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On Foursquare, Facebook Places, Accountability, and Alcoholics Anonymous

Cta-tweet-logo I'm a fan of accountability. A major part of my day job is to convince municipalities to release public data. I work on side projects with my friend Harper that help track spending by the City of Chicago and help people see whether the trains are running on time. We do this for fun.

One thing I've noticed, as transparency has become an effective buzzword for politicians, is that there is a fundamental lack of accountability in regular day-to-day life. I'm a firm believer of the idea that we can't raise our fists in united open-data solidarity unless and until we are prepared to be accountable at the most atomic human level.

The other thing is that people like to convince other people that they're awesome. I'm the same way. I want you to think, as you graze my Internet grass, that I'm a really great guy. That's normal.

And the most fundamental level of human accountability is the answer to this simple question, asked over in over in many different contexts: "Where have you been?"

All sorts of technology that help answer that question are firmly embedded into our lives now. Highway toll transponders, GPS devices, cell phone triangulators, the inevitable Facebook. It goes and on and on. Facebook Places was just launched last week, and it introduced the concept of the "check-in" to millions of people.

There has been a goodly amount of teeth-gnashing around this launch. But I think it is misplaced. We should welcome configurable tools that help increase individual accountability. And it's also healthy to muff them up as we see fit.

Foursquare-logoFor me, Foursquare hits it right on the mark and has for some time. The stated thrust of the service is to be a "mobile + social + friend finder + social city guide + nightlife game thing." But I don't care about that-- I care about being a good father, being a good member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and being a good partner in life. I use Foursquare for my life.

I have been in AA since September 10, 2000, but I'm not the world's greatest member. I don't go to enough meetings, I don't really do service work, I've never sponsored anyone, and the few people I've brought to their first meeting never came back.

But one thing I can do is add venues for AA meetings to Foursquare. I've added The 12 Step House on Sunnyside + Damen (if you've ever walked by there I'm sure you've said, "what goes on there-- and why are all those people standing outside, smoking?"), the Sauganash Community Church Annex in Forest Glen (and since there's just one check-in, you can tell I haven't been back, but it was a good meeting!), and the Lincoln Park Alano Club (I was pretty surprised this wasn't on there already).

Maybe someone checking in to a nearby place will see one of these venues and it will spark something for them. Maybe a fellow AA looking for a meeting will find one. But one thing I know for sure is that I made it to a meeting, and I have been accountable for that hour, and I have ever-so-slightly skewed things on the Internet to serve me and my goals.

So let's start looking each other in the eye more often, and tell each other where we've been. I'm certain we'll feel more empowered. Who knows-- we may even feel like demanding accountability all over the place.



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Daniel X. O'Neil: Chicago-based writer and internet developer. I am a co-founder of and the People Person for EveryBlock, a site that pulls together local news and public information. I run dozens of personal projects and websites for clients, and also own half of a poetry book company.


EveryBlock: A news feed for your block.
CTA Tweet: Unofficial Twitter tracker for the Chicago Transit Authority.
CityPayments: Database of all vendors, contracts, and payments that have been posted by the municipal government of the City of Chicago
Wesley Willis Art: Site dedicated to the fact that Wesley Willis was an artist.
Wide Right Turn: An incomplete look at the role of variation in a capitalist society.


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