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Geo-based Social Networks, The game changer?

Posted by on August 1st, 2010


After reading Yan-David Erlich’s article “Beyond the Checkin: Where Location-Based Social Networks Should Go Next“on Mashable I began thinking about the geo-location social networking arena and what the future holds for the industry.Geo-location based social networks have come along way in recent years. With strong competitors in Yelp, Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and Google amongst a throng of would-be adversaries the industry is quickly becoming a hot-bed for the future of social media. And with news of Facebook and Twitter looking to add strong integration a number of key issues begin to arise.

Why do we use location based social media? Where is the value? and what is the future for the industry?

Why do we use location-based social media?

foursquare
People use Facebook to connect with old friends, new acquaintances or family who live on the other side of the globe. People use Twitter to connect with people, stay up to date with what’s going on or for promotion and business. Location-based social networks are quite similar in that their users have a wide variety of wants and needs based upon their context of use. For some, they want to be the best, the most checked in, the most badges, the most tips. For others they want to share their knowledge with friends or be able to arrange impromptu meet ups whilst in the same area. It’s clear to see, that the users who make services such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Twitter and Facebook all have different objectives and that what makes them so popular, they cater for a wide selection of people.

Developments in the industry

brightkite
A number of clear developments have taken place that has lead us to where we are today. Here is a brief overview, but if you would like to add, anything you think I’ve missed, please leave a comment.

Leaving reviews and tips

Yelp began in San Francisco and offered a service where users could leave reviews about restaurants and bars. This has become a clear aspect of all geo-location services including Foursquare and Gowalla. The information that we hold about our past experiences is of interest to others when deciding upon a restaurant. It’s word of mouth, but on super-charge. Previously we could tell 4 or 5 friends about a good or bad experience, now we can influence on a much wider scale.

Mapping and tagging your location

With the introduction of Foursquare and Gowalla the industry now had a way of seeing your tips and reviews on a location based map. The introduction of these services into the industry also brought with it the gaming aspect of checking in and earning badges. Now users had a reward for sharing their knowledge and the competition nature of being the best on a social network had been introduced to the location-based industry.

Earning rewards

As the location-based social buzz began taking off the mainstream media and companies who actively engage with social media began taking interest. Reward schemes were introduced for Mayors in Foursquare, where they would be rewarded with a free cup of coffee for example. Although gaming of the services was inevitable, other such reward schemes have sprung up recently and main stream advertisements and integration is happening everyday.

Where is the value?

Location-based services offer a lot of value for the users and equally for the businesses that are talked about. From a user perspective gaining the rewards is an obvious draw, who wouldn’t want a free cup of coffee thanks to your loyalty? Also sharing an opinion or a helpful tip about a restaurant or bar is a rewarding feeling in the same way you would spread that knowledge in casual chats with friends.

From a business perspective, location-based social media offer an unprecedented view of how they are perceived by their customers, without which they might never know that their customer service sucks or they have terrible cleanliness. On the other hand, people from out of town might not try a restaurant without their friends recommendation or tips for what to order.

Location-based social media offers huge value to both organisations and consumers and as the industry develops and learns how to gain even greater value the rewards for both parties will increase.

The future of the location based industry?

Here are my thoughts on the future of the industry, what could be changed or developed in order to enhance location-based services.

Verification and Unification of data

After using Foursquare for sometime now, one of the most annoying aspects for me is seeing a bar or restaurant with incorrect information. Be it a miss-spelled name, wrong location or imprecise information. Location-based services need a verification system where owners can take overall control in order to keep data correct.

Another area that I believe would greatly enhance the end-users overall experience with the industry would be a unification of data across all location-based services. So any user would be able to see a much detailed and more precise landscape of information. This however, is unlikely as the real value in this industry is within the data that is produced and so no service would want to share with their rivals. However I believe a unification would benefit the industry as a whole and bring it more into the mainstream. For new users, deciding on a service is growing increasingly more complicated due to the number of services. If they could choose a service and tap into the pool of information this choice of provider would become irrelevant and uptake would increase, each service provider would therefore need to raise their exclusive rewards and benefits in order to attract users to their portal.

Better reward schemes

New reward schemes are popping up all the time, Foursquare Checkins Now Part of Customer Loyalty App for iPhone for example. If location-based social media is ever going to become mainstream the services must tie in with current loyality memberships. An integrated scheme with Starbucks would be an obvious move, but other industries could take it on too. Retail shops, restaurants and even banks could reward consumers for their loyality.

Simpler checkin ?

From a technical perspective, I think making checking in a simpler process should be a top priority. Currently I usually need to open the app, refresh my near-by places more than once, find the correct profile and then tap in. A one click process would make cheching in a breeze and the service would become more main stream.

More rewarding?

In order for location-based social media to really breakthrough into the main stream the service must become a lot more rewarding to the end user. The user experience of using the apps must be a breeze. The rewards for actually bothering to check in and share you experiences must be worth while. Reward schemes for your favourite places need to actively engage with the big players.

Resources

Here are a number of great articles all about location-based social media.

5 Things You Need to Know About Location-Based Social Media

Foursquare vs. Gowalla: Who’s Winning the Geolocation War?

Philip Brown

Hey, I'm Philip Brown, a designer and developer from Durham, England. I create websites and web based applications from the ground up. In 2011 I founded a company called Yellow Flag. If you want to find out more about me, you can follow me on Twitter or Google Plus.