Why Check-Ins Work So Well

Check-ins. Oh. My. God.

Who could have predicted a few years ago that they would have taken off like they did? Who would have thought that people could be so utterly hooked on something so seemingly inane? Something so easily imagined to become a 1984-esque surveillance method?

A few people, apparently.

Facebook. Foursquare. Instagram. Yelp. Gowalla. Loopt. With. GetGlue. Foodspotting.

So many apps that are created around the sole concept of checking in at a location or clocking an event. It’s so simple, and yet people areobsessed with it.

Bill Hartnett over at Method Shop describes the extent of his love affair with the check-in:

“Ok, I admit it. I’m slightly obsessed with Foursquare. Yes, I have checked in everywhere and anywhere, including gas stations and park statues, for the past 2.5 years. Yes, I spent an entire weekend in 2010 on a quest for badges (I even scored the Pee-Wee Herman badge). I even laugh at dirty Foursquare jokes. I can’t help it.  Right away I loved the game mechanics and the perfect combination of curation, discovery and random serendipity of the location based app. I want each Foursquare update to give me better tools to order the best dish on the menu, get the free WiFi password and help me discover the secrets of every new neighborhood.”

Boy oh boy. That’s some serious infatuation. So what’s it all about? Deep down, what drives it? I’ve got a couple of ideas.


We all love to be the best. Whether we’ve actually achieved something or not, we like to feel like we have. So even if we’re just the laziest sod out and only ever go to one venue, we can dominate all the other lazy sods and feel great about it.


I know, I know, such a buzzword. But it’s a buzzword for a reason. People love games. If a process is transformed into a game, it’s so much easier to engage with, and it switches on the competitive side of human nature. So much dopamine flying around!

Social intertwining:

We’re not so great at connecting with each other anymore. Everyone’s glued to their iPhone or hunched over their desk 18 hours a day. So on the odd occasion we surface for air, we want to make sure we connect with people we care about and have a fun experience with them. Competitive check-ins make this easy.