Archive for the ‘ Technology ’ Category

What’s next for ‘check-in’ apps?

(CNN) — Seth Priebatsch was at a burrito joint in Boston recently when a message popped up on his smartphone from an app called SCVNGR.

If he opened the foil on the burrito ever so carefully and turned the wrapper into a piece of origami art — and if he uploaded a picture of his creation to the app, the note said, then he would earn points toward a free burrito.

Priebatsch thought: That might be fun.

“I made a really weak origami crane, because I’m no origami artist myself,” he said, but “it got me closer to unlocking a free burrito, which was cool.”

SCVNGR, which Priebatsch helped create, is one of the latest apps to build on top of the idea of a “check-in,” that emerging term some tech-savvy people use to describe the act of using a GPS-enabled smartphone to share their whereabouts with friends.

Increasingly, app developers are using existing location-based social networks — such as Foursquare, Gowalla and, most recently, Facebook Places — to create games, challenges, city guides and dating services.

It seems the “check-in” was just the beginning.

SCVNGR, for example, announced its integration with Facebook Places on Friday. That means people can use that free Android and iPhone app to complete challenges similar to Priebatsch’s origami experiment and share that information easily with friends on Facebook. People on SCVNGR (pronounced “scavenger”) also will be able to see the locations of their friends who use Facebook Places.

Users also can go onto the app and create their own challenges if they’ve earned enough points, Priebatsch said.

‘Check-in fatigue’

Other location-based apps seek to make the act of checking in easier.

Tim Sears said he developed the Future Checkin iPhone app, for example, to help people combat a phenomenon he calls “check-in fatigue.”

The app automatically checks users in through the Foursquare network when they go within a 300-meter radius of one of their favorite locations.

That’s a big help if you’re the kind of person who checks in all the time and gets sick of pulling your phone out of your pocket constantly to do so, he said. And it also may help cut down on the social awkwardness of checking in if you’re with friends who would rather you talk to them than stare at a phone.

“If I’m at my house and I know I’m going to be at P.F. Chang’s later to grab Chinese food, I could search for that place [on the app], hit ‘add to favorites’ and it has it on my favorites list at that point,” Sears said, “so when I get with in 300 meters of P.F. Chang’s it will automatically check me in and send me a notification message.”


An open-source group called geoloqi is trying to take that idea of an automated check-in radius even further.

The volunteer group of app developers, which is based in Portland, Oregon, is working on a website and app that will help trigger events if and when a person walks up to certain pre-set locations.

For example, you would be able to set the app to text you your shopping list when you went within a certain distance of your favorite grocery store.

Or, if you didn’t show up to work by 9 a.m., you could set the app automatically to e-mail your boss saying that you’re late, said Aaron Parecki, geoloqi’s founder.

“We’re calling these geonotes,” he said, “and these are location-based notes so you can leave yourself a note that is tied to a location and pops up when you’re there.”

The site and the app should be up and running in about a month, he said. Geoloqi won’t be a social network, exactly, but it could be integrated into Foursquare, Gowalla or other location-based networks, he said. The group has one new project up — it’s a Seattle, Washington-based website that can send you a text message, in real time, when a 911 call is placed within a certain radius of you.

Check-in guides

Other add-ons act more like guides to a city.

Foursquare has developed a number of innovative partnerships with corporations that want to advertise through the network, said Marshall Kirkpatrick, the lead writer at the tech blog ReadWriteWeb.

The Independent Film Channel, for example, launched a challenge for its viewers to review theaters, coffee shops and restaurants that exemplify the IFC brand, he said. The company picked its favorites, and people who follow IFC on Foursquare get notifications and reviews if they’re nearby.

Bravo, another TV channel, also has a similar integration with Foursquare. The channel’s pseudo stars, such as Lynne Curtin from “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” submit reviews of their favorite spots on the app.

Yelp, the restaurant and venue review site, also has added check-ins and is expected to integrate soon with Facebook Places. On the wackier side of things, an Android app called Pee*Free collected information from Foursquare users about public toilets to get you a rated guide to free, public commodes near you.

Finally, a website called Where Do You Go takes a person’s Foursquare check-ins and plots them on a heat map — giving you a good idea of which neighborhoods in your city you visit most often and which others you may want to explore.

Location games

Other developers are interested in turning the real world into a game.

Some are using check-ins to do so, although most of these appear to be in the earliest stages, said Brian Crecente, editor-in-chief at the gaming blog Kotaku.

A few games build on top of the Foursquare network. One, called Mayor War, encourages users of that app “to fight each other with virtual weapons in real locations.”

“Use eggs, wedgies, wet wellies and many more weapons to fight your friends and fellow mayors on Foursquare venues,” a description of that app says.

Another, called Mob Zombies, uses location as part of a zombie fighting game.


