Malleable social graphs and mini-mobs: why Facebook could destroy Foursquare and Gowalla with one check in

I didn’t write about the big location war at SXSW (between location-based apps like Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Brightkite, Whrrl, and others). Why not? Because, well, MG Siegler at Techcrunch has been. But I did participate, and took notes and now I’m looking at what’s next:

1. These apps are great for creating “mini mobs.” I saw several happen at SXSW, including a party in the lobby of my hotel at 3 a.m. (I watched that form, saw it was fun, and got out of bed to join it). Check out the video of these “mini-mobs” being created and destroyed at SXSW.
2. These apps will really show their form when malleable social graphs arrive. What are these? Well, right now social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Buzz have very un-malleable social graphs. IE, they don’t change who they present to you based on the behavior of your friends. More on that in a second. First the mini-mob video at SXSW:

If Facebook understands these two new capabilities and makes their location features do them even partially well they will decimate the newbies. Why? Well, today I visited San Jose’s hottest new park. Thousands of people have visited in the 14-days since the park has opened (it just got a $72 million upgrade). On Gowalla and Whrrl only two geeks had checked in at the park. Here’s the park on Gowalla. Here’s the same park on Foursquare. This is in the center of Silicon Valley, home of all early-adopter bubbles. These new services have NOT gone mainstream here and have NOT gotten enough adoption. Aside: this park rocks for geeks who have young kids.

Facebook, if it does these two features right will bring its 400 million users (Foursquare only has 500,000 or so) and could take away all the oxygen from this new group of services that’s trying to follow Twitter’s path to success (Foursquare has reached 500,000 users faster than Twitter did and is only a year old).

So, this is a warning to all the VCs who are ready to throw big money at Foursquare: Facebook could mess up this whole party and even if it doesn’t this is VERY EARLY DAYS for location-based services and the services themselves have NOT explained to any of us what they are useful for (they are useful for social media networkers like me, but not for the normal person — yet).

First, a cautionary tale. Facebook will also have to face the very real location backlash. These two posts show that location-based services help stalkers, Michelle Greer says, and help thieves, Nick O’Neill reports.

These are anti-forces Twitter and Facebook never had to face and will, I predict, prove to be why these services WON’T follow Twitter into the path of mainstream hype and acceptance. That’s why I’m looking for all of these to go down a different path: the path to malleable social graphs and mini-mobs.

My son walking on a pig at Happy Hollow park in San Jose

The way I found this path is fun. It ended up today at the new Happy Hollow park in San Jose (just reopened with a $72 million upgrade). The pictures that you are seeing here are mine, shot with my iPhone and Gowalla today. The kid you see climbing on the pig is my son.

Malleable social graphs, what are they?

Well, right now, if you are looking to go to a Napa Winery, or three, and you go to Twitter or Facebook everyone looks the same to you. But, now, check in in Napa with Foursquare and all of a sudden you only see people near you. I have more than 7,000 friends and when I tried this last week (I was visiting a startup near there) I only saw four other people. So, now I was talking with four other people who were on my social graph and who actually were located near me. Now, I bet I could text each of those four and ask them where to go and I’d get very good answers.

That is a malleable social graph. IE, it changes based on conditions you set in motion.

What are some other examples?

1. Check into “24″ (the TV show). Why would you see anyone who also isn’t watching 24? Now, if some of them say that there’s a new cool video on YouTube that is interesting, are they more likely to match your tastes than the general population? Absolutely yes!

2. Check into a car wash. I did today on Gowalla and Foursquare (here’s my photos and details on Gowalla). Now look at your phone. What businesses did Gowalla bring to you? Mine brought me a lamp store across the street. Dumb. That is NOT a malleable social graph. Why would ANYONE checking into a car wash be interested in a lamp store? How about showing where the bathrooms are? How about showing where the closest junk food places are to grab a snack? If Gowalla did THAT then it would be demonstrating a malleable business graph. Right now Gowalla doesn’t have either a malleable social graph, nor does it have a malleable business graph. It’s dumb about this stuff, that is a major opening for Facebook. Foursquare isn’t much better, although it does better with the social graph stuff (at least I only saw people near my carwash, unlike in Gowalla).

