Mobile check-in technology is a curious beast. Or, more specifically, it is a prying, snooping and interfering beast with night vision goggles, and a fantastic sense of direction. Like some kind of intrusive virtual paparazzi, it is ostensibly a privacy-eroding feature, setting the precedent for its image-based big brother Google Earth (giving the question “Where on earth have you been?” an altogether more insidious and direct meaning). Displaying a user’s “Dear Diary” posts with startling accuracy, check-in technology is part-Private Investigator, part-Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, with a little dose of a wilderness explorer thrown in for good measure. But it is not all bad, surely?
As a form of social-life curriculum vitae, it provides friends and family with an intriguing document of your life experiences as they develop. It allows you to share and network your status, location, mood, current activity and favoured curry house or beauty spot. The result is a chronological patchwork quilt of your most memorable incidents and events. Indeed, how our history might have been shaped differently had mobile check-in technology been available for the twentieth century’s most iconic and unforgettable events. “Anne Frank is at Prinsengracht 263-265, Amsterdam, Netherlands;” “The Beatles have just checked in at The Cavern;” “Bill Clinton is at the Oval Office–with Monica Lewinsky.” “Lord Lucan is at…” ah, internet connection temporarily lost. Never mind.
Staving off competition from other check-in services GetGlue, Google Latitude, the short-lived Brightkite, Facebook Places (announced in August 2010 and then discontinued a year later) and Gowalla (which closed in March 2012), U.S. company Foursquare currently leads the way in location-based technologies. Launched in March 2009 by Dennis Crowley (who also founded Google Latitude’s SMS-based precursor Dodgeball) and Naveen Selvadurai, Foursquare is a social networking platform that uses familiar GPS hardware across mobile devices and smartphones (Blackberry, iPhone, Android) to accurately track and convey the user’s location in real-time, allowing them to post their geographical location via Facebook or Twitter to “make the most of where they are”. With over twenty million registered users, and a recent glossy redesign in June 2012, Foursquare continues to put the style back into lifestyle (while many TV stylists seem intent on taking it out…). The simple premise of “you just being somewhere” has never felt so darn creative.
The revelation from envisionIP that the Japanese social networking company ImaHima may own the patent(s) to such location-determining technology has the potential to throw whopping great check-in spanner into the social media works. ImaHima, translated as “Are you free now?” demonstrate a priority on check-ins around December 14th 1999, a time in which “social networking and mobile smartphones,” as Envision IP’s have findings suggested, “were in their infancy”. Among the key facts and figures involved include Patent No. US 7,822,823 originally filed in late 1999, which specifies the communication of future and current activity between mobile Internet devices. Another is US 8,005,911, which seems to anticipate what Envision IP calls the “sharing [of] information between online users based on their social relationship”, a statement which one could almost envisage adorning a twenty-foot high crest at Facebook’s California HQ.
If the patents contained within ImaHima’s portfolio prove to be genuine, then there might just be more sides to this Foursquare malarkey that meets the eye, and tremors felt under the lavish stones floors of Zuckerberg Towers. Although ImaHima have infiltrated Japanese mobile operators such as DoCoMo, JPhone and Softbank, and won several awards (most notably at Prix Ars Electronica back in 2001), they have yet to attain anything like the status of its competitors. Even Facebook got a movie. But ImaHima’s basic premise to provide a customised, location-based information service on mobile telecommunication platforms may prove to be the blueprint against which current location platforms can be mapped. The future of check-in alerts, pop-ups and updates–whether it is by a business wanting to get on the map, or an old friend just itching to tell the world that he is somewhere hotter than you–may come to embrace the inventions that started it all.
And after years in the social media wilderness, ImaHima, it would seem, have finally checked in.