Location-based social networking sites (SNSs)

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See also Augmented reality (AR) | Privacy in social networks | Social media aggregators | Social media landscape | Social networking | Web 2.0

" ...locative media emphasizes the geographical context of media. [The question is how to] combine practices of locative media (experiential mapping and geo-spatial annotation) with aspects of online participatory culture (uploading, file-sharing and search categorization) to produce online applications that support geographically 'located' communities..." — Hamilton, 2009

Location-based social networks (also "urban computing", locative media and location awareness) are part of a larger technology trend where users reveal their locations (via their smartphones), what businesses they support and/or locations they recommend to others in their mobile social network. Location/proximity-based media introduces all kinds of issues around security of personal information, privacy and personal safety (ie., stalking) although they are so closely tied to our engagement with online and mobile media, and indeed our mobile phone culture generally, that it seems unlikely the trend will diminish. Geo-location and geo-social trends have been around for years starting with geo-tagging and Twitter (so-called "locative media"), and to some extent Facebook with its status update features and "friends nearby" (see Copeland, 2012). According to Humphreys (2012), users of locative media used their mobile social networks to build and reinforce both person–to–place connections as well as person–to–person connections.

"Real time" and "location-based" services have proven popular in social media. Foursquare is the most popular location-based media. Its closest competitor, Gowalla, was acquired (and retired) by Facebook in 2012 and Booyah "MyTown" seems to be unavailable as of 2015. Foursquare was originally a "check-in" app to tell members of a social network where you were located such as Starbucks or a local business. Foursquare users were able to use an app to have their Twitter feeds and Facebook accounts updated every time they checked in to a new location. Foursquare users earned badges by checking into new locations with the ultimate goal of achieving higher levels of check-in frequency. When users checked-in more than anyone to specific venues they were crowned "Mayor" until someone else took the title away. The incentives for visiting locations included discounts on goods and earning "badges". Real-time (as in "now") services allow users to share ideas, links and humour on-the-go. This information sharing is facilitated by mobile devices which mimic live broadcasts of other media. Recent advances in mobile and cloud computing technologies make it possible for organizations to produce digital content in real-time. Mobile platforms, such as the Apple iPhone6 (and the iPad) as well as Google Android, offer on-the-go convenience (rather than location-bound access). Typically, these tools are connected to high-speed networks, cameras, maps, GPS systems and digital compasses for users to find their way via the cloud. This intersection of social and academic tools enables new interaction with users previously seen only in science fiction. (See WolfWalk at NCSU)

Popular location-based SNSs

According to Wilken (2014), Facebook’s entry into the location-based market has been gradual but increasingly obvious. Early on, Facebook acquired Gowalla and Glancee (two defunct location-sharing start-ups), and ramped up its location-based services by launching its "nearby feature". In 2013, Facebook adjusted its application programming interface (API) to enable ‘seamless’ location-based sharing across third-party applications. Facebook now wants to take on local recommendation services such as Foursquare and Yelp in order to compete as a key local, mobile-centred, advertising portal (taking on Google).

  • Foursquare is a local search and discovery mobile app; in 2014, the company removed its "checkin" feature to focus on local search
  • Gowalla was a location-based social network launched in 2007 and closed in 2012

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Library-related applications

  • promotion and marketing
  • digital outreach
  • gaming


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