Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Google+ by now. There’s been lots of coverage about its new features like Circles, Sparks and Hangouts, but there’s one thing I haven’t seen mentioned: Google snuck in a pretty savvy checkin service. If Google+ takes off, it could be a worthy competitor to foursquare and (especially) Facebook Places.
Google Check-ins, as they appear to be calling it, shows up front and center in the mobile app. It’s actually featured more prominently than the “share” button that sits next to it. Clicking the “check in” button takes you to a list (from Google Places, of course) and a single click checks you in.
You can also check in by attaching your location to a status update. It comes through as a “check-in” either way.
The real beauty of Google Check-ins is that it integrates tightly with your Circles to share your checkins with only the people you want to see them. You can actually choose who sees what on a checkin-by-checkin basis.
Checking in at the golf course while you’re supposed to be at work? Make sure you don’t share it with your “coworkers” circle and you’ll be good to go.
Checking in at the hotel and just want your family to know you’re safe after a long drive? Share the checkin with just your “family” circle.
Like the rest of Google+. the addition of circles offers a much more nuanced approach to privacy than services like foursquare or Facebook are able to offer. With foursquare you can choose only two levels of privacy: entirely private or shared with your entire circle of friends. Facebook lets you set a global privacy level for all your Places checkins, but there’s no choice for individual checkins.
At this point, there’s not a way to see just what your nearby friends are up to, but that seems to be a trivial addition that would make it a true lookalike to Facebook Places and an encroachment on the foursquare turf.
Foursquare still has the advantage of the integrated Explore function and tips, but Google already has these things in the Google Places product with Hotpot and reviews of just about every business on earth. Integrating them into Google Check-ins is an easy tie-in that could be added down the road (clicking a business from a checkin already takes you to its Places page).
Google doesn’t have foursquare’s gamification elements like mayorships, badges and points, but those are really more of an ancillary part of foursquare anyway.
I’m really enjoying Google+ so far. It has a nice design and Circles is a great sharing model. If it takes off, foursquare could have a very worthy competitor on its hands in a way that Google was never able to match with Latitude and Facebook hasn’t been able to pull off with Places.
So, what do you think? Could Google+ give foursquare a run for its money?