Over the weekend, Yelp released an update to their popular iPhone app (which of course has always occupied a coveted and prominent place on my home screen). The big news is that they've implemented check-ins in the new app, a la Foursquare, Gowalla, and other location-based services. Relative to Foursquare and Gowalla, Yelp has an indisputable head-start in the local food & entertainment space in terms of number of active users. As Lawrence Coburn duly notes on Location Meme, Yelp check-ins on Twitter are already coming in at one every two minutes (less than two full days after the release of the app), versus one per second for Foursquare.
But for me the real question is whether a given social network's check-in service actually solves a problem. For Foursquare and Gowalla, I'm not sure it does. Those services treate check-ins like a game, with users on Foursquare competing for bragging rights by checking in to a given venue more than anyone else. The motivation behind Yelp's check-in service is a bit more compelling. According to TechCrunch:
It...adds a new layer of credibility to those who do write reviews because other users can now potentially see that these users have been to the place they are reviewing numerous times.
I really think this is key; I think the novelty of Foursquare and Gowalla will wear off over time, unless they can create more compelling reasons for people to check in. That's why I think that location-based services that focus on very specific niches, where checking-in and location-planning are essential to their needs, will be the ones that win in the end.
As for Foursquare and Gowalla, it will be very interesting to see how they react to this news in the coming weeks.
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