by Al Sacco

Location-Based Social Services: A Thin Line Between Sharing and Spamming

Sep 06, 20114 mins
MobileSmall and Medium BusinessSmartphones

When it comes to location-based social-sharing services, sometimes not sharing is caring, according to's Al Sacco. Here's why.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about location-based services (LBS) like foursquare, Gowalla and the recently defunct Facebook Places. More specifically, the recent trend in LBS applications to expand “social sharing” capabilities has captured my attention. Basically, users can share their location “checkins” with people on an increasing number of additional social networks, Web services and applications–people who don’t necessary employ these LBS services themselves.

foursquare for BlackBerry App with Social Sharing Options
foursquare for BlackBerry App with Social Sharing Options

LBS is more and more becoming a popular topic. I recently wrote up a quick guide on LBS etiquette, in which I clearly stated my opinion that it really isn’t a good idea to blindly share location-checkins with all of your followers or “friends” on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Given this movement to enable LBS users to easily, and sometimes automatically, share their location-checkins with others who choose not to use LBS apps, I felt it pertinent to revisit the subject.

While extending location-sharing beyond the services and applications people use to “checkin”–the foursquares and Gowallas–may add value to users of these services, the extended functionality can actually annoy, frustrate and alienate non-users, who have likely chosen for a variety of reasons to otherwise avoid LBS.

Case in point: the foursquare for BlackBerry mobile application. Foursquare for BlackBerry recently got a significant update, due in no small part to RIM’s BBM Social platform, which lets application developers “connect” their software to RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) IM app, to share information, invite others to play games, downloads apps and much more.

Foursquare for BlackBerry users can now easily send their checkins not only to Twitter and Facebook, but also to BBM.

The fact is, however, sometimes not sharing is caring.

For example, I use BBM to communicate with my closest BlackBerry-toting friends, colleagues and family members, including one of my sisters. While walking to a restaurant for dinner the other night with said sister, she half-jokingly–I thought–informed me that she really didn’t want to know where I was at all times.

“What do you mean?” I said, forgetting that I had recently started to send my foursquare updates to BBM.

“Every time I go to check my BlackBerry [BBM] messages,” she said, “I see a list of 20 places you’ve been today. It’s annoying.”

I brushed her complaint off at the time, but the more I thought about it the more I realized she had a point. I long ago stopped regularly sending my foursquare updates to Twitter and Facebook, because I didn’t want to annoy my followers who choose not to use LBS. So why did I think it was okay to send all my checkins to BBM, simply because the feature was new and I have fewer BBM contacts than I do followers on social networks?

I now see the error of my ways, and I’ve stopped sending all of my foursquare checkins to BBM. But a few key lesson can be learned from this, I think, for LBS users and, perhaps more importantly, LBS-service- and application-developers.

First, to you LBS users: Respect your connections and do not simply send all of your LBS checkins to your social networks. Your followers and friends will thank you, I promise. I’m not saying you shouldn’t share any checkins at all, but it makes a lot more sense to only share the checkins that are noteworthy for some reason–like if you’re on vacation in New York and you’re visiting the Empire State Building for the first time, etc.

As for LBS service creators and application developers, please–please–build controls into your apps that let users pick and choose who specifically they want to share checkins with and when. And don’t design your application to just send checkins to a variety of external services by default.

I give foursquare’s BlackBerry developers credit for including features in their app that let users easily select the social networks and services they want to send checkins to–but I also wish the app didn’t send checkins to Twitter, Facebook and now, BBM, by default, so you have to “uncheck” those services whenever you choose not to share a checkin.


Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Al at