Hands On: Is Pinwheel the visual Foursquare?

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What do you get when you merge a photo sharing service like Flickr with a check-in service like Foursquare? For the answer to that question, check out Pinwheel, a geolocation website from Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr.

Pinwheel lets you place informative "notes" for locations you visit on a map that you can share with others. This means you can make notes that contain tips, facts, memories, and so on regarding a point of interest. You can also attach photos, make notes public or private, and arrange notes into sets (like you can with photos on Flickr).

For example, if you have a certain spot at a park where you love to sit and watch the world pass by, you can add a note at that exact location and explain why you like that spot or what you are doing while there, and take a photo of the view. Your followers, as well as other people nearby, will be able to see your note and check out your favorite lookout spot for themselves.

When you fill out your profile, you also have an option to save both "home" and "work" maps, so you can see what's around you regardless of where you are. These maps greet you every time you sign into Pinwheel, and feature new notes from other nearby users. This is particularly useful for frequent commuters who want to get more information about what's going on both in their hometown and where they work. It also recommends places to visit based on your previous notes.

TechHive is not based in Oakland, regardless of what Pinwheel tries to tell you.

You can pin notes to appear at your exact location, and if the marker isn't quite in the right spot, you can pick it up (so to speak) and drag it into the correct position on the map. You may have to manually move the marker for than you'd like, though: When I tried to place a marker at TechHive's offices (located at a searchable address in San Francisco), Pinwheel decided that I was across the Bay in Oakland. But one useful benefit of Pinwheel over check-in services is that you can leave notes for places even if you aren't at that location at that moment--it’s all about sharing insights.

Pinwheel is in beta, so there are a few things that aren’t available to use just yet. For instance, you can’t yet share your notes on other social networks like Twitter. Also, Pinwheel hasn't released a mobile app as of this writing, so using it from a smartphone is currently a little more difficult than we'd like it to be. Fortunately, an iPhone app is in the works, so you shouldn't have to wait long.

Pinwheel is an interesting take on using geolocation to share where you are or where you've been, or to learn more about certain areas or companies. It definitely feels more interactive and creative than other location-based social networks and services. It could also become a platform for more than just long-form check-ins: It could become something of a hyperlocal news service, perhaps.

I do wonder, though, if Pinwheel is a little too late to the party to really gain the attention it deserves--in all honesty, who wants another place to add notes or check in to?

Pinwheel is currently a closed beta, but you can request an invitation via its homepage. If you get a chance to try Pinwheel, tell us what you think in the comments.

[Elizabeth Fish is a freelance writer who happens to run a hyperlocal news website in Lincoln, UK. She also writes for PCWorld's GeekTech blog.]

This story, "Hands On: Is Pinwheel the visual Foursquare?" was originally published by TechHive.

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