Freshly Baked @Foursquare Ideas - Check into transporation, not just locations

Freshly Baked Foursquare Ideas - Part I Currently, Foursquare allows users to check into one location at a time. A local cafe. A new kitsch bar. A grubby metro station.

But what if Foursquare supported check ins to more than just locations? What if Foursquare supported check ins to major modes of transportation. A flight. A cruise liner. An interstate train.

What I find interesting about this idea is that it opens up a new dimension to Foursquare. No longer are you bound to just one location at any one point in time. By checking into a major mode of transportation, you're now interacting with an object that ties multiple locations together  - your origin and your destination. I think this could have major business implications as it could enable Foursquare to widen its service offerings in the future to both the consumer and business markets.

Let's look at checking into major modes of transportation as an example. Users are already doing this - they're just treating it as another legitimate location. How many times have you seen some flight/cruise/train code, an AA33, a QF108 or an OA815 (only if you're in LAX), already entered in Foursquare? Whilst confusing at times (surely checking into the airport tarmac isn't legitimate) it does confirm one thing: people are already familiar with checking into modes of transportation. From a UX perspective, it's somewhat reassuring to know that this behaviour is already part of a user's mental model of Foursquare.

My own personal user journey for this use case would look like:

  1. I'm at JFK and I check into flight AA33.
  2. Foursquare confirms this is the JFK -> LAX bound flight.
  3. I am able to read up on LAX and am presented with useful data about my flight (e.g. whether it is on time or delayed, departure gate, etc.) and my destination location: LAX. In this case, I would expect to be presented with data such as the location of airline lounges, transfer gates, customs offices, rest rooms. I may even be presented with the different forms of local transport (train/bus/cab) and estimated rates (e.g. the cab fare from LAX to Downtown LA). And all this occurs in addition to the tips functionality that exists on the current Foursquare platform. Imagine how powerful and relevant this would be for travellers!
  4. LAX is 'cached' on a quick-access list, so when I land and get mobile coverage, it immediately pops up for a rapid fire check in.

In this simple example, it is clear that the user group that is benefitting is the consumer group. They're benefitting from the useful and relevant data...and this occurs because we've shifted focus from a single location to an object (a mode of transportation) that ties multiple locations together simultaneously.

But what about the business group? I can feel people itching to know how this service could be monetised. I think this service is perfectly aligned with the travel guide industry - and if the recent Guardian article on Foursquare is anything to go by, it appears that Foursquare is perfectly lined up to enter this particular industry. But rather than competing against the travel guide giants, I'd recommend partnering with them (at least for the short term). Lonely Planet (@lonelyplanet) is infamous for it's PDF guides of cities, and it's pre-planned sight-seeing routes. Foursquare could be leveraged as a distribution network for Lonely Planet.

Just imagine this: Foursquare confirms that flight AA33 is bound for Los Angeles. You've never been to LA before, so Foursquare offers a $10 mobile guide to Los Angeles with all of the travel hot spots laid out on the map within the native Foursquare mobile app. Pretty neat huh? Foursquare could charge a retainer fee for being the distribution network and a percentage cut of every transaction made. Obviously, issues will have to be ironed out with pushing travel guides only when its relevant (i.e. only when users are travelling for holidays). This is just one minor example of a new revenue stream for Foursquare just by focusing not on a single location, but an object (a mode of transportation) that links multiple locations together simultaneously.

I've calculated that since the start of 2010, I've averaged at least one flight a week with business. I also know I've  personally added my weekly flights as locations on Foursquare (for both points and mayorship purposes). Crowley (@dens), please don't hate. I've seen other commuters check into my faux-locations too! But if randoms and I are checking into these faux locations...doesn't this mean something?

So readers, I'd be keen on hearing your thoughts. Do you think this functionality would be useful? What other travel-related functionality would you like to see on Foursquare? Drop me a comment below with your opinions!