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Beacon blog: A matter of place

Last week, the location wars got serious. The same day that Foursquare was featured in the New York Times Fashion & Style section, Facebook launched its Places application.

For those unfamiliar, in short, Foursquare and Facebook Places are both applications that allow you to "check in" to locations as you visit them, letting your friends know where you are and leaving tips and comments as you go. Foursquare also adds a level of competition, giving out badges for certain types of check-in activity and awarding place-based mayorships when you check in somewhere multiple times within a certain time frame.

Some people find this extremely creepy, others find this extremely fun. I find it another example of how people tend to leave common sense at the door when it comes to the internet. I also find it extremely fun. (I am currently the mayor of seven places, including Sheldon Concert Hall, West County Volvo-Saab and the Edwardsville Schnucks -- those are my favorite mayorships, by far).

Just because I find it fun doesn't mean I don't get why people are creeped out by all of this checking in, which some have called "forced cyber-stalking." Really, all these applications are doing is adding a gaming, social and choice element to what our cellphones, credit card purchases, GPS devices, alarm services and loyalty cards already tell Big Brother about us on a daily basis. Foursquare and Facebook get the real benefit, of course, being able to target advertising and messaging to us based on where we are -- literally and figuratively.

All of these applications use a protocol called geo-tagging to indicate location. As the Beacon builds its infrastructure over the next year, we'll be using geo-tagging and looking at how to bring an element of "place" to in-depth news and information -- not something you usually equate with "fun," but we're going to give it our best shot.

As you navigate our region, what would you find useful at the intersection of place, news and your life?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.