Robert Scoble has a very good post about the future of social media and location based services and it well worth the read. He talks about the real time opportunities of what he calls mini-mobs, although in South Orange, they've started to have some problems. See South Orange police monitor social media activity to handle 'flash mobs' | - NJ.com for some information about what happened there.
So, let's start with Foursquare. They've been in the news a lot lately thanks to their involvement in the recent SXSW conference. They created a special badge for the event and I understand that there was quite a rush to get that badge. Thanks to foursquare and Twitter, the Revolving Door Party at SXSW 2010 was a big hit.
foursquare aims to encourage people to explore their neighborhoods and then reward people for doing so. We do this by combining our friend-finder and social city guide elements with game mechanics - our users earn points, win mayorships and unlock badges for trying new places and revisiting old favorites.
In the past few months we've seen local businesses encouraging users to show their phones to servers and cashiers as a way to prove their loyalty to a particular place.
"Foursquare says you've been here 10x? That's a free drink for you!"
"Foursquare has deemed you the mayor (aka you've been here more than any other user)? Enjoy this free order of french fries."
We've seen venues promote their involvement with foursquare via Twitter, signs at cash registers and sidewalk blackboards. We're just starting to make these specials "official" by including them in our mobile apps and on our website.
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, then you know that I use foursquare to check in pretty regularly. I'm currently the mayor of 14 places, mostly local places around West Orange, and I've checked in a total of 312 times. I seem to have a good group of followers, although I am surprised by the number of followers I have on other continents.
foursquare recently cracked down on the number of false check-ins that they were getting (people checking in as they walk past someplace or not actually there at all). I also see a lot of people gaming the system by checking into locations like NYC taxi's, which wasn't really the intent behind foursquare. As they recently said:
What we’d like to do is award points, mayorships and badges only when you’re at the place you say you’re at. Last week we started using a few different tricks using your phone’s GPS to try to verify this. (and if your phone doesn’t use GPS, we use a few different tricks)
Now, we’re never going to NOT let you check-in – you can checkin wherever you want, whenever you want – the idea is simply to not award points, mayorships, badges or venue specials if it looks like you didn’t really earn them.
The question will be how can brands better utilize location based services like foursquare to better engage their audience. It's nice to give me something special for being mayor of a place, that at least lets me know that the location is actually tracking foursquare usage. Marketers love to talk about the fact that with geolocation, brands can promote specials, etc., to people in proximity, but I find very few consumers who are really interested in something like that, especially without a very good opt-in/op-out system in place. We need to find better ways to use these tools. Look for an upcoming post on game mechanics as a way that we might better use location based technologies. You can read How To Make Facebook, FedEx, And Amazon More Fun to get an idea of where we might go in the future.
So, while I'm currently enjoying foursquare and the self-challenge of seeing how many places I can check into, eventually there's going to need to be a better value proposition for the audience to keep using them. For example, right now, the ego boost of being a mayor is enough, but I'm not sure it will keep people interested in the long run. Recent updates to the Android version of foursquare have made it better, since now I have a way to contact other people at a location through foursquare.
I've also just recently tried Meet Gatsby, designed as a foursquare add-on that connects people with similar interests based on how close they are to each other. So far, I have to admit I've been disappointed in the execution. I don't seem to get the notifications until at least an hour after I've been somewhere, making it not particularly helpful. Or it tells me that someone's at a location that I've never heard of, so I don't know where they are. It's a good idea and I'm confident that it will get better in the future. I think that connecting like people by where they are is a pretty compelling story. I'm sure that we'll see many geolocation dating services in the future. But I think that like foursquare, it's going to be a very strong tool for the event business. Connecting like people at events has great appeal and I'm looking forward to trying it and the next large event I attend.
So that's some quick observations. This area will be changing constantly and I'm sure we'll see lots of changes this year as people further explore what can be done. In fact, look for some potential announcements from me about a new location based service that I'm developing with a few friends.