Are location geeks at Where 2.0 off the path to real money?

Location Geeks

Walking around the hallways at the Where 2.0 Conference today I met tons of developers doing some very interesting things with location, but they seem to be stuck in a mode where they think where you are right now is all that matters. The photo here is of Where 2.0 organizer Brady Forrest (left) and Mike Pegg, who works on Google’s location API team.

Look at organizer Brady Forrest’s blog from today about what the big conversations are or look at NextWeb’s report about one of the coolest startups to come out of the geo space, SimpleGeo. Everyone is talking about how to better display data about what is happening right now. Or what happened yesterday.

Actually where I am right now is pretty damn boring stuff. I’m upstairs typing on my iMac. Does that help anyone have a good experience? No. Because it’s 1 a.m. and I can’t meet with you, so having a meeting right now isn’t gonna be a good outcome. I’m also home in Half Moon Bay and most of you are somewhere else. Is some business happy if I check in right now on Foursquare, Gowalla, Whrrl, or Brightkite? No. They are all closed so they can’t offer me anything to get me to visit them. Not that I would at 1 a.m. anyway.

Would seeing what I did yesterday (along with thousands of other people) be interesting, as new company SimpleGeo says it would be? I found it really isn’t. Nothing that happened yesterday is as interesting as what we’re going to do in the future. This is why I am such a big supporter of Plancast, which lets me plan out my major events.

But there is no Plancast for location and very few people are thinking about that, at least based on my discussions with Gowalla, Foursquare, Google, and other developers working on location-based features.

Opportunity lost all the way around. Here’s why:

What am I doing right now that you, brands, my family, my coworkers, etc all would be VERY interested in?

I’m planning a trip to Israel. Just bought our tickets. That was last night’s chore.

Tonight? Starting to think about what startups I want to see, what hotels I need to get, what touristy things I want to do. I have tons of events that have already been decided for me, too, like Yossi Vardi’s Kinnernet camp, or the Marker Conference, one of Israel’s tech conference, or a party at the Garage Geeks. They are all in Google Calendar.

But I keep looking around for a good way to plan my life around location. One that hooks two-way into Google Calendar. I haven’t found it yet.

First, let’s go to Google and see what’s out there. I type “trip planning” into Google and what comes up? Lots of trip planners, but they all are pretty sucky when compared to the UI goodness of Gowalla or the location utility of Foursquare (as much as I am beating on them in this post, they both are improving my life, just think of how interesting these would be to use if I could say “I plan to check in here in the future” and it could build a map and experiences for me.

There’s Rand McNally. Oh, it’s for a roadtrip. Israel? Plus, it forces you to work in the way IT wants you to work.

TripIt? I love TripIt, but it’s not for mapping out your trip to a foreign country. It’s good for sending your emails from flight carriers like United to, though, and it will tell you a bunch of stuff about your trip. Useful, but I want something that lets me plot my trip on a Map.

How about NextStop? NextStop is close. It has places, it has maps, it has interactivity. What doesn’t it have? A timeline and integration with Google Calendar. For instance, look at this guide to places to visit in Barcelona. That’s pretty cool, but I need to plan out my calendar and let you know that I’ll be in spot #4 at 2 p.m. on Sunday. No real way to do that here.

How about Dopplr? Dopplr is cool if you are a social media geek because you can see who else will be in Tel Aviv during a trip there, but it doesn’t hook into Google Calendar, so doesn’t help me keep my schedule.

How about Pageonce, which lets you see data from United Airlines and add your Google accounts? So far it’s not close to what would be useful.

So why am I rambling on?

Because of two apps, one of which I saw last night at SF’s iPhone App Showcase: Address Assistant. The other is Siri, which we’ve covered before, but has raised my expectations of what an app can and should do.

On the surface, Address Assistant is pretty lame. You add it to your Google Calendar (yes, you have to give them your Gmail password, I already yelled at them about that but I did it anyway).

Then it does something very simple: it adds contact information into my calendar. So, I did a Calendar item that said “visit Orli Yakuel” who lives in Tel Aviv and it put all her info into the calendar item.