3. Check into politics. I told Facebook that I’m a liberal Democrat. So why am I still seeing Republican crap in my news feed? Facebook hasn’t implemented malleable social graphs yet and, so, its newsfeed is still presenting information to me that I might not care about and, in some cases, might actually make me angry.

4. Check into a London pub. Gowalla has this really cool feature called “trips.” Here’s one for London pubs. Does my social graph change if I complete a tour around all the pubs to show me all the other boozers who have visited London? No. But what if it did? What would that let my social graph do? Well, for one, if you are expert on London Pubs, like my friend Hugh Macleod is (he took me on a tour of such pubs a few years back) well, I bet he’d also be pretty good at finding the best pubs in Texas where he now lives. Which he is. Why would I take advice on pubs from someone who has never been in a real London pub?

5. Check into sushi. One of my favorite sushi places in San Mateo, Yuzu, has a few negative reviews. Why is that? It’s called the “masses are asses” problem on Yelp. Here’s what happens: Yuzu is a place that is awesome for advanced sushi lovers. I’ve eaten sushi all over the world in places like Tokyo, Yokohama, New York, London, and other places. I love advanced sushi. I look for restaurants who do sushi well. But most people aren’t like me. Most people don’t even like sushi. So, if they get dragged to a place like this they try to order “Americanized” sushi like, um, California rolls. Or fried crap I can’t even pronounce. That is NOT sushi. Anyway, these people, er, newbies, get to Yuzu and find that all the other “non-sushi” stuff sucks. So they rate it low. Me? I could care less about all that other non-sushi stuff when I am looking for a sushi restaurant, which is why I rate this place five stars. Now, Yelp does NOT have a malleable social graph. We can’t filter out all the “sushi newbies” who don’t like sushi anyway. So, this is a major way that Facebook can take over. Alikelist does a lot better at this than anyone. At least so far (I did two videos with that company to understand their view of malleable social graphs. I came away wondering how long it would be before Facebook buys Alikelist).

6. Check into movies. If I say I like Avatar why would I care about what someone who doesn’t like Avatar think of other movies? Yet I see their reviews on all the review sites. Malleable social graphs are needed to reorder movie reviews. Lunch.com tries to do that by asking you to compare movies and then finds people like you. Lunch.com is working on malleable social graphs and is largely seen as one of the best-positioned companies to compete with Yelp.com and other movie review sites because of it.

Anyway, I could keep going. This just gives you a taste of what malleable social graphs could do. Now let’s talk about mini-mobs.

Mini-mobs and how they will improve your life.

I’ve been in a few mobs. I remember one time when the San Francisco 49ers won the Superbowl and I was downtown and got caught up in it. Very scary, the mob surrounded my car and shook it, breaking the mirrors off. Not an experience I wish to repeat.

As my history teacher in community college used to say “the masses are asses.” Yelp is seeing some of the masses are asses problem, as we discussed above. So are other review sites. But Facebook was supposed to save us from these “masses.” After all, we’d only friend or follow our personal friends and people we knew and that would solve all the world’s problems. Well, it didn’t.

Why not? Because our friends still form mobs that don’t really give us the best experiences.

Talking with Bill

Look at what happened at SXSW this year: the crowds got so big that the experiences that some of us had weren’t as good as previous years. Jolie O’Dell says she’s not going back. I, too, felt that there was less goodness this year. Mostly because you couldn’t escape from the masses. Masses are fun for a while, but the really extraordinary experiences I’ve had have been smaller. Far smaller.

Look at this chat I was a part of with Bill Gates. I’ll forever remember it. Partly because it was Bill Gates, but partly because it was small, intimate, and focused. The best parties at SXSW were that way too, which is why I woke up to go downstairs to join the Revolving Door Party.

So, if mobs are bad but small mobs are good, well, then we need to encourage the production of these new, mini-mobs.

Zappos did that by driving a bus around Austin at SXSW. The bus had its own checkin, so you could join up there.

But what do you really want? Well, first, you need malleable social graphs that will show you people who are probably more likely to get along with you. After all, if you hate wine why would you go and hang out with Gary Vaynerchuk? So if you are looking to start a minimob, like he does (he moved his party to a new venue after it got too crowded and the lines got too long to create minimobs) wouldn’t it be better if your Facebook showed you four people near you who were like you? After all, Facebook knows who your REAL friends are. You know, the ones that are like you and the ones you interact with. Those stalker kids might look like you but you don’t interact with them and Facebook knows the difference.

