Early last year, “checking in” was the cool new craze. No visit to your favorite tech news site could be had without getting buried in an avalanche of articles about Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, BriteKite or a myriad other startups. The big guys quickly followed suit: Yelp introduced “Check-Ins” while Facebook launched “Places” and most recently, Google Latitude updated to incorporate check-ins and check-outs. But here’s the thing: the trends aren’t actually that good.
Let’s look at Foursquare and Facebook. First, there’s no doubt Foursquare is throwing off some impressive numbers (e.g. the company’s recent announcement of 8.5 million users). It typically announces total, rather than active, users and that number is roughly growing linearly at present. Total users, by definition, of course, only goes up – yet according to compete.com, Web traffic has declined for five consecutive months, amounting to a 50% reduction in traffic over that period. And while traffic isn’t the best indicator of usage, Web visits should be just as likely now as five months ago, and it’s certainly not a positive sign of rapid growth in usage.