Other check-in-based apps try to save people money.

A app called shopkick, for example, is trying to combine some gamelike features with real-world shopping deals.

When you sign into the app, you’re shown a list of nearby retail stores. Some of those stores offer you deals if you check in from their location; others may give you a discount or points if you just walk in; and still others require you to complete some sort of challenge — like taking a photo of merchandise — before earning points.

Points in shopkick can be redeemed for gift cards and other prizes.

The app only works in certain cities for now, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, and Chicago, Illinois, according to the app’s website.

Further innovation

These apps may only be the beginning.

For developers to build on top of existing check-in apps, the owners of those apps must open their code for developers to tinker with.

Foursquare did this in November 2009, but others have only opened up recently or may do so in the near future. Gowalla, one of Foursquare’s direct competitors, opened its code up for developers this month.

Facebook Places announced it would let a group of select partners, including Foursquare, tinker with its code.

Facebook said it will open up its check-in code to everyone to write on top of in “coming months.”

That will give developers a chance to put new check-in-based apps out to Facebook’s 500 million users around the globe.

This doesn’t ensure the success of check-in-based apps, said Kirkpatrick, from ReadWriteWeb, but he said he hopes it will give this idea a boost.


How to create a ‘super password’

(CNN) — Say goodbye to those wimpy, eight-letter passwords.

The 12-character era of online security is upon us, according to a report published this week by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The researchers used clusters of graphics cards to crack eight-character passwords in less than two hours.

But when the researchers applied that same processing power to 12-character passwords, they found it would take 17,134 years to make them snap.

“The length of your password in some cases can dictate the vulnerability,” said Joshua Davis, a research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

It’s hard to say what will happen in the future, but for now, 12-character passwords should be the standard, said Richard Boyd, a senior research scientist who also worked on the project.

The researchers recommend 12-character passwords — as opposed to those with 11 or, say, 13 characters — because that number strikes a balance between “convenience and security.”

They assumed a sophisticated hacker might be able to try 1 trillion password combinations per second. In that scenario, it takes 180 years to crack an 11-character password, but there’s a big jump when you add just one more character — 17,134 years.

Passwords have gotten longer over time, and security experts are already recommending that people use full sentences as passwords.

Here’s one suggested password-sentence from Carnegie Mellon University:

“No, the capital of Wisconsin isn’t Cheeseopolis!”

Or maybe something that’s easier to remember, like this:

“I have two kids: Jack and Jill.”

Even though advances in cheap computing power are making long, complicated passwords a necessity, not all websites will accommodate them, Boyd said.

It’s best to use the longest and most complex password a site will allow, he said. For example, if a website will let you create a password with non-letter characters — like “@y;}v%W$\5\” — then you should do so.

There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but there are 95 letters and symbols on a standard keyboard. More characters means more permutations, and it soon becomes more difficult to for a computer to generate the correct password just by guessing.

Some websites allow for super-long passwords. The longest one Boyd has seen is at, a financial site that lets users create 32-character passwords.

On a Microsoft website devoted to password security, the tech giant tells the password-creating public not to use real words or logical combinations of letters. That keeps you safer from a “dictionary attack,” which uses a database of words and common character sequences to try to guess the code.

The Georgia Tech researchers carried out a “brute force” attack when they determined that passwords should be at least 12 characters long.

To do so, they deployed computer graphics cards, which are cheap and can be programmed to do basic computations very quickly.

The processors in those cards run simultaneously, trying to guess all of the possible password combinations. The more characters in a password, the more guesses are required.

But if your password has to be really long in order to keep up with this computational power — and if you’re supposed to have a new password for each website you frequent — then how are you supposed to remember everything?

That’s a real problem, the Georgia Tech researchers said.

There are a few solutions, however.

A website called Password Safe will store a list of passwords for you, but Boyd and Davis said it may still be possible for a hacker to obtain that list.

Other companies sell tokens that people carry around with them. These keychain-sized devices generate random numbers several times a minute, and users must enter those numbers and a shorter password to log in.

Some sites — Facebook for example — are marketing their log-ins and user names as a way to access sites all over the Web.

That’s good for the user but is potentially dangerous because if hackers figure out a single password, they can access multiple banks of information, the researchers said.

The reason passwords have to keep getting longer is that computers and graphics cards are getting faster, the Georgia Tech researchers said.

“These things are really inexpensive — just a few hundred dollars — and they have a performance that’s comparable to supercomputers of only just a few years ago,” Boyd said of fast-processing graphics cards.

Maybe our brains will have to get bigger and faster, too. We’ll need some way to remember these tome-like character strings.


Booking a flight? Visit Facebook

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) — Booking a flight just got more social.

Delta Air Lines unveiled a new feature on their Facebook page Thursday that allows fliers to book air travel entirely through Facebook.

