Get Out of the Way

Standard

About a week ago I learned of last night’s checkins, a newly public service built using the Foursquare API.

Once you allow the service to access your Foursquare account, it starts sending you a daily email listing your checkins for the past 24 hours or so. Reply to that email with some notes about each checkin after its entry in the email and the service records them for you: it allows you to build a little annotated history of where you’ve been and what you did there.

lastnightscheckins.com structured email

lastnightscheckins.com structured email

Several weeks earlier, Songkick released their Twitter integration tool. Once you link your Twitter account to your Songkick account, Songkick monitors your tweetstream on the days that you’re going to shows, automatically captures any tweets that reference the band you’re seeing or have a specific hashtag, and then displays those tweets on the Songkick page for the gig.

Songkick.com Twitter integration

Songkick.com Twitter integration

What’s excellent about both of these tools is that they do a very nice job of just getting out of the way.

Songkick also offers tools that allow you to submit reviews and other content directly to their service (and they’re pretty sweet tools), but I’m already used to Twittering little thoughts and mini-reviews of the shows I go to; the Twitter integration means that I can change over to using the Songkick-native tools if I want to, but if I don’t want to then Songkick gets out of the way and just makes the most of what I’m already doing.

Last Night’s Checkins could have guided people towards visiting their site to annotate the Foursquare checkins, and it would have been a defensible decision: the world is filled with services that have getting you on to their Web site as their primary goal. What’s great is that they did something way better than “defensible.”

At this point pretty much everybody sits down in front of their email inbox on a regular basis — I know that there are still people who don’t check daily, but I suspect that few of those people are active Foursquare users. I designing Last Night’s Checkins, the creator(s) clearly sat down and asked themselves “how can we make it as easy as possible for people to use this service?”

Instead of sending an email with a link to the site [read email, click link, log in to site, enter notes, save notes, try to remember what you were doing before this whole process started], they created an interface to the service that fits into the “email processing” that you’re probably already doing in the morning.

Compare the steps in the “link in an email” model…

  1. Read the email.
  2. Click the link.
  3. Log in to the site.
  4. Enter notes on the Web page, save Web page.
  5. Flip back to your email client.
  6. Try to get back into the task flow that was just disturbed.

…to the steps in the interface they actually created:

  1. Read the email.
  2. Click “reply.”
  3. Add inline comments to the “bullet points” in the email.
  4. Click “send.”
  5. Move on the the next email you have to process.

The issue isn’t that the link approach is that much more complicated, or has so many more steps — it’s that the link based approach would force you to change what you’re already doing in order to use the service.

While I like having the option of using service-specific tools that make the most of what the service can do, I hate being forced to use those tools. Over time I may decide to shift over to spending time on the Last Night’s Checkins site or using the native Songkick mobile tools, but that’s because both these services went out of their way to fit in with what I’m already doing.

Both these services let me test the waters without making a big behavioral commitment. I have the opportunity to start figuring out how they’re valuable to me even before I commit to diving in.