See where we’re going with this? What if Facebook only shared your political thoughts with people like you? What if it showed you sushi restaurants that sushi lovers like me cared about (and only showed you when sushi lovers like you are in the restaurant)? What if it matched your movie tastes to yours and only showed you friends who also liked Avatar?

Wouldn’t that help you build minimobs that match your style and interests? Yes!

So, now, where is Foursquare or Gowalla or the others going to find the oxygen to survive the Facebook onslaught?

Well, it needs both and it needs both quickly. And those companies better be praying every evening that Facebook doesn’t get this stuff for a year or more. If Facebook comes out with a competent location system in April at its sold-out F8 conference this little “check in” game will be over. Sorry, none of these services has enough users to survive a competent Facebook.

My bet? It’s on Facebook but I will use Gowalla and Foursquare all the way until we see how competent Facebook’s offerings are.

See you at the end of April.

Oh, and while we’re talking about mini-mobs, I’m creating one of my own. Next Friday night at the Apple store in Palo Alto on University Ave. Come by anytime in the evening, I’ll be there all night until the store opens and I can pick up my iPad. Plancast has a way to plan our mini-mob, join the fun!

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

69 thoughts on “Malleable social graphs and mini-mobs: why Facebook could destroy Foursquare and Gowalla with one check in

  1. Like the post Robert and the malleable social graphs.

    I think the obvious play for Facebook is to buy Foursquare or Gowalla or the like. Why reinvent the wheel? The bet is on which they pick.

  2. Robert, great post.

    Though new to the world (we launched Whrrl 3 two weeks ago), Whrrl Societies are exactly your “malleable social graphs.” We created them for one simple reason: unprecedented relevance.

    Societies are simply groups of people who check in to the same kinds of places. In your sushi example, had you checked in in Whrrl, you would have automatically ended up in the Wasabi Society, a group of people who go to sushi places. Then you can target recommendations to that Society.

    In short, the members of the Society end up curating real-world knowledge from their point of view.

    There are many Societies of all sorts. The Jimi Hendrix Society is for people who want to follow in Jimi Hendrix's footsteps. The Pinball Wizards Society is for people into video games. The Stan Lee Society captures comic book collectors. There are Fashionistas, Foodies, Night Owls and, of course, our Underground Societies…

    Can you think of a real-world Society you'd love to be part of?

  3. I think Facebook could do Foursquare the same way they could do Twitter. Poorly, with too many features, and after there are already a few million people on Foursquare.

    What Facebook would need to do:
    - Create the right mobile apps (not good track record there)
    - Create filters and educate its users to use them (who you connect with on 4S /= the same as FB)
    - Implement the back end advertiser/business tools that Foursquare is finishing up now

    Yes Facebook could launch location and take on tons of users right away. Same as Yelp, same as Google, but it would almost certainly be an inferior product to start and have too many features to catch on in a way useful to businesses.

    It just seems to make much more sense for them to buy Foursquare. They should have already bought them.

  4. I agree there is a great financial opportunity. the artistry will be in melding past & present behaviors (what i/friends liked; what i'm doing) with a future purchase decision. while check-ins about the present are fun, plancast and kartme.com seem to both be going after that more profitable space of the mix between past&future decisions.

  5. Facebook Events. Calendars. It's already there. All this locational where-am-I-now spywareish spam appeals to only to the dork geek set. And besides, the Yelp-like YouTube-commenter “wisdom” of the masses is across-the-board worthless — for if you have any interest in an area, say wine, going to some taste test or Festival or joining a local Club, will yield far better results than some computer-mediated “relationship”.

    After the whole 'contacting people in your high school class and etc. 'wears off. You soon realize the reasons why they are no longer in your present. Becomes a narcissistic, Twitterish look at me — see my vacation and party snaps thing. Facebook fatigue, it's getting there, and seems like 80% of Facebook is just a bad flash games and scammish apps platform anyways. Even my friends that I like, I begin to hate, if they Farmville/Petville or Bad App of the Day whatnot spam me. Facebook is impossible without a dozen Greasemonkey's to make it work. Just add time, even Facebook will wear off, always a new fad.

