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Use location-based services and help me avoid bad choices

When you have an 11-month old, you don’t get out much.  So when we went away this weekend with my parents, and the opportunity presented itself to go to lunch while they watched our daughter, we jumped at it.  The problem is, we were in Kleinmond, a small South African village.  There are probably about 5 restaurants in Kleinmond, and let’s face it, they can’t all be good.  So the pressure was on: where do we go?

In the US, this wouldn’t have been a problem.  Sites like Yelp enable users to rate and comment on a variety of services, including restaurants, so you never have to eat a bad burger again.  But we don’t have that in South Africa, so we did it the old-fashioned way: we walked around looking at menus for 30 minutes, and then picked a restaurant with bad service and worse food.  Only fellow parents would understand the disappointment.

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So how can we help each other make better decisions?  I say we embrace the capabilities of our geo-location enabled mobile phones.  Now, location-based social media has seen slow adoption in South Africa, and I suspect it’s mainly for two reasons:

  • Most people find out about it through the endless “I’m at …” and “I just ousted so-and-so as mayor of some-random-place” tweets.  Yes, that can get pretty annoying, and I personally think there is very little reason to link Foursquare to autopost to Twitter.  Rather build up a network of Foursquare friends in your area, and keep the check-in notifications to that group, because they’re the ones who care.
  • Many people think it’s stupid.  You know, similar to how everyone thought Twitter was stupid, until they started using it.

But I think we’ve only begun to see the possibilities presented by location-based services.  ReadWriteWeb recently posted a fascinating article called Why We Check In, where they discuss some of the reasons people use location-based networks like Foursquare.  The reasons range from the serendipity factory (meeting up with people who are close by), to collecting those badges and achievements, to viewing it as an online diary of sorts where you catalogue your travels.

But there are, of course, also the counter-arguments.  In Why Location Privacy Is Important, Dan Tynan argues that:

Sure, location based services are cool. It’s a heckovalot more convenient to use your phone’s GPS to locate the nearest Thai restaurant or gas station. If you’re stranded, they could help save your life.  But there’s a dark side to them most people don’t think about. What kind of location information are your service providers storing about you, and how long do they hold onto it? Those are two questions everyone should ask before blithely clicking Yes on a Terms and Conditions tick box. Your liberty may depend on it.

But OK, back to the present, and why I think you should use Foursquare or a similar service.  After our meal, I posted this “Tip” to The Sandpiper restaurant:

We might not have Yelp yet, but location-based services can go a long way towards enabling the crowd to make better decisions on anything from dining, to what running trails to try out, to which local plays to check out.  So go on, do it. Please. For parents everywhere who can’t afford a lousy night out.

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