Dubbed the “Ticket Window,” the new tool comes just days after the company gave its homepage a thorough redesign as part of what Delta says is a larger plan to improve the online experience for customers.

Delta says other plans include improvements to airport kiosks, and a new iPhone app that will let fliers check in, research flight statuses, check frequent-flier-mile balances, and even set parking reminders.

Passengers in certain hub cities will be able to use the app as a boarding pass — a feature already available on their mobile site.

“Unlocking the full power of social media and mobile apps is the next step for Delta, while providing innovative travel tools and greater convenience in our customer’s mobile world,” said Bob Kupbens in a written press release.

The move comes in the midst of an already fiercely competitive commercial air travel market. In May, Continental and United airlines announced a definitive merger plan, making it the world’s biggest air carrier — a title previously held by Delta.

Facebook location tool close???

(CNET) — The long-rumored geolocation “check-in” feature at Facebook is slated to debut within weeks, multiple sources familiar with the matter told CNET.

It’s going to take the form of an application programming interface (API) for third-party companies on the Facebook developer platform, integrating existing “check-in” start-ups more deeply into the massive social-networking service and in turn permitting location-aware data to become a part of existing platform applications.

Facebook declined to provide much detail.

“We are working on location features and product integrations, which we’ll be launching in the coming months, and we’ll share more details when appropriate,” spokesman Larry Yu told CNET.

Among developers, too, Facebook is still being tight-lipped regarding the exact nature of the service; the API work has not yet been finalized, though one source in the developer community said that engineers at Facebook “are building it out hard-core” at the moment.

Another source hinted that the internal development deadline may be as early as next week, but that Facebook has not been clear about whether this will be reached on time or extended.

At least one start-up in the geolocation space was told by a Facebook insider that it might want to think about changing the language of a thumbs-up type of feature to “like,” possibly preparing for integration of Facebook’s ubiquitous “like” buttons.

Sources say that Facebook has partnered with Localeze, the local-search company that powers Twitter’s “Places” directory — which lets Twitter users attach a location to their tweets if they are posting from a location-enabled device — to provide a business directory infrastructure for the forthcoming geolocation product.

“We cannot comment on any future deals, however can say that we anticipate having a few significant social announcements in the coming weeks/month,” a Localeze representative told CNET via e-mail.

Additionally, a recent minor acquisition on Facebook’s part may turn out to be integral to its geolocation plans.

Earlier this summer, Facebook acquired a second-tier “check-in” service called Hot Potato, which focused on letting members check into events rather than locations.
That acquisition has closed with a final price tag of about $10 million, the lion’s share of it going to founder Justin Shaffer. Facebook’s interest in the New York-based Hot Potato, specifically Shaffer’s product management talent, goes back quite some time. Sources told CNET that Facebook had originally approached the start-up as early as March about a potential acquisition.

Shaffer did not respond to a request for comment.

The Hot Potato product will almost certainly be shut down, and Shaffer is relocating from New York to work in Facebook’s San Francisco Bay Area headquarters, sources said.

One source said that Shaffer, who obviously was quite the expensive “hire” for Facebook, may have a crucial role in the forthcoming geolocation product.

But multiple sources also hinted that, given Hot Potato’s focus on checking specifically into events, he may also be charged with revamping Facebook’s own event listing and invitations product.

It’s possible that it could work both ways, and that Facebook Events would be one of the existing Facebook features into which geolocation would integrate first.

It’s been known for quite some time that Facebook wanted to capitalize on the growing phenomenon of geolocations and “check-ins,” to the extent that onlookers were surprised when the social network didn’t announce a geolocation product at its F8 developer conference this spring.

Start-ups like Foursquare, Loopt, and Gowalla were getting the press, not big players like Facebook or Google (whose Latitude location-sharing platform hasn’t become much of a sensation).

Since then, Foursquare has begun to pull away from the competition and make inroads into bringing the check-in market from the early-adopter crowd to the mainstream, and Twitter’s geotagged tweets have been live for months now, too.

It should be noted that Facebook also expressed interest in outright acquiring Foursquare, as was well-reported amid the media frenzy over whether Foursquare would raise another round of funding or would sell to a prospective suitor — namely Facebook or Yahoo. (It opted for the venture funding in a round led by venture firm Andreessen Horowitz.)

One source told CNET that Facebook offered Foursquare $120 million; Foursquare asked for about 25 percent more than that and Facebook walked away from the negotiations.

There are, of course, complications, which leave the geolocation- and local-services start-up community with plenty of questions about how much of their data they will have to share with Facebook if they tap into the new APIs.

And additionally, Facebook’s tendency to garner bad press with regard to privacy may make some of them wary of getting involved.

But it’s likely that they will have little choice. Facebook is the biggest force in the social Web by far, and it’s about to be the biggest force in geolocation, too.

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