Social network apps – why so popular?:

Check-in social network apps are growing in popularity. Learn more about friends, share tips about the places you’ve been and take advantage of discounts.
If you want to learn more about your city, location-based check-in applications have been growing in popularity over the last two years. If you’ve ever wondered why your Facebook feed sometimes has strange messages (like your college roommate has become mayor of Starbucks) or declarations of where they have been, you’ve probably seen the result of sharing through location-based check-in applications.

Why use them?

They’re another way to share information with friends, family or even the entire Internet. If you’re proud of being at the Washington monument, snap a photo and let people know.
You can discover things you never knew about your city. Many of the apps offer recommendations at either the place you checked in to (“try the veal!”) or highlight nearby businesses that may be of interest to you (“your friend Bill says the 210 Club has drink specials on Thursdays”).

You can save money. Many businesses are offering discounts and incentives to customers who check in with one of the major applications. To the business, the chance that you might either frequent their establishment for a discount or advertise to friends and family that you’re there through the sharing mechanism makes it worth it for them.

But maybe you already know all about the apps and you just want to know which one to use. Which location-based check-in application you use should depend greatly on where you are and what the local population uses the most. You’re looking for a good mix of users (like you!) to get recommendations from and businesses that offer check-in deals, discounts or other incentives.

Foursquare

Mobile Social Networking If you’re unsure of which to download, Foursquare is the safest bet with its 7.5 million users, the largest in the check-in app category. Foursquare allows users to check in to a location and leave tips for others.

If you’re close to a location where a friend has left a tip (or a friend is currently checked in), you’ll see it on your phone and can make the decision to see what they’ve had to say or join them. There are also to-do lists that you can check off, which are a great way to explore your city.

Facebook Places

Facebook Places is a good way to ease into the check-in game. Most people who are interested in social networking programs already have Facebook accounts, so there’s no need to register for a separate service. In fact, you may already have the means to start checking in right now if you have Facebook on your mobile phone.

Facebook Places ties check-ins to businesses that have a Facebook page. Check-ins can be done at a business that doesn’t have a page but if they don’t have a page, it’s unlikely they care enough about Facebook to offer discounts to users. Few local businesses have gotten on board with offering discounts via Facebook Places (they probably prefer the smaller client base of the other applications) and Facebook Places doesn’t offer any good ways to explore nearby businesses that may be of interest.

Gowalla

Gowalla is often revered for its excellent interface and seamless integration with other mobile social networking apps like Facebook, Twitter and even the aforementioned Foursquare. These features make it popular in technology-loving cities like Austin, Texas and Seattle, Wash.

The application makes it easy to share photos, tips and lists of trips. However, with only 600,000 users, it’s unlikely that the application will be helpful in either learning more about your city or unlocking discounts if you don’t live in a big, hip city. Read one research about mobile app here smallbiztrends.com.

SCVGR

SCVGR is more game oriented that the other check-in apps, which may account for the more than 1 million users who are signed up. The application uses a points system to encourage users to leave tips and photos about their travels. Interaction with the application (and with other people who use the app) are called “challenges.”

Some businesses offer discounts to those that check in, but more often, discounts are tied to performing a certain number of challenges at the establishment and earning a requisite amount of points. This can encourage users to trick the system, causing the app to be less helpful than it could be. Use only if businesses in your area have discounts worth pursing through SCVGR.

For a list of other popular, innovative social networking platforms – including for foodies, photography buffs and people keeping up with a busy online social life – see Social Networking Applications for the iPhone. Remember, sharing on social networks is fun and easy on the Apple or Verizon iPhone if you take the time to find the right social networking tool.