Location-Based Social Networks Need Sheriffs, Not Mayors

Foursquare has been known to hand-out Mayoralships as an incentive for followers to increase their check-ins activity. Since those mayors aren't doing anything to quash crime in our cities, perhaps Foursquare should think about appointing "Sheriffs" instead - to keep a little law and order in the location-based Wild West.

If you knew how many crimes were committed in the places you check-in, would you still go there? Such is the premise of a new app called Fearsquare, created by Lincoln Social Computing Research Centre out of the UK. Location based social networks like Foursquare have popularized check-ins to such an extent today - could it possibly be attracting the wrong types of followers - say, of the criminal persuasion?

Earlier this month, in a post titled "Facebook's Check-ins Attracting Spamming Host & Guests," I reported how Facebook Places was allowing spammers access to Facebook Events where they could deceptively fool users into filling out online surveys while generating commissions for the perpetrators.

Differing from PleaseRobMe, Fearsquare takes the aggregation component one step further by actually surfacing crime data that is associated with specific locations, throughout a metropolitan area like New York City. The developers indicate that the app's focus is to not only to alert Foursquare users to the dangers that have existed in the past, but it's also a behavioral study to analyze if this kind of information will change a user's behavior, over time.

According to Mike Melanson's ReadWriteWeb report, rather than scaring Foursquare followers, Fearsquare "takes a list of your ten most recent FourSquare check-ins and cross-references these with the UK Police Crime Statistics database" and shows "how many crimes were committed, during a recent one-month period, in the locations where they checked-in." It is all part of an opt-in study that examines "the interaction of people with crime statistics that are presented in a uniquely personal manner."

The crimes that Fearsquare displays could be robberies, violent crumbs or anti-social behavior associated with police reports.

Last year, New York City held its first time-time NYC Big Apps awards where the mayor awarded prizes totaling $20,000 for public apps that drew upon municipal data. The top winners included apps to find the closest subway, reviews about the city's best public schools and even one to critique your experience on taxi cab rides called "Taxihack."

While Mayor Bloomberg took a lot of the credit for being actively involved in the program - perhaps if "Fearsquare" is entered this year, Bloomberg could share the Fearsquare app with his police department. While I'm sure the Chief of Police knows the sections of town that are the most crime-ridden, this app could potentially give his police force a  means to cross-reference as to what criminals are using Foursquare to commit their next crime. Just an thought!