Google Latitude Check-ins Rival Foursquare, Facebook

Google added check-in functionality to its Google Latitude application to surface-user location on Google Maps. The tool will enable Google to better compete with Foursquare and Facebook.

Google Feb. 1 added check-in functionality to its Google Latitude application, allowing the service's users to connect their location with specific places on Google Maps from their mobile phones.

Google launched Latitude in February 2009 as a Google Maps feature that lets users see the approximate location of friends who opt to share their location. The company later added Location History and Location Alerts, real-time updates and desktop accessibility.

Now Google has taken a page from the books of Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places and other location-based social services by allowing users to "check in" to a restaurant, shop or some other location from their mobile phone.

Google offers screen shots of this new utility, which is completely opt-in, here.

To distinguish itself from Foursquare and Facebook a bit, Google is allowing users to turn on the option to automatically check in and check out of specific places.

Users may also turn on check-in notifications to receive an alert to check in at a nearby place when they arrive. The idea is to solve the all-too-common problem of forgetting to check in.

Because Latitude is built into Google Maps for Android, users will see Google Place pages, or local business listings, filled with reviews of locations they pop into visit.

Google also apes Foursquare's game mechanics a bit. When users check into a favorite place, they can become a Regular, a VIP or a Guru on a Place page.

The launch of Google Latitude check-ins is tinged with a measure of irony considering that Foursquare CEO and founder Dennis Crowley left Google to create his new service after the search engine bought his previous startup Dodgeball and let it go to pot.

Interestingly, despite Latitude's limited functionality to this point, it already has 10 million active users, while Foursquare only has 6 million. Adding check-ins could boost the user quotient for Latitude.

Indeed, some experts believe standalone check-in services such as Foursquare and Gowalla might become obsolete in the shadow of the bigger platforms offered by Google and Facebook, which has 600 million-plus users.

To access check-ins via Latitude, users must download the latest Google Maps 5.1 for Android from Android Market and then join Latitude from the main menu.

Google Latitude for iPhone users will be able to see their friends' check-ins but can't yet check in there themselves, though Google is working on this.