Why is that important? Well, now let’s take it a step further. I also use Gist, which shows me all sorts of social data about Orli, like what is her Twitter address, how many times have I sent her email, what’s her Facebook address, and a ton of other things.

OK, now look at what the system knows.

1. Google Calendar knows I’m visiting her on May 4 and attending her Techonomy event.
2. Plancast knows I’ll be at that event, and even has a map and knows other attendees.
3. Gist knows all about Orli and if Orli put her physical address into that, it would know that too.
4. Plancast also knows that I’m going to TEDx in TelAviv and Yossi Vardi’s Kinnernet Camp.
5. United.com, TripIt, and Pageonce all know my flight information.
6. NextStop knows that I searched on TelAviv and clicked on several items to read them.
7. Google knows I searched on “Jerusalem tours” and other terms.

What don’t ANY of these systems do? They don’t let me see my schedule on a map.

Opportunity lost.

Now, what if I could say to a map system like Google Maps “map out April 26-May5?”

Already Google Calendar has tons of information about where I’ll be and at what times and using a technology like what Address Assistant or Gist is doing, it could get quite accurate information about addresses, dates, times. It could then ask me how granular I wanted to get.

Let’s say there was a time slider along the bottom of the map. So I could slide from Tuesday morning to Tuesday afternoon to Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning to Wednesday afternoon and so on and so forth.

Let’s say I saw that I laid out my schedule badly, because I had us traveling from one side of Tel Aviv to the next. Could I just drag my appointments around on the map and reorder their schedules? Could that tell Google Calendar “things have changed?”

What’s my business justification for doing such a system?

Well, I just spent thousands of dollars on flights (Rocky and I are both going) and I’m about to spend thousands of dollars on hotels for the 10 days I’ll be there.

Advertisers can influence my purchases RIGHT NOW for a trip that won’t happen for a month.

Can they do that on Foursquare or Gowalla? No way. Google Latitude? No way. Google Buzz? No way.

It’s amazing to me that the Google Mapping team hasn’t shipped this already. Think of the billions of dollars in unsatisfied intent they are leaving on the table.

Could Facebook ship this? I doubt it.

Twitter? I doubt it.

Could Foursquare or Gowalla do it? Absolutely, but the check-in gesture these two are stuck on isn’t really appropriate. It’s more of a “I want to check in here at a future date” gesture.

Could such a system be useful when I head around TelAviv with Foursquare or Gowalla? Absolutely. It could notice that I am checking in on time according to my pre-planned schedule and could give me a badge for that. Or it could notice that I’m way off of my plan, and offer to renegotiate my afternoon commitments (as happens, maybe someone like Yossi or Orli kept us too long at lunch, or maybe we got caught in unplanned traffic).

What else could it do, though?

Well, we could leave wildcard spots open. For instance, let’s look at my plan for tomorrow. I have to meet Eric Ries in San Francisco at 9 a.m. The system should know I have to drive from Half Moon Bay to San Francisco. Can I leave 15 minutes for a coffee stop? Can the system use Siri to negotiate with the APIs from those coffee shops as to what is going to be the cheapest cup of coffee I could get? Sure!

Or, when I leave Eric’s place I’ll have an hour free for lunch. Could it use Foursquare to see what location between Eric’s house and my house has the most friends right now? Sure! Could it use Yelp to find the best reviewed fast-food restaurant on the way home? Sure! Could it hook up with Waze to warn me that someone has reported a traffic accident on the way home? Sure!

All of these are ways for businesses to advertise, negotiate with you over terms (Yelp already does this with its offers from businesses near you and so does Foursquare, it’s just that both of those systems only know about my location right before I get there if they are relying on the “check in” gesture). But I already know I will be in San Francisco next Monday and I will be in Tel Aviv on April 27th. Why can’t those same restaurants be pitching me now?

The focus on “here we are now” (or worse, games, like all the leaders are using) is leading the location based service industry down a path away from the real money and away from real utility and that’s a damn shame.

Or, do you think I’m headed down the wrong path? Let’s talk about it. I’ll show up on Google Buzz, Facebook, or on my blog’s own comments to discuss the location industry further.

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.

