll describe Foursquare’s Ping, what I like and what I would change.

Foursquare’s Ping

The problem with most LBS apps is that checking in is a solo event.  Yes, you can notify friends of your location via the in app notification and also via posts Twitter/Facebook.  But those are pull based actions for your friends.  Your friends need to constantly check their apps to see if you’ve checked in. 

Ping takes a step in the right direction by turning that notification into a push event for your friends.  Now instead of having to constantly check their phones to check your status, they can wait for a signal.  On Android phones the notification is a LED status light change and, optionally, a vibrate. 

What I like about Ping

Here is exactly why Ping is great.  How many times have you been at a restaurant/bar/club/trade event and you must interrupt your conversations to see if the rest of your gang has showed up yet?  How many times have you observed people talking to each other but they spend half their time checking their phones for status updates?  With Ping you can just wait for your phone to vibrate to tell you your friends have arrived.  It’s a more refined and polite experience.

So what does Ping do well?  I like that Ping notifications can be set at an individual level.  That way the user has the capability to leave on notifications for their “best” friends and turn it off for others.  Examples of people you might want to turn off include social acquaintances or co-workers.  Proximity to people in the same office is pretty much a given – you don’t need a notification for that.

What I would change with Ping

There are a few nit-picky things that I’ll save for another day, but the big change that needs to happen is that Ping notifications need to be contextually based on several factors such as:

  • The level of friendship (besties/acquaintences/coworkers)
  • The setting (work/home/weekends)
  • The relative proximity (block/town/state)

The implementation could be simple.  Just let me tag the level of friendship with my Foursquare friends: besties/acquaintences/coworkers.  With that info and a basic logic engine, Foursquare could do some neat stuff.  Imagine the following options:

[] At work, only ping me if a friend from out of state checks into a nearby location

[] On the weekend, ping me if a coworker checks into my town (avoidance mode!)

[] At home, ping me if out of town besties/acquantences checkin somewhere nearby

[] If I’m out of my state, ping me if any friends check in the same town

In summary

The ability to receive push LBS notifications is much needed.  Ping is a step in the right direction, but its still a blunt instrument.  There is opportunity to refine the experience by providing context to the checkin.

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