  6. Gianni, I just can't see any of the younger women I know on Facebook trusting location-based checkins. Just can't see it. Willing to be totally wrong.

    Facebook needs to be really careful here. If they get slammed by Cosmo, they can kiss off the 15-25 year old female demographic.

  7. How is this different from using hashtags or joining a Facebook group or becoming a fan of a page? Checking in sounds like following a hashtag. You can check into Avatar or search for #Avatar and read what they wrote. I don't see how this would work if a wine lover wrote about a certain wine without writing “wine” or tagging it with #wine. Facebook should already shows you what your friends post in a group or fan page, but we can't filter fan pages to show just friends.

  8. Very insightful article Robert. Thanks for sharing. I feel that a malleable social graph makes sense to someone like you who has 1000+ friends on facebook and several thousand on 4square. When you have a such a huge domain space there are very high chances that one of your friends who also shares some of your interests is in the same area. With smaller domain spaces (meaning the average facebook user who has 150-200 friends or even less) the chances of that overlap is very small and such a malleable graph based only on friends starts having diminishing returns.

    Thats why I respectfully disagree that Facebook could eat 4sqaure's lunch. Because the only way such a malleable graph is going to be useful to an average user is if you remove the “friends only” restriction and show “anyone” who overlaps with your interest and is near you. Facebook – even if they launch location in the F8 – has a huge legacy of showing you only “friends” or “fans” feeds that you have choosen and there will be huge cultural resistance to move away from a USP that has been successful to get 400 million users. However 4square has not such legacy and they will start showing you anyone who is in your area.

    That being said I love your no nonsense focus on money….saying you would invest in 4square anyway !!

  9. Great post, Robert! I totally agree on the malleable social graph to power where to go, who to meet up with, what movie to see…etc, etc. But, on #3 re: politics you essentially say that a successful execution of a malleable graph would eliminate all those right-leaning rants from your newsfeeds. While I emphathize with the supremely irritating political rants (and at the 7000 friend mark could be really overwhelming), I'm not sure how I feel about the notion that a successful social network algorithm is one that ensures we don't get exposed to any ideas we don't agree with. It seems like we as individuals should make that choice by deciding who we want in our social graphs and who we don't – just like we would in real life. Maybe I'm misunderstanding your position?

  10. Right! We want to get recommendations from people who are in context and who have tastes like us. Malleable social networks are needed because sometimes our friends are either not in context or not like us, or both.

    An interesting example is a local social search service called Tellmewhere which has implemented what they call “personalized search” to get around the masses are asses problem you mention. Their iphone and android apps have a simple user interface to rate places you like (or not!) and a robust “Genie” algorithm that analyzes all ratings by all people plus all social graph connections in order to serve up personalized recommendations from others that share your tastes.

    Awesome post Robert – thanks!

  11. Robert, you got me thinking about these location wars despite having just tweeted that “I have decided to sit out the whole check-in/location service stuff – transient hype. I call/text people I care about & want to meet. “
    You may be a bit of a unique use case: “I have more than 7,000 friends”. That is a lot. Dunbar says it ain't so, but you are unique. But it is the flash mob in a revolutionary context in say Iran that is pretty wild. The SXSW video is a glimpse of that. But that will be part of Twitter or Facebook (personally I am betting on Twitter but that's another story).
    There could still be a quick flip play for VC here, not saying that's an exciting story!

  12. Robert, you are missing the point, big time. You can not dismiss FourSquare for the same reason you could not have dismissed Twitter, or Facebook before that. Google did try to kill Facebook. Today Facebook is about to or has eclipsed Google.

  13. I don’t wanna win a godwin point here but your point of view about how you don’t wanna hear about people who disagree with you seems a little bit extremist to me.

    I actually care for people ideas who are not the same as mine, maybe more than those which are the same as mine. That’s the beauty of dialogue I guess.

