Check in on this: can location-based services get any hotter?

If you’ve been reading Techcrunch or Techmeme lately you know just how in love tech bloggers are with location-based services like Foursquare. Just yesterday Facebook announced its intention to check in on this hot market.

Even the major players, like Gowalla, know that they must innovate to stay relevant. Gowalla’s CEO, Josh Williams, told me yesterday in a video interview that everyone knows that the check-in gesture will be a commodity pretty quickly, if it isn’t already (even Yelp added the “check in” gesture).

Gowalla and Foursquare this morning checked in new iPhone apps, both of which make the experience of using these services a lot nicer. You can see Josh showing me Gowalla’s new iPhone app in the video here.

Why do these matter? Because of three reasons:

1. By letting the world know your location you can enable a new kind of search. Yelp will show you restaurants near you. Foursquare will show you tips near you. Gowalla will show you tours, or trips near you.
2. Several of these let you play various games, like collecting badges, or just collecting cool locations. You can show your friends all the places you checked in on your European vacation, for instance.
3. A rolodex of your friends organized by location is very powerful. I use this all the time to setup meetings near me with new execs I want to meet.

Gowalla and Foursquare aren’t the only ones trying to thrive in this space, though. Brightkite, Loopt, Whrrl, Lunch.com, and others are releasing new versions this week and are trying to find communities that will love them.

But for me the real fight this week is between Foursquare and Gowalla. I’m using both and neither has come out with a set of features that make me totally want to use one over the other.

The longer term fight (IE, between now and June) is whether any of these will be able to defend themselves against Facebook and Google.

Google’s Buzz should give some of these startups some hope. Before Buzz came out I expected it to be much more competitive with Twitter and Facebook. After it arrived we realized that Google isn’t as smart in the social arena and I thought they might be.

Already Foursquare’s co-founder is saying that Facebook is losing its “real friendness” when compared to these newer services and he does have a point, but it seems it’s way too early to poke the bear. Ask Mark Andreessen how that works out (he made Mozilla seem far more important than it actually turned out to be and woke up the Microsoft bear which proceeded to chase Mozilla off of its lawn).

Anyway, this space is white hot and the next week will decide which team or teams will get to do battle with Facebook and Google in the real test for this space.

Can this area get any hotter? Will something surprising that none of us are expecting come out at SXSW?

One thing I like is just how articulate Josh Williams of Gowalla is on this space. Anyone interested should definitely watch this video.

By the way, if you haven’t read the Google Buzz thread on this topic yet, you should. I lay out why I still like Foursquare the best there.

Comments

  1. Am I seriously missing out on something? I honestly don't “get” the reasoning for using location services such as these. To me, it's far more of a personal security risk than I'm willing to take. Do we really NEED to tell people where we are every minute of the day? Is it a smart thing to do? More importantly… does anyone CARE to have to read where we are sitting for lunch, or stopping to pick up our dry cleaning?

    The only real positive I see is for the companies who are finding out who is visiting their establishment, how often, and etc. Otherwise, I still don't see the value in using things like this, other than the negative ones.

    1. I will watch for the video, and look forward to hearing your thoughts. I’m not trying to be difficult.. honest! I just cannot see past the fact that telling the world in general where you are all the time could be a very, very bad thing in some ways. Maybe it stems from a domestic violence past? Regardless, I look forward to seeing exactly why these services can be a GOOD thing. I always enjoy learning something new, and getting different perspectives!

      Thanks, Robert :)

    2. I will watch for the video, and look forward to hearing your thoughts. I’m not trying to be difficult.. honest! I just cannot see past the fact that telling the world in general where you are all the time could be a very, very bad thing in some ways. Maybe it stems from a domestic violence past? Regardless, I look forward to seeing exactly why these services can be a GOOD thing. I always enjoy learning something new, and getting different perspectives!

      Thanks, Robert :)

  2. The only thing that matters with the location based service space is “what are my friends using?” Everything else is irrelevant. That said, if it makes it easier for my friends to send stuff around to each other, then they will use it more.

    The “gaming” aspects of these things are actually a turn-off, most of my friends whom I showed Gowalla to dismissed it as a game instead of as a useful tool they could use. Ditto MyTown.

    Thus, they failed in this town and Foursquare took off instead. The badges work because they are too lightweight to be a game, as such, and are really just an incentive to continue to check in for a while. Eventually you stop caring about the badges and start caring about where the people are.

    Here's the problem: Facebook could end this whole thing tomorrow simply by adding locational check-in to Facebook and it's associated clients. *Everybody* is on Facebook, and they would have instant adoption by all those users. Integrate with with the iPhone app and the existing privacy controls, and it's a killer app. And I mean “killer” as in “all other location services would instantly cease to be relevant”.

    Hard to justify your existence when the big dog could wipe you out in less than a couple weeks of coding time.

  3. Ultra-hyper-connected geek dorks might find some fleeting use for locational-based noised-up spam, everyone else I doubt it. And this should really be a Facebook feature, not some start-up with funding. But even then, “events” are more important than “here am I let's-all-meet-at-panera-bread-be-alone-together” zaps.

  4. I agree with you Kat. I can't understand the purpose of using either of these services. It does seem more like a risk than offering actual value to the user. I really hope Scoble's video provides insight to help me understand both of these services as well because at this point when I look at their sites, all I can say is “HUH?”

  5. I don't know who did this site but in my town (Millis, MA) which is a small one it's beginning to take off. It is much better than just checking in to a location and provides much more of what I want to read and see in my town. It seems to be a really neat site, http://www.swengle.com/city/millis-ma/

    Does anyone know anything about it?

  6. Perhaps you don't see the need, but I live in an urban area and have a group of perhaps 50-60 friends who I hang out with at various establishments throughout town. It's quite handy to know where my friends are, and to have them know where I am. Tons of value there.

    If you don't want anybody to know where you are, then I understand that. But perhaps it's because you're not actually doing much of anything with other people on a regular basis.

  7. great video Robert. Been using Gowalla for some time and these features are awesome add's but some of the simplicity and design polish to the app has diminished. I look at the newly released apps on WebOS and Android and these app's look great. Just hoping “Feature Creep” doesn't make the experience less fun.

  8. I have started using foursquare over the past month. I have only used it at a few places, and the owners of the restaurants that I visit on a regular basis mostly do not know about these services. Having Facebook take over the entire location based network could be good, because then you know where everyone is. At the same time, I like the fact that people who are on Foursquare chose to participate in the social networking on the site, versus Facebook maybe deciding here are all your friends option.

  9. Robert, how about this for something no one else was expecting, not even us (until Tuesday). Two of us launched Pairwise.mobi aboard the Startup Bus from SF to Austin, a fully functional mobile app that facilitates location business networking. We're getting SxSWers to play with the prototype at http://pairwise.mobi, and have been getting great comments all around. In short, it lets you broadcast a business need and pushes a notification to the best people in your immediate vicinity that might meet that need (customer, hire, blogger, developer), and you guys can arrange for a quick chat.