Mar 26 AT 3:43 PM Clark Wimberly 12 Comments

One Check.in to rule them all? Almost…

checkin

While their usefulness is often debated, no one can deny that location-based check-in services are the new hotness. During SXSW here in Austin it was more apparent than ever. Every venue I visited I was greeted by a large crowd of geeks standing around staring at their phones. Checking in, asking if there was a specific check-in for the party, telling someone else they should be checking in- it was insanity.

Add an account

The sheer buzz surrounding check-ins has everyone and their mother hopping into the location pool. There are a dozen (probably more) location-based micro-status updating apps to choose from and some users are starting to suffer from check-in fatigue. Granted, it’s a silly term, but it highlights a real problem. There are just so many apps and networks to update that a simple concept like checking in can balloon into a multi-app tango requiring several minutes of your time.

One app looking to simplify things is Check.in. With a single web app (read: cross platform) a user can check into multiple services (right now just Brightkite, Foursquare and Gowalla) simultaneously. The service is currently in closed beta but you can visit the Check.in site to sign up for an invite.

Check.in was nice enough to sneak me into the beta and let me poke around some. The service hasn’t been extensively tested on Android so consider everything I say here subject to change.

In pursuit of a quicker check-in, the user can add multiple third-party accounts under a single Check.in profile. Check.in will then determine the user’s location and present a list of venues (pulled from the third-party services) to select from. With a single click the service can check-in to all the linked accounts at once (even including an optional status message).

Where are you again?

While the concept is amazing, the actual implementation leaves a bit to be desired. When trying to check-in to multiple accounts, Check.in seems to have a little trouble aligning the varying venue data from each service. When the venue has the exact same name from service to service, you’ll only have to select from one list. But if, for example, Foursquare has a location listed as the Main St Pub and Gowalla has it as Main Street Pub, Check.in will make you select it from a list twice (once for each service).

Having to select from multiple lists effectively defeats the purpose of having one app handle all your check-ins. The good news is Check.in is aware of the dilemma. When a repeat selection is required, the service learns from the user selection and tries to pair up the locations for future use. The bad news is a repeat selection actually allows you to check-in to two completely different locations on two separate services at the same time.

Another downer is the lack of full two-way communication between the services. You’d never know if you found an item in Gowalla or if you’d gained some Foursquare badge in the process of your check-in. In fact, you might not even know if your check-in was successful. A few times Check.in would appear to allow me to check-in somewhere I knew Gowalla itself would not. I’d still get a You’re Checked In! message in Check.in, but the actual act would never make it back to Gowalla.

For all my complaints, it’s still a pretty impressive little app (which is still in beta). If Check.in can straighten out some of the quirks arising from mashing services (and their data sets) together it could end up being mighty handy. As Check.in stands now it’s just an extremely cool proof of concept.

Check out the screens below for more Check.in:

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Clark is a developer living in Austin, Texas. He runs ClarkLab, a small web firm with his wife, Angie. He's a big fan of usability, standards, and clean design.

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