David Zax

A View from David Zax

Why Yelp Check-Ins for Apple Maps Make Sense

The anointed check-in apps haven’t captured the general public.

  • June 29, 2012

Bloomberg reports that Apple Maps–that awesome next-gen mapping application I’ve written about before–has chosen an unexpected partner for its in-app check-ins: Yelp. (It’s not the only way Apple’s getting cozier with Yelp, of late.) You probably mostly use Yelp for ideas of good restaurants to meet people at. But it also has a check-ins feature, a la Foursquare, since 2010.

Gizmodo says, with characteristic frankness, “it’s hard to imagine a dumber choice,” since “nobody uses” Yelp check-ins.

But here’s the thing–now, maybe people will.

The technorati sometimes tend to ignore how the general public actually uses technology. Foursquare may be the check-in app of choice among those in the know, but there are two important contextual bits of information to bear in mind here. First, if the experiences of myself and countless friends are any indication, Foursquare only has captured a portion of its 20 million registrants as active users. I pulled up the app a half-dozen times, didn’t see the point of it, and have rarely used it since downloading it a year ago. My story is hardly uncommon.

The other broader piece to consider here is that most people don’t use check-in services at all. Forrester Research, surveying 37,000 people last winter, found that only 2% of adults use check-in services. Most had never even heard of the idea.

Yelp, by contrast, is anything but niche; it has become one of what Paul Graham calls a “periodic table” website–something downright elemental to the internet. The newly public company now gets an average of some 70 million monthly unique visitors to its site. It has name recognition, broad user trust, an active community, and is supremely useful: I use it regularly, as do most reasonably tech-savvy people I know.

The utility of check-ins for the broader public is still up in question; otherwise, more than 2% of adults would be doing it. But the utility of maps and of business reviews is uncontested. By folding in check-ins with these two other canonized, elemental features of our digital lives, Apple makes it more likely that check-ins will receive broader popularity in the future.

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