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With the ever growing popularity of GPS-capable smartphones, location-based social networking services have become as essential to leaving the house as tying your shoes.

With the ever growing popularity of GPS-capable smartphones, location-based social networking services have become as essential to leaving the house as tying your shoes. Popping in on a friend? Don’t ring the doorbell, check in on Foursquare and she’ll see that you’ve arrived via the Internet!

While that may be an exaggeration, the fact of the matter is that creating a log of the physical locations you go every moment of the day has become hugely popular. Foursquare has been the leader of the “check-in” niche since it began in 2009. Facebook and Twitter have added location-tracking capabilities as well, so what else could Google+ do, but jump on the bandwagon?
To be fair, though, Google didn’t bandwagon-jump so much as get into the game from the beginning. The first location-centric service they offered was Google Places. Originally, it was called Google Local Business, but was renamed “Places” in 2009. Places seems run-of-the-mill to most Google users now because it was integrated into Google Maps. From Places, you can see reviews, business information, and photos of the business. Technically, Places isn’t only a service for businesses, but also a service for parks, universities, libraries, etc.

Foursquare’s original idea had no real usability features intended. It was simply a way for friends and family to interact with each other and the cities they lived. The badges offered for so many check-ins in a specific amount of time, or the succession of places a user checked in to, were just a fun way to put a little bit of purpose into what users were already doing. As the company’s user base grew, the developer’s realized the potential for users to leave reviews of where they had been, and for business owners to entice customers with discounts.

In February 2009, Google also introduced Latitude. Although it was also integrated with Google Maps, it was intended to rival Foursquare by allowing Google users to choose to display their current location to friends. In 2011, Latitude received a check-in feature. Users could configure their settings to check them in and out of designated locations automatically if they wanted. There were additional features added, such as being able to upload a picture with a check-in. When Google+ went mobile, users could use Latitude to check into Google Places. It also works in reverse. If you’re using Latitude, you now have the option to sync that check-in with Google+.

So Latitude and Places are already in place – what’s new? Apparently the Google+ tie-in is that through Google+/Latitude check-ins, businesses will be offering time-sensitive deals. Businesses can register with Google Offers to pass deals and discounts to checked in Google users.

Of course, this is still old hat as far as technology goes. Foursquare already offers this feature to businesses that create a brand with the service. Users that follow a brand’s activity or check in to a brand’s venue enough times (and sometimes, within a set amount of time) will receive tips, special discounts, and unique Foursquare badges.

As of December 6th, the new Offers integration with Google+ had not gone live. The original hubbub of the new linking of these two Google services was generated because help documentation for Offers business owners using Google+ check-ins was posted, then inexplicably removed.

So, checking into different places around your hometown has been around for almost three years now. What’s next? As GPS precision increases and people feel more and more comfortable sharing what they’re doing with friends and strangers alike, companies are finding opportunities for location-based sharing all the time. Tripl is a brand new service that connects you while you’re in a new city to locals who can give you advice about what to see and where to go. Sensewhere is taking advantage of GPS advancements by creating check-in locations indoors in large areas, like malls and airports. Who knows? Maybe someday soon we won’t need to go anywhere – we’ll just be able to watch while everyone else checks in.