Location is the new content.
Or, so would nearly every viral iPhone and web app I have seen recently have you believe. From becoming mayor of Café Macchiato, to allowing everyone to know where you are in Google Latitude, or even just checking in at any of the different locations found on Gowalla; Location has become so important to the fabric of the mobile web that it has found a way to become content. It has started showing up in status messages and blog posts. It has created its own platforms for sharing. Location has become so content heavy that pictures and live streaming of your location is easy for anyone who cares to share the information. It has become an automatic part of every day life for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of users.
So, why do I say “pretending” if so many people find this information engaging enough to want to “check in” multiple times an hour as they bar hop? I believe that location in and of itself is useful, even playful, but it is not a substitute for discussion, creation or collaboration. Location is now being used as a means to simultaneously advertise to you and through your own posts about places you go, advertise through you. Every time you check in at a Starbucks, you are advertising that you are there, and every time that you are near a Starbucks, you can become a target for an online coupon. This cycle doesn’t exactly sound like you are able to ask the right questions.
On Twitter, you are able to ping specific people about what is going on and where they are, but more importantly, you are able to contextualize the content in any way at all. You can be devoid of location and still have something to say. While your location matters, it isn’t who you are or what value you have. In a blog post, you can make sweeping accusations or link to an enormous amount of information and do high-minded research (or, low-brow comedy). The ability to create your own set of rules for your own content is stunted when everything becomes about where you happen to be standing when you check in.
I get why location is so attractive. It is so easy to produce a feed from. It is easy to follow someone (virtually) and then somewhat voyeuristically, meet up with them. The “content” that comes from location-based services is going to become a massive amount of our daily diet of information. Yet, how is that going to change the way that we fundamentally ask questions or interact with other human beings. Knowing that you exist somewhere in a given time and space may make me feel a bit more connected, especially if I have existed in that exact time and space previously. However, if that is the only connection I am making, if there is no probing deeper, the way you might with a blog post or collaborating in an EtherPad, then I’m not sure that it qualifies at content worthy of our time.
That is not to say that Location can’t be a part of the equation. And, perhaps I give blogs a little too much credit for being about thinking and belief, but I just don’t want to see our rich connected world become a series of tweets about having a great sandwich in a local restaurant. If that is where we are headed, everyone who told us we were crazy to join up in the first place will have been right.