  14. The numbers tell a one sided story. However.

    I still intensely dislike FB' messy UI enough to prevent me from ever using a FB-based location service simply to avoid coping with the visual noise. So IMHO they'd have to a) do it right and b) tidy up the UI

    And I disagree with whoever lashed about the money potential – contrarily to previous waves of internet-induced hype, LBS tap into a huge virgin territory who are small businesses; BTW, when you read book on the history of publishing, you learn that the same “local” interests were the same that fueled the explosive growth of the publishing industry at the turn of the Century

  15. I said over on Twitter than I think your definition of maliable flexible graphs may really be a belief in maliable flexible 'friends' – connections who handily fit the shapes of our desires. As Chris Saad said a while ago, “The user is the only one with a clear rational statement about their own data, and there is no good default setting”. Frequently, what appears to be an obvious and very rational assumption to one person seems like crazy talk to another. Why wouldn't someone who washes their car *not* also be interested in lamps? And even if they weren't generally interested in lamps, lamps might become an important issue at some point in their life. The magical levels of granularity your mailable social graph calls for seems to rely on an even greater invasion of my privacy than me telling the world where I am at any given time.

    In terms of friends (let alone connections) the only people who engage with and try to relate to every part of another persons lives are the newly in love, stalkers, and detectives. Regular relationships include wide margins of tolerance for the other persons inexplicable lack of taste in some areas, while they are clearly capable of excellent judgement in wanting to be our friends or in sharing our opinions.

    The sushi example is again a very subjective one. What if the majority of people who wanted to visit a sushi place didn't actually like 'real sushi'? Then the system – telling users it's not a good place because it serves sushi for people who like 'real sushi' is by definition working for the majority of users. You are basically proposing augmenting mainstream channels with the internal granularity to generate user-determined, location-based niche communities of interest. It's not a huge ask actually, although I'd probably lower your expectations of the likely returns of connections based on ticking the same interest boxes, and, as you say, there's a way to go before the location part is actually useful to the majority of users. Overly complex granularity, like an indiscriminate friends list, leaves many regular users in the same fall back position – ignoring permissions controls because its easier. This is one of the reasons niche communities are always going to do OK outside of the majors.

    I've also got to say that if you declare your political affiliation as Liberal Democrat on facebook, it's kind of obvious you are going to get targeted ads from the Republican party. That'll be what they pay facebook for.

  16. Hi Robert, I think this is absolutely an under- (or un-)exploited area that can add a lot of value, whether to FB or to new entrants.

    I think the trick, however, is in how transparent the user experience is. At Going we had a motto around this, “No mystery-meat recommendations!”

    Our recommendation engine was pretty good at telling users about other Events in their city that they might like based on ones they had RSVPd to and who else they had these commonalities with. However, sometimes the data actually hides complexity.

    In your Avatar case, people could like Avatar for 20 different reasons. Someone might be a James Cameron devotee, someone else might be into 3D, another might have been dragged to the movie by her geek boyfriend but ended up liking it. So, the hard part is teasing out the why of someone's actions, as you illustrated very well in the Yelp/non-sushi example.

  17. Facebook has a disadvantage in that you only connect with your friends. How can you find people who are wise and love wine if you aren't friends with anyone like that. On ALikeList, you can connect with these kinds of people to receive good recommendations. You are already likely to know a lot of your circle of friends tastes and favorite places.

  18. I think Ian started something with the word, DNA. Social Malleable Graphs or DNA would be fantastic if you could search this way but also believe it will be as far off of mapping DNA itself.

    How do you graph “Try something new, out of your element or present norm likes”? I don't like Sushi but have tried several times at different places hoping I would find something I like- graph that.

  19. I think that the current way of sorting is going to evolve into something far more complex and it will be algorithms such as those that Google had (has) for Search that will win through. It is too simplistic to say that because Facebook has the numbers, they will win if they do it correctly; the later suggestion of them buying a company that has done it will likely prove to be more accurate. I have yet to see how to find new people accurately or link with favourites in the way that I want to, but I'm trying as many of these services as I can fit into a busy day.

    I spoke to someone in the company yesterday. Just bumped into them and had a very interesting chat about what was new and what they were up to, but having done that I may not want to see them for a month or two, or unless I need their expertise or influence. I need to be able to put these requirements into the search and when they're all added up it becomes like some DNA forensic request to match up. Sometimes I don't need it to be physical. It could be online in the same way and as with the crowds that gather around people, it might be easier to be heard in the confines of the internet. I'd love to spend some time listening to you in the real world, but I'm sure that the crowd would soon overtake the situation. There are more interesting (or more dominant, influential,…) people than me to listen to. But I can listen to you online and gain so much, even if I don't like sushi.

