Wednesday, July 14, 2010

location, location, location.... NOT

With the glamour of new technology approaching seeming magic, we are being drawn into location applications "just because we can". Foursquare and GoWalla are battling it out in the location tracker app service, but they are just the first big players to the plate... the hoards are following, but more like lemmings than with any sense of value. I contend that the value for end users is not in location, but in action or intent.

Undeniably, the ability to tag into GPS( or other location data) and place yourself on the map is cool. The apps are fun to play for a while. But the value add for the users ends quickly as the newness wears off. I was one of the first on both services in my small town and had fun making marks and then watching as other users came along and found them. And then that got pretty boring. Do I really care who has been to other places? Not really. What I care about, what draws me in-- is what they are doing there.

Certain that there is some use case for a location based social networking app, I have pondered this inside out, but I am stumped. Consider the following:

1) Using it to connect with people at a conference or event. Yeah, not so much. Someone I know checks into a talk or an event? OK. but I want to know what the event is, or WHY they are there before I decide to go. If they are a good enough friend that their mere presence draws me there, we are already text msg, twitter or god forbid calling each other to coordinate.

2) Using it to build an ego presence as a regular at a location and get cool discounts? OK, maybe-- but really- if you are a regular, the store will know. Loyalty cards, etc.. give the same benefits.

3) Using it to find other people who like to go to the same places you do. Nice idea, but doesn't really work that way. Yes, I can check into a location and see who else has... but really have no mechanism for connecting with those people in any meaningful way. Even given that.. is the fact that we shop at the same grocery store going to be a friendship building point-- or the fact that we both love to get the same brand of sauce for our BBQ?

Am I missing something? What really cool use have you fallen in love with a location based social networking application for?

There is a point and a usefulness to location apps- I love being able to log in in a new location and seeing what is nearby. But there are tons of services and applications that allow me to do this ( still waiting for the best of breed to emerge, honestly...) and this does not in any way build a social network. James Burke entranced us all with the fact that the things we do impact others-- and build connections. Connections 1 (5 - Disc Set) While there is amusement and entertainment in the "George Washington slept here" impact, it is short lived. George Washington Slept Here [VHS]
Map overlay does not have lasting human impact.

The one application that I think could come close to this, but has not yet is @getglue. They recently released an iPhone app, but I am waiting for the android version for my Evo. If I could take a picture of the cool new gadget in BestBuy ( or scan the bar code) and see an overlay of reviews from people who bought it/used it ( regardless of location)- that provides real value. And if I buy it and love it, I can choose to connect with other people who loved it as well. Will we become friends? maybe, maybe not- but there is more of a reason to believe that a network of people with shared interests will last. Will you really care who else stood in the same spot as you on some other day 6 months from now?