Image via CrunchBaseAs an extension to the internet based social networking sites that let you play games, socialise, organise events and stalk each others photographs, there are now a number of mobile based add-ons that let you inform your friends/stalkers of where you are every minute of the day.
Why on earth would you want to do this ? Well, the most popular of the location based social networking apps, the Texas based Gowalla and the NY created Foursquare are providing a business model whereby the owner of a business frequented by Gowalla or Foursquare users can provide incentives to regular customers. Walk into the bar, hold up your mobile phone to the barman and show him that you've been in the place 5 times this month and he gives you a free pint if you buy a sandwich, that sort of thing. Slightly less popular at the moment is a third similar app, Brightkite, which works on similar principles.
The social location apps are also a kind of game. On Foursquare you can gain badges and become the 'mayor' of a place or venue by becoming its most regular visitor, on Gowalla you collect internet badges and collect items in your virtual rucksack. For reasons I can't quite fathom, I have some Gowalla badges, a set of football studs, a frozen Margarita, a scarf and a yellow cycling helmet, I'm not entirely sure what use these are.
When you are on a night out, drinking in Red Bar, you could check your 4S, Go, BK app and discover that Ben, whom you havn't seen for ages, is just around the corner in Blue Bar having a beer with Johnny and Fred, and 5 other 4S users who you don't know, but you might get to know if you use Bump.
People being people, the aims of all the social location apps have been mildly subverted, if you have Foursquare active when at Burley-In-Wharfedale rail station you will see a venue named My Bedroom, along with the address of said bedroom. Just out of badness, you could, if you were a bit mischievous, check in at that person's boudoir every time you pass by on a train.
If you have become a complete geek and are obsessed with logging your every movement on all of the social locators, then it would be handy to just check in at each place once rather than three or four times, in which case you need Footfeed which will ink up your Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Brightkite and Gowalla accounts and allow one check in across all the sites. I'm not sure that this is working perfectly at the moment, the app says that Gowalla is linked up, but I can't see any check-ins there.
All of the social locators have started out in the USA, and Foursquare has around 2 million users there, but they are gaining in popularity in the UK and Europe after a slow start.
There are also various genre specific social locators, Corkbin allows you post details of what wine you are drinking, Fiddme does the same for meals, Geocaching is where people leave hidden presents and you can search for them with GPS and Centrl appears at first glance to do a similar job to 4S, Gowalla and BK.