51 thoughts on “Are location geeks at Where 2.0 off the path to real money?

  1. Potentially even more interesting is the fact that all of these services already exist around this space, yet none of them (on their own) are able to fill this niche. It still takes a combination of several to achieve what Scoble is looking for.

    As a whole, what Robert is describing is like needing Twitpic, bit.ly, and HootSuite to effectively use Twitter, except in a different space. So, do startups keep iterating around some of these features, or does one company move to incorporate the entire experience?

  2. Love this post. Glad someone is thinking like this. Have you tried Schmap Player (http://www.schmap.com/) ? It's not exactly what you want, but it might be a stop gap measure for now (though I haven't checked to see if it has maps of Israel).

  3. Again, great insight into the growing pains. Perhaps the best way to approach this is an entorely new claendar system that allows trusted content to know something of your location?

    Apologies if this is overly simple.

  4. The only concern I could see is the possibility of publishing other peoples' addresses inadvertently. When the item is a business appointment there's probably no harm, but there will be people who mix business and personal items on the same calendar and not pay attention to what gets published. I hate the idea of “checking in” at a private home, and mixing a calendar with location seems even worse.

  5. The location app craze is the next step in social media development/narcissism . You are correct, nobody really cares except the one sharing their location.

    Kids Virtual Worlds

  6. Hey Robert, just getting back from Sydney and seeing this — given my involvement with nextstop AND Google Calendar I thought this post was really interesting. I really like the scenario you are trying to paint, but I think the main challenge with making this a reality is that the vast majority of people aren't very good “planners” at least in the Google Calendar sense — and this is not simply a problem with current tools.

    For example, we did a lot of research in the early days of Google Calendar into how people managed their time, and what was really interesting to me (as a super heavy calendaring user) is that there are huge segments of the population who just don't plan things out very specifically. The thing that was interesting to me is that when it comes to day-to-day life, the primary predictor of how people used calendaring was not whether or not they were “busy”, but whether their calendar was unpredictable — lots of busy people with a very regular schedule didn't feel the need for a calendar because it was easy enough to remember that every Tuesday they had a class or the kids had soccer or whatever. When these people did use calendaring systems, it was often just to remember the exceptions, not everything on the calendar, making all the things we've taken for granted as business calendaring users very hard to deliver in the personal calendaring world (i.e., scheduling, directions from place to place, etc.).

    In the travel realm — which is what I think about mostly now — planning is even more complicated in that outside of business travel (where I think you have a lot more scheduled activities) what you do when you are traveling somewhere is based on so many factors — how is the weather? Maybe its raining today so you'd rather go to a museum instead of going to an outdoor cafe. Are you hungover and want to sleep in? Are you visiting friends, and how is their schedule changing? Is there some event going on that you really want to plan your trip around, or is it more of a “see what I can see in 48 hours” kind of trip? Beyond “I'm going to be in Sydney from April 2-8″, its very rare that you really need to plan to the hour or even the day most things you do on a non-business trip, or that you won't change your mind pretty regularly as conditions on the ground change.

    In my opinion, the way to help achieve the kind of smarts in the system you are going for here is to be as lightweight as possible — not to help people plan things out more on a calendar. Its not that I don't think this would be great (I'd use it) but outside of a relatively narrow set of people the work maintaining the plan exceeds the need for a plan. I think services like Plancast are on the right track here as far as a super lightweight way to do social planning and we (nextstop) are trying to find ways to make it really easy to take the information you need with you (and be smart about suggesting things you might want to do but haven't explicitly asked for), without forcing people to go through a lot of detailed planning that isn't always that useful. Hope we can sit down with you in a few weeks and show you what we're working on there – would be great to get your feedback particularly in light of this post.

    Carl (Founding PM, Google Calendar, currently co-founder of nextstop.com).

  7. I think you're on to something.
    But please try to help the implementors avoid the oppressive intrusive versions like in the Minority Report movie. And maybe re-read more of PKD's fiction as well. Many good ideas have a dark side, as we've recently seen with google stalk-your-ex (I forget the actual product name), and for someone I know nothing about to be able to learn exactly where I plan to be in the near future has some seriously evil potential as well. We need technology innovators to deal with potentials for abuse in the design phase, rather than let tacked-on security cost everyone billions later. I make my living these days helping clean up exactly that sort of mess, but I'd rather live in a future where that doesn't have to happen so much.

