May 09

What does ‘where you go’ say about ‘who you are’?

Our mobile phones are tracking where we go, all day, every day, whether we like it or not. Right now, they’re tracking varying degrees of accuracy, from a radius measured in miles, to within a block. With services like Latitude, Loopt and Brightkite, our location is slowly becoming more public. It’s plausible that in the not too distant future, not exposing our location to others will be a social stigma equivalent to not carrying a mobile phone in today’s society. An increasingly important question will be as our aggregated locations become known and presented together, how does that impact the identities that we carefully craft online?

City level location
Reveals insights about travel: commuting patterns, holidays.

Today: 7.30                                Today 10.00

Block/Street level location
Reveals insights about favoured neighbourhoods, likely activities.

Last Saturday 5pm. Surfing?        Last Sunday 2pm. Shopping?

What about Saturday night, 10pm, the Mission district in SF, or Shoreditch in London? What does that say about your lifestyle? You’re in your thirties but still like to party? Do you want your younger brother to see this aspect of your identity? What about your boss?

Business level location
Reveals insights about deep personal preferences and attitudes.

The point here is not about the potential of location based advertising. That issue is covered elsewhere. The point is how displaying this type of information on people’s online profiles will profoundly impact their behaviour. Will I stop going to certain locations to ensure it doesn’t show up on my profile? Or more likely, will I start going to certain places to craft aspects of my online identity?

“Look how cool I am I went to Bar [name] on Sat night and I don’t even have to brag about it in my status update for you to know about it. In fact I don’t even have to say anything.”

What does it say about me that I went to Urban Outfitters and the Puma store? Who do I want to see this information? Will I filter different locations for different audiences?