Google Latitude Integrates Check-Ins (Finally)

Google announced yesterday that its Latitude mobile social product will integrate place check-ins. Active first on Android (iPhone TBD), it includes the following features:

Notifications: Turn on check-in notifications in Latitude’s settings and get a notification to check in at a nearby place once you arrive. Never forget to check in again.

Automatic check-ins: Choose to automatically check in at specific places you designate, and you’ll be checked in when you’re there. You can talk to friends or finish your bagel without fumbling with your phone.

Check out: Once you leave, Latitude knows to automatically check you out of places so friends aren’t left guessing if you’re still there.

Among the first batch of competitors in this space, including Loopt, Latitude was built on pervasive location tracking. After Foursquare came along, the standard quickly shifted to active check-ins.

The benefits of check-ins include being able to communicate a real place rather than a lat/long reading or map pushpin. Those places often come with a certain amount of context that aids the social engagement that these products are built on. Check-ins are also more privacy-friendly.

From a monetization perspective, check-ins have also evolved into a sort of opt-in. A user raises his hand to say where he is and, by extension, what he is into. That last part has all kinds of social and commercial implications that are starting to be shown by Foursquare, Facebook, etc.

Now Google is getting into the check-in game — something we knew was coming sooner or later. Latitude, though it gets far less ink than Foursquare, has more active users (10m vs. 6m). The question is whether it will compete or slow Foursquare’s growth.

Google has dropped the ball with many social initiatives (buzz, wave, orkut), but it’s potential with Latitude check-ins lies in its ability to tie it to its other leading local products. That translates to check-in deals as part of the “workflow” of Places, Maps and Hotpot.

That’s exactly what it’s beginning to do. The check-in functionality (at least on Android), will be integrated into Places as well. That should boost the usage and awareness. Add in the potential deals element through Google’s forthcoming Offers platform, and it could be powerful.

It’s the same formula as Facebook Places/Deals and Foursquare. But here we’re talking about the ability to seed activity and reach that ever important network effect much quicker. And the ability for businesses to analyze check-in activity in their Google Places dashboard is attractive.

One question is how well it will be able to do the above: integrated places/map search with social check-ins. In other words, these are actions separated in time and space for the user. The answer may be that deal/offer redemption will tie the two together and ramp usage.

The feature list is also well devised to check in users automatically, or remind them to do so manually when they arrive somewhere. One thing is for sure: Things just got a whole lot more interesting in the LBS/deals/geosocial space.

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