Who will become Mayor of location-based services?
Facebook recently launched Places in the UK; their version of the location-based services that have been made (moderately) popular by Foursquare, Gowalla and BrightKite.
There’s a lot of debate about whether Facebook will usurp Foursquare or Gowalla as Mayor of Locationville. It has the potential, with 515 million members versus Foursquare’s c.3 million, but the more interesting discussion is whether location-based services as a whole will be adopted and become mainstream.
I think they will. We will all be location-centric in the future, with each of us at the centre of the digital world, which is where we have been heading already with brands working with and around us. Adoption will happen, but the speed of that depends on the value those services (and the businesses that use them) offer. Which at the moment is little (not zero, little).
Currently, location-based services like Places equal ‘check-in’. Adding location to other digital content lets you do a lot more than offer / ‘earn’ a virtual badge or a (real) free cup of coffee - but for now that is where a lot of people are at. By the way, if you don’t know your check-ins from your badges – try one of the services out on your phone/OS of choice.
What value do location updates offer?
Check-in services per se are generally viewed as banal updates that clog social networks: “I’m at Pizza Express.” So what, get off my screen. Okay, I’m guilty of posting just that, as someone who currently uses three such services (in the name of trialling all that is new). But there’s a good chance you’ll be posting something similar in the future, once there are compelling reasons for you to do so (you know, the offer / bargain / loyalty / engagement thing).
Actually these location updates do offer some ‘value’; they often engender a ripple of dialogue with follow-up comments from friends, seemingly more so if you throw in a photo. And social network banter is a modern constituent in the glue that keeps our distributed relationships alive. And people do derive value from revisiting location + photos + friend comments in their digital life stream. I know I do and not just because I’m old and often forget where I’ve been.
And, as mentioned, there’s also the free coffee (Starbucks) or even pizza (Domino’s) if you check in enough or at a wide enough number of outlets for that chain.
So, okay, there is value provided. But all the above examples are pretty low key/small value exchanges, which is why location updates are seen as mostly annoying noise for a lot of social network users and have been underutilised so far by brands and businesses.
What will encourage more of us to use location services?
It will take a more compelling set of reasons or benefits for users to start making the most of location services. Until businesses start offering longer term value (loyalty schemes) ,instant rewards (vouchers / coupons pinged to you when you check-in), unique content (unlocked, say via augmented reality) or a sense of community (at niche outlets or events) backed with a compelling / fun / enriching creative platform, that mass usage tipping point will be a long way off.
But all of that will come and, before you know it, you’ll be very happily offering up your location in exchange for all the above.
Location-based services are beginning to be used for a whole range of purposes
Away from pure check-ins, location-based services / geo networking tools are beginning to be used for a whole range of things (in fact they have been used in mobile gaming for a while).
Some of the areas below deserve a longer post of their own, but here’s a quick run through.
• Firstly, how location-based services will shape up was discussed at a conference recently – it’s a long (panel discussion) video but well worth watching : http://futureoflocalmedia.org/the-future-of-location-based-marketing-video
Some other highlights (beyond the local outlet marketing mentioned above) are :
• Crowd sourced / geo recommendations e.g Foodspotting.com (add photos / reviews of local eateries, neighbourhood foodie tours etc ..)
• Social / proximity alerts: e.g.’Geofencing’ , from location labs. Some really cool stuff (some of which has been in development for few years. (Cool, or scary – depending on your Orwellian outlook)
• Barcodes and Places : ‘social scanning’ : attaching content (any kind of digital content) in fixed locations or to moveable via barcodes (e.g product label barcodes or stickers that you buy). See stickybits.com – this is great. I’ve ordered some barcode stickers, watch out world / office.
• Augmented Reality : with locality services overlap. A whole other blog post.
What do you think?
Do you use LBS now? If not, why not? Any of the areas above catch your interest – either for you as a consumer or for your brand / business?