    Years ago we use to sort punched cards by pushing rods through a certain set of holes. The best selection could then be raised out of the pack manually. I suppose that would be your SQL search nowadays. But this is very fixed. It needs to be far more fuzzy and it needs to pick up the mood of the moment. I find it hard to mix Facebook, which I use for personal life, with business contacts. I'm more into twitter, yammer, linkedIn etc. I also use it far differently to my two children (teens). The amount of information to process on their pages is vast but largely transient. I suppose that I need a separate service to be searching all my areas to find my mood and to be suggesting who to meet and where to go. Maybe this could be done by a Facebook app, but I find that area very crowded and people are less willing to use and download those. Something new sometimes has more credibility and geek factor and is simpler to get into.

    In the end we maybe need a personal wifi transponder to transmit our mood to the local area. All the services will be more connected together. In my case that would be my iPhone, I suppose. It will be interesting to see where it gets to. Thanks for the discussion.

  20. I think that the current way of sorting is going to evolve into something far more complex and it will be algorithms such as those that Google had (has) for Search that will win through. It is too simplistic to say that because Facebook has the numbers, they will win if they do it correctly; the later suggestion of them buying a company that has done it will likely prove to be more accurate. I have yet to see how to find new people accurately or link with favourites in the way that I want to, but I'm trying as many of these services as I can fit into a busy day.

    I spoke to someone in the company yesterday. Just bumped into them and had a very interesting chat about what was new and what they were up to, but having done that I may not want to see them for a month or two, or unless I need their expertise or influence. I need to be able to put these requirements into the search and when they're all added up it becomes like some DNA forensic request to match up. Sometimes I don't need it to be physical. It could be online in the same way and as with the crowds that gather around people, it might be easier to be heard in the confines of the internet. I'd love to spend some time listening to you in the real world, but I'm sure that the crowd would soon overtake the situation. There are more interesting (or more dominant, influential,…) people than me to listen to. But I can listen to you online and gain so much, even if I don't like sushi.

    Years ago we use to sort punched cards by pushing rods through a certain set of holes. The best selection could then be raised out of the pack manually. I suppose that would be your SQL search nowadays. But this is very fixed. It needs to be far more fuzzy and it needs to pick up the mood of the moment. I find it hard to mix Facebook, which I use for personal life, with business contacts. I'm more into twitter, yammer, linkedIn etc. I also use it far differently to my two children (teens). The amount of information to process on their pages is vast but largely transient. I suppose that I need a separate service to be searching all my areas to find my mood and to be suggesting who to meet and where to go. Maybe this could be done by a Facebook app, but I find that area very crowded and people are less willing to use and download those. Something new sometimes has more credibility and geek factor and is simpler to get into.

    In the end we maybe need a personal wifi transponder to transmit our mood to the local area. All the services will be more connected together. In my case that would be my iPhone, I suppose. It will be interesting to see where it gets to. Thanks for the discussion.

  21. I like the term “Malleable Social Graphs”, it has a zing to it :)

    Reading your article, I'm beginning to wonder how many things facebook can get its hands on. They have been very aggressive on copying twitter and I just read about launching a global like system, that sounds like a digg killer and now you are talking about them going after foursquare and gowalla.

    Yes, they have the users and they could give these companies a scare. But to me, malleable social networks seem to have very different properties and use cases than networks like facebook and I find it hard to believe that one service can serve both the markets well.

  22. This is the point I was making in the post that got you so angry the other day, Robert. We have a long way to go and things could get shaken up very easily. Good to see we share some common ground! :)

  23. Your item 3 (why would a liberal Democrat see Republican ads?) is a problem for advertising in general. I forget who said it, but good advertising doesn't seem like advertising – it seems like information. Unfortunately, a Facebook advertiser's idea of good advertising is to stick my age onto any random ad, which results in ridiculous ad statements such as “We need 48 year olds who want to become police officers.” Really?

  24. Aren't they really just doing a radial search with your lat+long at the moment? Pretty easy to do and IMHO just because someone is near you it doesn't make them relevant. For example, I'm at a bar and a friend is close by at a doctor. No relevance.

