Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Location based services and Libraries - Tweets & Foursquare

Sorry for the lack of updates, but I was busy playing with my brand new IPhone 3GS. As this is my very first smartphone you can understand how excited I was with it.

But of all the things you could do with a smartphone, perhaps the feature I was most interested in was in location based services and location based games.   Basically this involve services that take into account your current location (via GPS or some kind of triangulation of your position) to customize your experience. The simplest example would be a service that determined your location and showed you the closest ATM, Library etc.

Given that your smart phone is aware of its location, any user content created e.g, photos, tweets, emails can be geo-tagged as well with it's geographical co-ordinates and this allows an additional level of filtering.

There are many many ways I can think libraries could use this to enhance library services, but rather than go on some wild list of ideas, let me just talk about two simple ideas that are doable right now.

Currently many libraries do some sort of environment scanning of Tweets that mention their library, using either a Twitter client like Tweetdeck to achieve real-time scanning, or some other more passive method of scanning (e.g. RSS feeds of Twitter searches).

In my institution it's logical to scan for either NUS Library (or Libraries), or mentions of LINC (our name for our library catalogue), NUS books, NUS databases, NUS Librarian etc. The main problem here of course is the user might omit mention of NUS, and just tweet for instant "The library catalogue is down", or "I'm so frustrated I can't find the book I want in the library" .

Normally there is no way to tell if such Tweets come from your users since the name of the library is not mentioned. But an interesting idea is to scan for such tweets tagged with a geo-location of  say within a 1 km radius, tweets like that, that mention "library", would most certainly be referring to your library!

You can use the Twitter advanced search options to filter for such Tweets. In fact you can do a direct search using the NEAR and WITHIN operator to directly search for such Tweets.

Don't know what longitude and latitude your library is at? Just search for the place on google maps, then use this handy hack to find the co-ordinates . This of course works even if you don't have any geo-aware device.

TweetDeck (my favourite Twitter Desktop Client) in theory allows you to enter search queries exactly as you do for Twitter search, but while this works for the Boolean operators, the last I checked it doesn't work for the NEAR and WITHIN operators, at least not for the desktop versions. I haven't tried to see if other Twitter clients have the same drawback, but if you don't need real-time alerts, you can just run the Twitter search and put the RSS feed into your Feed reader.

My second wild idea involves the use of location based games to promote library services. While there have being services like BrightKite, Loopt but the current location-based service of choice is Foursquare.

It's possibly hyperbole but Mashable even calls Foursquare "next year's Twitter" , noting that the same early adopters using Twitter 3 years ago are now the same people who are gushing over Foursquare.

What is Foursquare? Essentially it's a location-based social network but with competition elements built in. You "check-in" at different locations,  unlock badges, post "to-do" and "tips" at different locations and you can see other Foursquare users who have checked-in at the same location recently.

If a location doesn't exist, you can create the location, which can be interesting as you can create locations like "Information Desk", "Rare book room", "Fiction section" etc, then leave "tips" or "to-do" lists there. A cute but probably useless idea is to set up a location for information desk and for each librarian to check in at the information desk, as they start their duty! 

It's a social network, so you can choose to have your check-ins Tweeted or sent to your friends on  Foursquare.

If you "check-in" a sufficient amount of times at a certain place, you become "Mayor" of the place (this resets every week and everyone starts on level terms again at the beginning of the week).  Besides bragging rights, some businesses have partnered with Foursquare to provide discounts and promotions to Mayors of their location. 

Foursquare  works with IPhone, Android and various smart phones. See Readwrtiteweb's description of the service here.

Okay here's the interesting question are people using Foursquare to check-in to libraries? The answer appears to be yes at least for the major libraries and people are leaving tips and to-do lists. Here's the New York Public Library - Main Branch FourSquare page. I believe the figures shown "484" and "293" are for a week as the statistics are reset every week. Not too shabby!

Here's the Library of Congress Foursquare page

But is there any library that rewards mayorship of a library location?

It seems like  the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) might be the first to do this.

Cecily Walker of VPL, blogged here that the idea was first suggested by a patron here.

The reward suggested here for Mayorship was pretty minor i.e the right to do a recommendation.

Throw up a sign/whiteboard somewhere in the branches that says, for example, “The Mayor of the Central Branch, Dave B., recommends The World According to Garp by John Irving”"

In a later blog post Cecily posted that Vancouver Public Library has just launched a Foursquare promotion".

Unfortunately the link appears to be broken, though you can still see a Google cache of the page, which basically announces a short term Foursquare competition to be mayor that was held between Dec 4- 11.

The winner gets the opportunity to review 3 books, CDs which will appear on the front page of

Foursquare is the front runner in a very new industry and it's unclear if it will ultimately triumph,  as the 800 pound gorillas such as Google (with their Google Latitude service)  and the likes of Twitter and Facebook - the world's most popular network have not yet began to flex their muscle in this Arena, so perhaps rushing to embrace Foursquare could be premature. 

Does your library appear in Foursquare? What tips and "to-dos" have your patrons added? Do note that Foursquare is currently available only in a limited number of cities around the world.

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