As Facebook enters into the location market with Facebook Places, the world’s largest social network will help to make the edgyconcept of checkins and location-sharing a mainstream practice.
Facebook is just one company attempting to add location for context; there are countless others going above and beyond checkins to push the space forward. There’s also a noticeable uptick in consumer interest around applications and services that feature location for sharing or utility.
The geolocation space is the one to watch right now — celebrities are flocking to Foursquare, location is finding a unique purpose in many mobile apps, background location is becoming a commonplace feature on smartphones, geofencing is evolving in purpose and function, and location-based social networks are proving to be the perfect platforms for cause marketing. What follows is a more detailed look at these five huge trends in location and how they will influence consumer adoption and inspire developer creativity.
1. Hollywood Has Come Calling
Much of Twitter’s meteoric rise to the top of the social media food chain can be attributed to celebrity adoption. Sure, we geeks got Twitter almost instantaneously, but the rest of the world — mainstream media and big brands especially — needed a nudge in the right direction. Once athletes, teen heartthrobsand movie stars discovered Twitter, they helped to solidify the service as an important medium for real-time conversations.
Now, celebrities are slowly but surely turning their attention to location-sharing services. Foursquare is having its Hollywood moment as newbies like Ellen Degeneres and 50 Cent find a purpose for checking in while out and about.
Foursquare’s celebrity roster also includes Arnold Schwarznegger, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Ryan Seacrest, Pee Wee Herman and Don Lemon. Even Martha Stewart appears to have taken a liking to the service.
As influential celebrities unlock the value of Foursquare, the startup’s street cred is gaining momentum and attracting the attention of even more A-listers. We may soon find rapper Snoop Dogg checking in to Foursquare, and it sounds as if Questo of The Roots is on the inevitable path to becoming a Foursquare user as well.
Celebrity interest in location-sharing is bound to accelerate, and will only help to further propel the trendy behavior to a more mainstream audience.
2. Location as a Feature
Your location is an important frame of reference for pretty much everything you do. Whether you’re sharing photos, scouting out a place to eat, searching for a movie, or simply lounging at home looking for something to do, where you are in the world matters.
Location already factors in to most mobile search experiences, and it’s becoming an even more prevalent feature inside apps with other core purposes. Yelp and Flixster are obvious examples of how location can provide meaningful context to mobile services that exist for much different purposes.
Mobile app Qrank takes the age-old fun of trivia and incorporates location into the mix for live, location-based trivia contests. PadMapper for iPhone and Android makes apartment hunting a little less painful by using your location as a filter for nearby results. Yoink’s iPhone app includes location functionality to make offloading junk and finding free treasures more useful than Freecycle or Craigslist.
Foodspotting uses location to display nearby restaurant photos and create a window-shopping-like experience. Mopho’s mobile photo sharing application distinguishes itself with location — users can share their location with a photo and discover nearby people and photos. Picksie predicts activities for you viaiPad, using location to zero in on the best recommendations. And the list goes on.
The trend is also trickling over to websites with the help of geo-aware browsers. Web and mobile applications are now, more than ever, incorporating location as an experience-enhancing feature for differentiation in increasingly crowded markets.
3. Automatic Background Behaviors
With most smartphones capable of supporting applications that continue to run in the background, a new host of mobile applications are cropping up that log your location as a background process while you trek about.
The basic idea — real-time location tracking — isn’t a new one. Both Loopt and Google Latitude have been experimenting with this for years. But the rise of background location and increased user interest in location-sharing together serve as a catalyst for developer interest.
Several app makers, for instance, are attempting to make the checkin experience a more passive and implicit one. While Foursquare and Gowalla continue to operate an explicit checkin model, Checkmate and Future Checkin exist to make checkins automatic on the iPhone. Now you can check in from the car, no manual entry or phone-fiddling required.
Loopt also leverages background location on iPhone and Android to determine the proximity between you and your Loopt friends, sending automatic alerts should a friend happen to be in the vicinity.
For now, you’ll risk draining your battery for the convenience of running location apps in the background, but we suspect that application developers will work to better optimize the experience in their respective apps. As applications become better optimized for geolocation purposes, look for these automatic behaviors to become more sophisticated in function.
4. Personal and Peer-to-Peer Location-Sharing
Advancements in mobile phone location technology not only allow for automatic background location behaviors, but also facilitate real-time, private location sharing for more practical purposes of a personal variety.
Geofencing technology powers most of these features — a geofence is nothing more than a virtual perimeter for a geographic area. Simply put, newer location-based applications enable users to build virtual fences around areas of interest. Those fences can be static or dynamic in nature, and possess properties that trigger behaviors such as notifications and automatic location updates upon zone entry or exit.
In Neer, geofencing is used behind-the-scenes to update a user’s whereabouts and trigger follow-up behaviors. When a Neer user enters or leaves a pre-defined, geofenced region, the application will update accordingly. Friends and family will receive automatic notifications, should the user so specify.
Geoloqi offers another approach to private location-sharing. The full-featured mobile and web platform also taps into to geofencing technology so users can leave themselves geo-located notes and perform time-saving automatic location-specific activities — think sending and receiving SMS messages when you enter or leave designated areas.
These private location-sharing activities could come in handy if you want to automatically notify a friend that you’re on your way to their house, or auto-email your boss that you’re running late. The service is currently limited to beta testers, but it certainly highlights the practical potential of background location for personal and peer-to-peer use.
5. Location as a Platform to Make a Statement
MTV recently worked with Foursquare to create the Get Yourself Tested badge. The proactive initiative is designed to encourage sexually active young adults to check in when they visit a clinic, and help to remove the stigma around the experience. The campaign is working — in just a few weeks time, Foursquare has doled out more than 3,000 Get Yourself Tested badges.
Whether or not you agree with the mission behind the Get Yourself Tested campaign, MTV is successfully using Foursquare as a platform to promote a cause they believe to be important.
Last year, Foursquare teamed up with Pepsi to launch a check in for charity initiative in the New York area. Foursquare user activity over the course of one weekend helped raise $9,200 for CampInteractive. The campaign also caught the attention of an anonymous donor who stepped in to donate $50,000, putting the funds raised for the non-profit during the weekend promo just shy of $60,000.
Location-based cause marketing has also found a home on Gowalla. The location-sharing challenger, which takes a stamp-based approach to city exploration, recently partnered with TOMS Shoes on their One for One movement — TOMS matches every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes for a child in need. The partnership was designed to raise awareness around TOMS Shoes’ one-millionth shoe drop and promote the cause through checkins. Gowalla estimates that it helped to expose the campaign to more than 522,000 people.