AIS is not Foursquare for shipping

Total Views: 0
May 21, 2010


They’re both about localisation, but that doesn’t make them apples and apples

By Ryan Skinner (email)

You probably already know AIS. The short-range coastal tracking system identifies vessels near coastlines all over the world’s oceans, with information about the vessel’s name, speed, destination, heading, etc.

You probably don’t know Foursquare. It’s one of those facebook-like social networks, except this one makes a big deal of location. It’s all about where you’re at, where you’re going, where your friends/girlfriend/mother are, etc. These social location services are one of the four big tech trends of 2010, along with mobile web, iPad and toilet-training cats.

There are many ways that AIS and Foursquare are alike:

  • Marketers are gonzo for the data, so they can target buyers (in shipping’s case, agents target ships calling in ports)
  • They’re all about location; without it, they’re pretty much pointless (so many examples of AIS position faults)
  • With both, you know who’s around you, so you can arrange serendipitous meetings (Foursquare), or avoid them (shipping)
  • Both can give away too much information (to house burglars, or pirates)
  • Both provide a basic platform that service providers are rushing to build valuable products and services on top of
  • People are known to fudge both of them to hide their true location
  • Both enable overzealous stalkers; in shipping’s case, this would be a charterer wondering why the ship is idling outside port

But they’ve got at least a few salient differences that prevent too close a comparison:

  • Foursquare users opt in. AIS is required by the IMO, at least for most classes of ships
  • If you go somewhere in Foursquare, you get a badge. If you go somewhere in shipping, you get money
  • Foursquare requires you to check-in at its web-site, or through compatible web services. AIS signals are sent automatically
  • Foursquare only gives you access to your friends’ location; any inquisitive person can check out AIS-powered ship positions online
  • Foursquare makes location a game; AIS has, as yet, few fun-loving sides

At its root, Foursquare only works if those people whose position it reports, like it. AIS, on the other hand, is just there. You ignore it at your peril. Nonetheless, anyone developing AIS-related services would be wise to look carefully at developments on Foursquare. You always want to be working towards the market’s wants and needs.

So here’s a list of articles about business uses for Foursquare. AIS business developers, dig in:

The NY Times bits blog describes how businesses are using Foursquare statistics.

PBS interviews Foursquare’s chief business development officer, on use of the platform.

Location Meme ran an article about how a restaurant guide (shippers, imagine an agent) uses Foursquare. gives a guide to success on the Foursquare platform.

And lest I forget my friends in marine media, here’s an article about how the big media brands are using Foursquare, to inspire your creative use of AIS.

Some may want to laugh this off, but the Foursquare/AIS analogies are not so far-fetched. For better or worse, fewer and fewer of us are lost under the great blue sky and it’s time to find the costs and benefits of this findability, and manage them.

Ryan Skinner is a Senior Advisor at Say PR & Communications in Oslo, Norway and blogs at 59° 56′ N. Innovation, technology, media and ideas in the marine realm are his beat.

Back to Main