Arrivals for Foursquare
Nov 23, 2011
Arrivals is a simple list of where your foursquare friends currently are. It is intended to be displayed on a spare second screen such as a tablet or phone without intrusively drawing attention.
Arrivals is based on a concept by Toby Barnes. Where's Dad is a small glanceable display built for Toby's son for use on a spare old iPhone. Whilst Toby is travelling his son asks him during phone calls where he currently is. This display constantly shows his current location, city and country based on his foursquare checkins. A simple piece of situated software with an user base of one person. See Toby's blog for more details of his thinking behind it.
Arrivals is a generalised version of this, using the same style but showing your friends locations instead.
There are many different ways to use foursquare. I check-in mainly to keep a personal log of where I've been. I rarely use it to view where my friends are. I find the iPhone push notifications too intrusive whilst I only launch the app to check in.
This leaves my usage unbalanced, friends are broadcasting but I'm not listening. I'm more likely to notice a friend is nearby from twitter or instagram than from foursquare.
Arrivals fixes this by making a screen unobtrusive enough to be left open. The screen only updates when a location changes. The animated flicker in the corner of the eye draws the attention but does not interrupt. As a result it gives a constant awareness of location and daily rhythms, with a cascade of checkins at lunchtime and after work.
One difficulty in creating Arrivals is the balance between a public display on a second screen visible to all showing information that is private and only intended for foursquare friends.
I've tried to solve this by showing the minimum amount of information on the screen. No timestamp, no city or country of venue and no name of the person checking in. To view any of this information one must use the foursquare website or mobile app. As a compromise the profile picture of the person checking in is shown on the display, as otherwise one needs to open foursquare far too frequently just to see who is where. The lack of a timestamp allows deniability in the case of recognition.
Animation is provided using CSS3 transforms and only happens when a location changes. An unintended effect of this is that some new users sit and intently watch the Arrivals display waiting for a checkin as they wish to see the flip animation.
The hardest part of designing a glanceable is restraint. It's technically very easy to add extra information and features to the display. Adding the airport code of the nearest city to a checkin, colour coding the text with the Dopplr city colour, clicking a checking to flip it over and show details. Each feature addition would detract from the purpose, to do less than the existing sites & apps.
Perhaps next time I should make a physical display device instead. It's easier to resist scope creep in atoms than in bits.