    I agree we need what you're calling “malleable” social graphs and definitely see why something like this is being called “web 3.0″ – taking meta data and adding algorithms around preferences and similar ideas makes a lot of sense.

    I personally think Facebook's gigantic team of engineers have a better chance of bringing this to life than Foursquare's. Why? They have a larger set of data to play with and have a better track record at getting mainstream adoption for other complex features.

  25. If Foursquare has reached 500K users faster than Twitter, what's to say that Foursquare (or, even more likely, Gowalla) will not reach critial mass very quickly and start rolling in new functionality to threaten Facebook? Sound crazy…?

    As you point out, there is currently little incentive for people to check-in. But it is coming…. As large retail players partner with these platforms to load in branded locations and tie-in proven, popular incentive-based loyalty programs they will allow the platforms to transition from virtual goods (pins and badges) to real, tangible rewards (a free latte). Starbucks has signed up with Foursquare and Chevrolet with Gowalla. By linking campaign performance to store visits and incremental purchases, these platforms might FINALLY have found a way to quantify mobile advertising ROI.

    Facebook is a “wall” of interaction, cluttered, fueled by ego and not location-enabled. 60% of people stop using Twitter after a month. The percentage of people who use social networks like Facebook on feature phones (not app-running smartphones) is only 6.8%, yet these devices make up roughly 75% of US handsets. How are the 400 million people using Facebook going to checkin, when most are sitting at home? Obviously, Facebook is a giant force, but these check-in platforms are in a unique position to really shake things up. Their lead is building daily.

    You fail to point out that both Gowalla and Foursquare tie in to both Twitter and Facebook, so status updates by location (check-ins) are piggyback broadcast to trusted friend networks, with comments and input about the location, delivered in realtime, and with links back to Gowalla and Foursquare. This speeds viral uptake.

    Gowalla, unlike Foursquare, has location-validation as a prerequisite for check-in. I am sitting in the Las Vegas airport and I can check-in to a Starbucks in Boston on Foursquare right now. I cannot on Gowalla. This difference is very significant, when you consider that brands will want validated point of sale interaction, not metrics tainted by inflated numbers caused by check-in cheating. Foursquare is on an advertising path and wants mass numbers, Gowalla is, I suspect, after something far more powerful.

    I disagree that mini mobs are anything of significance. A fringe element of geocachers and geeky location minded coders might find it exciting to assemble and revel in their unified location, but I doubt most will.

    You lost me in your definition of “malleable graphs”. Isn't this just interaction with those in your network based on pushed locational relevance? IE, see who you know and if they are nearby? Loopt and many others have offered “friend finder” location sharing for a long time. Interesting, but with no tie-in to business locations, these have not attracted $ and have largely been used to deliver hyper-local ads. Fine but annoying to most and how much $ does a local pizza joint really have to spend?

    The real power of social networking check-in platforms is that they offer big nationals a new mobile ad unit fueled by voluntary consumer interaction with the branded locations where they sell their wares, finally bridging the “research online buy offline” gap. And this skirts around the “carrier barrier”. Because of this, I bet these platforms (Gowalla, in particular) take off faster than we can imagine and might even threaten the mighty Facebook.

    Great discussion.

    For more, here's a recent article I wrote on this – featured on “Voices Of The Industry” Section of GPS Business News http://xfru.it/gH0pvL

  26. Foursquare has already shown some of the monetization potential of location. And they are doing a much better job at this than, say, Gowalla. Still, businesses (particularly local) are just starting to wake up to the potential of these platforms – which is to be expected, since these platforms are themselves new. Nice post, Robert.

  27. I think you'll get more Robert, but not until the engine powering it has the amount of data about you, your preferences, your habits, your IRL friends, online friends etc etc.

  28. The real money made by the smart players present for the bubble 1.0 was equally immense.

    The bubble formed because of /real/ potential

    But, as it was a potiential, any bet n the market on those companies, was essentially a gamble, more or less a safer bet based on whatever inside info you might have had.

    bubble 2.0 isn't any different. There Is real money at stake, but not all the companies we're betting on are going to get it. We're gambling.