  8. Great analysis and interesting ideas. I wonder though if all this planning and integration of redundant. I'm not sure if I ever plan a trip or a week at a level of detail or try to optimize every minute. However, if the service was built in the road where you could make it simple and detailed as you like, maybe that would achieve broad user base. sesli sohbet sesli chat

  9. Great post Robert! Technology provider aside, I think your application has a great purpose for super travelers and uber planners. I’m interested in geo applications integrating with physical things, from blenders to bicycles. I’ve been studying some of the European Economic and Social Committee’s documentation on “The Internet of Things”.

    I’d like to have my car send a text message to the contact on my Google Calendar that I’m stuck at a light and will be late, without me triggering anything. The car just knows I’m not going to make my Google calendar event on time. OK and there can be ads in the text messages. I want my bike to request an ambulance if I’ve been hit by a car. From what I’ve read, this is happening but it’s complicated. There's even “The Intranet of Things” to support security and public safety.

  10. The 'not showing up' problem is something that people are conditioned into at this point.

    I think the fact that there's no attachment to the Place you've indicated you'll be at leaves us free to change our plans. If there was a hot cup of coffee waiting for me because I put my plan on Plancast and negotiated a commitment to the coffee shop, I'd show up.

  11. “…if I could say “I plan to check in here in the future” and it could build a map and experiences for me…..”

    Robert, you just laid down a billion dollar idea here. I think you should charge FourSquare at least a few thousand dollars to consult for them to help them get there. You detail the vision, they do the tech.

  12. Hi Robert,

    Great post. Your scenarios illustrate the two key limitations of the current crop of location-based applications.

    1. They are after-the-fact. I engage with Foursquare / Gowalla after I'm already AT a restaurant (and btw it's almost always a restaurant, not some other kind of entity). Foursquare isn't really involved in my decision – it's just a place I can broadcast a decision I've already made.
    2. They have limited understanding of entities relevant to the task. Most of their data is UGC (I often have to enter restaurants when I check in), and they don't understand events like a concert at all. God help me if I'm on a hiking trail.

    The key need here is a semantically meaningful database of *things*, to key all your features off of, and search tool to find & organize them. The system needs to know that Yo La Tengo is a band playing at the Fillmore on the 23rd of April, with a date and a location – not just a pile of keywords without any meaning. Any system like this needs to cover hotels and restaurants as well as non-business entities like hiking trails or concerts, and once you leave hotels/restaurants, this information is hard to come by. Your idea about 2-way calendar integration with Google is a great one, one we'd not considered – but once you have the information model, keeping lists and integrating calendars is straightforward.

    The data organization is the hard problem, and one that we're solving at Goby (disclosure: I'm the ceo). We crawl the web, organizing travel and free-time related activities into a what/where/when search interface, with easy to understand listings with things like prices & photos.

    As you rightly point out, there's a well-trodden path for making money off travel-related planning – getting to a user during the research phase lets an advertiser influence them. Once people have “checked in”, it's too late.

  13. Interesting post and I'd love this level of interaction between all the services mentioned above and my calendar and map. And I agree it would offer an amazing opportunity for businesses, would I decide to expose it to them.

    On the topic of planning your life around location and finding things to do, I think one bit that is missing is some personalization of the service. You say Yelp could help you find the best reviewed restaurant nearby, that's good. But what would be far better is if you'd get the best restaurant nearby based on what you like, or even better, the best restaurant nearby for the combination of what both you and the friend you are about to meet like in common. Ideally, each of the services you've mentioned, all having a notion of location, should become personalized.

    This is what we enable at http://www.LikeCube.com, with our personalized recommendation engine for locations, which the above mentioned services could use to deliver personalized predictions based on your taste.

