Checking-In: Is this fun?

posted in Tech on Aug 28, 2010

This year has marked the rise of services that allow users to “check-in,” or in other words, “update the internet about where they are.” The two big ones on the scene are Foursquare and Gowalla, both focusing on checking-in to shops around town, gaining points for doing so, and possibly getting some discounts for repeat business.

Recently, I have taken up a third, lesser known service called SCVNGR. I have been using it for a couple of weeks, but up until this point I have yet to figure out if I am actually having fun.

I chose SCVNGR over these other services because you actually get to do more things than the very bland “I’m here!” announcements that the others seem to favor. It’s basically a game, and I like games. There is the “check-in” option, for sure, but SCVNGR’s root mechanic revolves around “challenges” that give you points. For example, at the bank that’s right across the street from my place there are five challenges that you can do ranging from simply checking-in to taking a picture “of your best boring banker face.” All of these challenges garner points, and with those points you can show your friends how better you are at going outside and doing things.

To harken back to some TED talks I wrote about recently, a developer for SCVNGR spoke about the “game layer” that is increasingly settling itself in our lives. It’s pretty interesting:

So you go to places and you check-in, and depending on the service that you use you could possibly see some discounts or coupons. And that’s all fun. Or is it? I have been struggling with the answer to that question since I have been playing this game. Currently SCVNGR – at least in my area – has very few incentives other than the game itself; not much in the way of coupons and the like. I know they’re working on it and I know that takes time, so I will not pan the service in that regard as it continues to grow. But with that aside, I still feel as though I don’t always glean enjoyment from the whole process, and I am fairly certain that’s a tell on me rather than what is offered.

I have narrowed the culprit down to one thing that defines the level of enjoyment of check-in services like these: friends. More specifically, friends who also play the same game as you. You would think this notion would be one of unspeakable simplicity (and it is), but it wasn’t in the forefront of my mind when starting to play. I simply wanted to try it out. Turns out your impetus to take pictures of places or write snarky stories about your visit are drastically lowered when you are the only one seeing them. This is doubly true for SCVNGR that has multiple things to do at any given location.

So to answer the posed question, yes, I do think these type of applications are fun, and they are definitely an interesting way to get you up and off your butt. Over the next year when more businesses jump on board and offer more discounts, you’ll be hearing way more about these services. I think I just need to get some more friends to play so it will turn into a fun, social game.

By the way, a link to my sweet-ass SCVNGR profile is over to your left.