  29. That's the simplest thing that they can do with the location information. If they have to go beyond that, it is going to require quite a bit of storing processed information on you and I such as “shyamster and scobelizer have young kids” and “they would enjoy comparing notes with each other when they are at a theme park”. Kind of scary if you think about it, but that's where we are going…

  30. Wow interesting video, wish they had some landmarks on it. Obviously you can see where the convention center is, but I don't know the other popular venues are there.

  31. Foursquare is already presenting a piece, though. It separates people who are near me from people who are not. THAT is malleable social graphs! I just want more…

  32. GoWalla and Foursquare are focused on “cool” user experiences and engaging their audience with game theory (winning badges etc). These companies have to process gobs of data real time to offer the malleable social experience that you are looking for. Catering to the mob is easier and safer!

    Facebook still needs to figure out how to connect the dots with all the information that they already have. LBS would be complementary data that they can acquire in the future.

  33. Maybe because they know this team is out running Facebook and poking in an area that Facebook isn't going to see well. Plus, Andreesen has the $8 million to burn. Is there any other company out there as interesting to invest in as Foursquare? Not that I can see. I'd invest too, truth be told (I have no money so don't worry about such things but I am investing my time).

  34. No disagreement there – there's huge value in malleable social graphs, and whoever gets there first is going to have the advantage. I think as a sporadic search tool it works – “people in NYC with similar musical taste” or “people in Boston who know museums really really well”. I just fear that turning on “only people like me, all the time”, particularly when it comes to politics… it's not without risk.

  35. Robert I agree with your conclusion but here's a question: Why are Andreessen [an FB board member] and Accel [FB investor with Breyer on the board] — who both have an information advantage vs. you and I on what Facebook will do in location — 2 of the 4 VC firms competing to lead the investment in Foursquare ?

  36. I'm not saying get totally rid of the people who aren't like you, after all, maybe you'll need to see a chick flick once in a while and you'll need to realign your social graph around those tastes. :-) Also, you'd still see other people, they would just be lower down on your iphone than people who share your tastes. Sometimes I do want to learn something new, but even there having malleable social graphs is useful. Let's say I am not into Broadway Plays and I want to hang out in New York with people who can show me around. Wouldn't it be cool if you could do that? Right now everyone is equal on Facebook. Well, sorry, that's not very useful. If Foursquare can get there first they have a shot. Even better if Zuckerberg remains clueless.

  37. The problem could be though: if you're always in mini-mobs based on similar tastes, how strong can your opinions be? If stating “Avatar was awesome” gets you universal adulation, how well is that argument going to hold up against someone who's studied it enough to pick apart the writing, acting, plot, and so on. Constantly surrounding yourself with people who agree with you isn't without risk, because if you're not having your ideas challenged, then you never have any incentive to really think them through and develop your points.

    That being said, there's a new service that does a really cool job of facilitating mini-mobs called Meet Gatsby. You provide them a list of interests, and when someone checks into foursquare near you with comparable interests, Gatsby notifies both of you. You can check it out at http://www.meetgatsby.com

  38. Totally agreed. Foursquare should pray every night that Zuckerberg is clueless about location and won't get it in time. If he does, though, this game is over.

  39. Well, in my world, you'd still see those other people but they would be below the friends who more closely matched your interests. Foursquare has done this first. Look at the iPhone app: it shows you friends who are closer to you. This is a HUGE reason why I still think Foursquare is going to win at this game and Gowalla is not.

  40. Is it only me or is this the iNet Bubble 2.0?

    Crazy money being thrown at companies – check
    Companies with no real business model other than “we will make money from advertising” (eg Twitter, Foursquare etc.) – check

  41. I've already done a few rounds with others on this (and found support for my opinion): if Facebook does the obvious and correct thing, 4s and gowalla are screwed, and not in a good way.

    However…

    I've sat in Silicon Valley cube farms. The bigger the corporation, the slower it moves, and the less gets done for the right reason. All it would take at FB is one person in management grinding the wrong axe, FB loses. Then there's the “creep” factor, not quantifiable. If females on FB get creeped out, FB location is toast.

  42. So are you saying that because I don't like wine and wouldn't be interested in hanging out with Vaynerchuk at his wine event, that that means I wouldn't want to hang out with him at a Jay-Z concert with no wine involve?

    Or would you expect Facebook (or Gowalla or Foursquare) to be clever enough to know which situations people near you are relevant and which situations they're not?

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