Food, friends and fun with geolocation

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Contrary to popular belief, that GPS-enabled smartphone in your pocket isn’t as nefarious as it might seem. Instead, Carolyn Turgeon shows you a bevy of apps that can help you find your friends, save your money and explore the city in style

Catching up & keeping up

GPS these days isn’t just for navigation; applications like Foursquare, Gowalla, and now Facebook Places allow you to “check-in” to pubs, parties and other popular places via your mobile phone.

Each app can pinpoint your approximate location using satellite coordinates, letting other users know what building, store or restaurant you’re currently in. Not only will it give your friends insight into your whereabouts, but you can leave comments for future or nearby visitors too.

Graeme Klim, a first-year aerospace engineer, makes regular use of the “Here Now” feature in Facebook Places ( to see if other friends and fellow students have checked-in at nearby venues as well.

“You never know who else will be there with you,” said Klim, who enjoys the random run-ins with friends during his travels.

Insider information and guided discovery

Thanks to the wonder of modern technology it’s easy to learn about a venue before even setting foot inside. Foursquare and Gowalla are particularly useful for offering access to advice from other travellers, including what to hit, what to miss, and other inside scoops.

After all, only the most frequent of visitors can tell you about unlisted menu items, nightly events, sales or giveaways. Some stores and businesses may even list these tips themselves as special deals for tech-savvy customers.

More importantly, both apps are incredibly useful for students travellers in places both near and far. Gowalla ( lets users “explore the world” by following specially annotated directions, but also offers guided walking tours from sponsors like National Geographic, USA Today, and CNN — particularly handy for the frequent traveller, assuming you don’t mind paying those outrageous roaming charges in foreign locales.

But that’s not to say there aren’t uses closer to home. The National Post used Foursquare during Nuit Blanche to recommend popular displays. Meanwhile, the service was incredibly useful during the Toronto International Film Festival where users recommended decent films and venues throughout the week-long event. Watch for more integration during future big events.

Track your trends and travels

All those check-ins aren’t for nothing, however — over time, you create a virtual history of all your travels and activities. And while that might seem like a stalker’s dream to some, you can learn a thing or two from those day-to-day trends.

Forget where you found that great pizza last week? All it takes is a quick glance into your Gowalla, Foursquare or Facebook history to rediscover where you’ve been and who you were with.

“It’s kind of cool seeing where your friends have been and what they’ve been up to,” says Bree Lawrence, a first-year theatre production student. “My parents seem to enjoy seeing what I’m doing and where I am.”

Real world awards

Who says there are no real-world benefits to social networking? Foursquare awards points and badges for each new visit, and the most frequent visitor is declared Mayor.

The Mayor can get discounts and rewards at certain participating venues, with more coming to Canada each month. For example, Starbucks is well known for giving their mayors $1 discounts off a drink of choice.

But there’s more. During October, clothing chain Bluenotes offered a 15% discount to anyone who checked in.

Even local outlets have gotten involved, with coffee shop La Merceria and sex shop Come As You Are offering discounts for frequent customers.

Photo: Matthew Braga

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