  14. People are interested in big ideas. That something like that. but you can put into practice and then a short time and not easy to bring up ideas. Whether that is compatible with optimising the experience then also for longer term planning ahead. Good luck

  15. I find your analysis interesting on how the location-based SM apps are stuck on this narrow idea of what a check-in is, when there is potential for so much more! The only hint I've seen of anything new came when I downloaded new app Rally Up by the 12seconds.tv crew. Lets you say you are on the way to a check-in location, and if you want you, can create a “temporary” check-in – called “Birthday Party” or “TEDx conference” to denote the importance of the temporary over the permanent. Not game-changing app in the least, but it's a step in the right direction.

    I think the app you described in your post would be great to see on the iPad… I would love to sync up services to the app, and then drag and drop my contacts, planned events and meetings, planned tourist destinations, favorite hangouts, etc. onto the map. App automatically pins those locations down on the map as well as the timeline, and then the recommendations come streaming in: potential routes & transportation, hotel / rental car / plane tickets, ideas for pit-stops between planned activities, recommended products, etc. When I drag new information in or out, itinerary automatically updates with new information. Then when actually on the trip and immediately afterwards, tons of share options. Geo-tagged tweets and check-ins, geo-tagged photos, blog posts, live video stream, whatever. Good stuff.

  16. @Rummble is about what you do next, not what you're doing now.

    Our personalisation technology aims to give you insight with as little effort as possible to what is nearby that is of interest; and we're pulling many of these strands in.

    Whether that is compatible with then optimising the experience also for “longer term” planning ahead, I'm unsure and wary of complicating things when we're in a process of simplication! All feedback very welcome.

  17. Great analysis and interesting ideas. I wonder though if all this planning and integration of redundant. I'm not sure if I ever plan a trip or a week at a level of detail or try to optimize every minute. However, if the service was built in the road where you could make it simple and detailed as you like, maybe that would achieve broad user base.

  18. Fundamentally, location is boring all by itself and the idea that targeted advertising will somehow make it interesting is only true for those pitching or funding location based services. Some of the ideas you propose here provide real value to the user. Real user value is how these services will eventually take off. Until then, they're just games and wishful thinking about future ad revenue.

  19. The problem of people not showing up becomes much less significant as services like Plancast aggregate many future plans. If even 40% of planned outings don't materialize, the remaining 60% is still a net lift to your results and your ability to anticipate demand just improves over time as you separate the Plancast no-shows from the people you can count on.

    For example, if you're a retailer, you want to be able to use social media to help you plan out your labor and other costs. Seems like there are a lot of companies that view the checkin process through the same prism. So long as this is the case, the opportunity remains for some company who really groks the checkin/location opportunity to cobble together the pieces needed to own the space, much as Salesforce did with CRM.

  20. “I want to check in here at a future date” gesture could work but would have the same problem tht Event RSVPs have. Ppl. don't show up! That said, I think the dynamic changes when you've a travel confirmation. I think tht's where sites like TripIt could nail it.

    But most importantly, integrating all this location data with your professional networking site of choice (FYI, I work at LinkedIn) is essential for all the other goodness you talk about – esp. planning “serendipitous” meetings when you travel. Just my personal $0.02.

  21. One would think that Google is getting most of the pieces of the puzzle in place for this (Calendar, Maps, Buzz Location, Ad knowledge, etc.) … and after reading your post, one would think that they'd be getting a team on it as we speak (same for Bing BTW).

    Could it be that Buzz, which is basically stalled right now, could get a major boost via an improved LBS angle as you are describing. That's really what's been missing for Buzz, isn't it, a use case that makes people go “Wow! I have to do this…”. The mashup you describe could be just what the doctor ordered.

  22. Great analysis and interesting ideas. I'm wondering though if all of this is planning/integration overkill. I'm not sure if I would ever plan out a week or a trip to that level of detail or try to optimize every single minute. However if the service was built in a way where you could make it as simple or detailed as you wanted, maybe that would reach the broadest user base.

  23. I like the way you bring all these services together in one story, from an end-user perspective. Although some may think this is about tech, tech, tech, it really is about functionality and usability. Your story illustrates this very well! And it puts the level of expectation much higher, rightfully. Thank you.

  24. Great points Robert. I think you've nailed a sizable opportunity gap while at the smae time zeroing in on a developmental rule to innovation diffusion:

    1. Identify need.
    2. Build simple services. (building blocks)
    3. Perfect these via competition.
    4. Extend these building blocks over time and/or other dimensions.

    Much like still pictures led to better cheaper still pictures led to motion pictures, the location industry is navigating natural developmental bottlenecks. Clearly it's important to be cognizant of this if you're developing apps in that space.

    What I find REALLY interesting here is the speed at which this is occurring in this industry. Geosocial check-ins became popular in 2009. They saw commoditization in under 1 year – http://www.locationmeme.com/2010/01/29/the-comm… . There are already multiple companies building meta-apps atop foursquare's open platform. And now Scoble and the market demand that someone's got to make higher use of these, expand them over the time axis, plug them into other systems, make them work with advertising. That's faster than the Twitter explosion and marks a continuation of the acceleration of web innovation / Interactive Communication Technologies.

    If you have a moment, order Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations and check out the stack of ICT curves he lays out (compiled by Vijay Gurbaxani). It demonstrates compound acceleration in ICTs and provides a nice broader context for your observations and this here post of yours.

  25. Great post Robert,

    It's a really interesting way to think about scheduling.

    QUESTION: Who do you think will solve this problem? Do you think it will be one the players we've already seen like Foursquare? Or do you think it will be a new player that links them together with a dead simple, easy-to-use service?

  26. This is the first time I am ever reading your blog, and I must say I am blown away. What a brilliant idea, talk about “real-time” – this is what I exactly what I have been waiting to hear from what I am calling the “location wars.” Map my calendar b*tch!

  27. I believe that what’s missing across the board is synthesis, not just with one another, but overall. This isn’t just end to end planning and social integration, it’s a system that enables a journey, not just a moment in time.

    What’s most striking about simple utilities are their lack of depth. Take FourSquare and add funtoinality, and it’s no longer as simple for newbies.

    This is where the platforms like Facebook and Google’s Apps have a huge advantage over the tools. Platforms can easily adapt and enable a journey, because they are built for depth. Enjoy your meetings in Tel Aviv and please send my love to everyone at Kinernet.

  28. Another excellent evaluation by Robert.We The Turks have a saying for succesfull performance,writings,acts etc. of all kind. It's:”Ellerine Saglık”. Has three meanings.
    1-Simply, “Health For Your Hands” (Because you wrote it)
    2-Used after a meal to a person who have prepared the dish.
    3-Finally,and most commonly used for a person who have(has)achieved,performed, extraordinary success by all means,are appreciated by others,using this phrase.In this instant,it can be translated as: ” May God always give strenght to your brain,and hands” (Some say it's; “Labor-Theory-of-Value”-neverthless both are same,serves to appreciate)
    … Devamını Gör
    Thank you sincerly for your valuable contributions Robert . Especially, for new web beginners like me-prepies I may say,who try to sail on “Giant Oceans” on a small boat by shovel power.
    Best Wishes…

  29. Damn you Robert, it's exactly my point, although with lashings more eloquence and insight ;-)

    If you look back to the late 90's and Doc Searls wrote about The Intention Economy in Linux Journal and then in a Harvard paper – this idea that businesses would be better served focussing on the real-time needs of the consumer rather than their own commercial gains.

    Fast-forward that 10 or so years and with the plethora of status updates, (twitter, facebook etc.) and location services (gowalla and foursquare), alongside other services such as plancast, dopplr etc. and you have all the tools to allow a business to focus on the real-time intentions of people.

    Looking at the way that we can make social gestures on networks such as ratings, “like” etc. and we have even further learnings about the intentions of an individual.

    Simply declaring one's current location is simply an inane fact, rather than anything intentional. How realistic is it that we may expect our friends to drop what they are doing because we hace checked-in somewhere nearby?

    That aside, one of the greatest commercial treasures that has gone vastly untapped are tools like ebay's “Want It Now”, where consumers are posting the strongest of signals to buy!

    Tying future plans into location, social gestures and status updates is the strongest, coherent way of understanding an individual's intent, but ultimately enabling brands to add value.

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