February 26, 2013

Location-based services are coming of age (and it’s way more than Foursquare)

3 iphone-screenshots
From left, screenshots of the new app Now, EyeEm and Gogobot.

Geolocation apps start to splinter into verticals

This is the second in an ongoing series on the state of geolocation apps, sites and services. Also see:
• Part 1: Are you ready for the place graph?

Target audience: Startups, entrepreneurs, businesses with location-based components, educators, journalists, general public.

JD LasicaIn part one of this series we looked back at the early days of geolocation, with Platial kicking off the geoloco revolution in the practically prehistoric year of 2005. Since then, a number of paradigm-shifting startups have already come, gone or been sold, among them fwix, Loopt, Ditto, Blockboard, Everyblock (shut down this month) and the late lamented NextStop and Whrrl.

geologo-logoOn Sunday Josh Williams, former founder-CEO of Gowalla and now a product manager at Facebook, penned a great writeup on the early years of the Foursquare-Gowalla death match, spanning 2009-2010, before Foursquare emerged as the King of Check-In Mountain.

Now that the table has been set, what’s next for geolocation? Is it all about Foursquare, Yelp, yawn and go home?

I don’t think so. Instead, we’re seeing geolocation begin to splinter into niches and verticals. And, within a couple of years, geolocation capabilities will simply be baked into our everyday on-the-go lives.

Flavors of location: Travel, recommendations, geo-social & more

We’re still in the expansion, experimentation and buyout phase — before the inevitable contraction, consolidation and hand-wringing phase sets in

In surveying the competitive landscape, I’ve been struck by how diverse the geo landscape has become. We’re still in the expansion, experimentation and buyout phase — before the inevitable contraction, consolidation and hand-wringing phase sets in. Every week, it seems, I hear about a new startup doing something interesting with geolocation. (I still wish Gowalla had pivoted instead of selling to Facebook.)

Navigation apps like Waze and mapping sites (Google, Apple, Mapquest, Bing Maps) are all about location, but they’re too obvious to include here.

So what are the new breed of startups using location information in interesting new ways?

I could use your help in thinking about how to group these startups. Here’s a first stab. Once we have our categories, I’ll drill deeper with a take on what’s working, not working and where the real breakthroughs are. Here goes — see if you can group these differently, and let us know about other notable startups we’ve missed that deserve to be listed here (I’m sure there are dozens!):

Place annotations and discoveries


1Description: With these apps, it’s all about places. Document and tag your city, discover what’s interesting around you, share what you discover with the world or your network. This is an amazing category.

Apps & sites: Now (a just-launched “find fun nearby!” app around real-time events), Sidewalk (“find what you love about your city”), Banjo (social discovery app that lets the user look at what is happening around the world in real time), Urbantag (bought by Tagged, it will shut down March 31), Everplaces (save and share places you love, though the app seems to be chiefly for people to keep track of places privately), EyeEm (a photo-sharing app centered on places), Kullect (share your world), Field Trip (an app that runs in the background and serves up information based on your location), Tagwhat (a feed of hyperlocal content), goGlyph (annotations attached to a location), Trover (find and share hidden gems) and others.

Update: Someone reminded me tonight that I left off AroundMe.


2Description: With these apps, the focus is generally more on the social than the geo. Share geotagged content with friends and share place-based information.

Apps & sites: Instagram, of course, is the photo-sharing app that lets you see what your friends are doing, with the geolocation element an afterthought. Bonfyre lets you capture and share experiences only with your friends. Findery is a location-based note sharing Web app — no mobile app released yet. Highlight, Sonar and Glympse all alert friends that you’re nearby. Facebook Places (social check-ins) and Place+ (buggy app lets you check in to places, share your location with friends) round out the field.

Geo & social travel apps

3Description: An obvious killer use case for geolocation apps is helping travelers and tourists during their travels. Seems like a new travel startup pops up every day.

Apps & sites: TripAdvisor and TripAdvisor City Guides (spun off from Expedia, TripAdvisor is the big kahuna but only has limited social capabilities), Gogobot (travel recommendations from friends and people who travel like you), BagsUp (Australia-based startup offers trusted travel tips from your friends), Like a Local Guide (travel tips from locals, from a startup in Estonia), Afar (collaborative travel guide), TouristEye (Web and mobile travel guide with personalized recommendations), Airbnb (cool mobile app but just offers geo-tagged listings with no info about surroundings) and a gaggle of other incumbents that use geo to some extent: Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak and LonelyPlanet

Recommendation apps

livestar4Description: One of the hottest startup sectors — everyone wants to be the next Yelp, given the lack of personal social networking in Yelp’s offering.

Apps & sites: Yelp (reviews and recommendations), Foursquare (moving past check-ins into recommendations and deals), Zagat (venerable restaurant reviews site bought by Google), Raved (leave raves, share recommendations with friends), Snoox (friends’ recommendations on everything), LiveStar (recommendations from your social network), Citysearch (local city guides), Cityseries (iPad app for restaurants and entertainment), Google Local (reviews from people in your circles), Ditto (now founder-less startup lets you make recommendations to friends), I loves it! (share what you love) and, of course, the spate of both city guide apps and online city guides around the world such as TimeOut or Thrillist (which generally just have online maps). The newest player at the table? Facebook Nearby.

Shared experiences & social streams

5Description: Seems every new startup wants to be the Instagram of video. The vast majority of these are primarily social, with location as an afterthought. We’ll likely see a dozen or more new entrants in the next year.

Apps & sites: Zkatter (social street view — real-time videos of what your friends are doing and where, although it’s marketing itself as a way to preserve memories), Flock (capture and share experiences with friends), LooxcieMoments (capture moments and stream video in real time), Koozoo (see and share live views of places you care about). Old-timers Justin TV (life streaming), Flixwagon Geo (combine mobile video sharing and GPS navigation), Qik and other live-streaming services aren’t really optimized for what I want from social geo. Next2Friends Live has already bit the dust. Other mobile and Web video-sharing apps such as Vine (6-second videos from Twitter), SocialCam (bought by AutoDesk), Viddy, Klip, Telly, Glmps (capture and shae short videos with friends to “relive the moment”) and Recood don’t really have location elements at their core. YouTube Capture may help shake up the game.

Storytelling apps

6Description: Storytelling and citizen journalism is increasingly being done on mobile devices.

Apps & sites: Blurb Mobile (create and share short media stories using your mobile), Mobli (capture and share the the perfect photo or video), Qwiki (turn memories into mini-movies, best seen on iPad), Meograph (create multimedia stories on Web), Rememble (storytelling Web app doubles as a memory aid)

Geo-fencing & keeping track of your kids

The Footprints app

7Description: A long-crowded field, a variety of geo apps enable parents to keep track of their children and other family members. Features often include messaging systems, geo-fencing capabilities that send out alerts, built-in sirens and more.

Apps & sites: Footprints, Family Tracker, SecuraFone, NearParent, Lookout, Trick or Tracker and others all help parents keep track of their children.

Health & fitness apps

8Description: The health and fitness sector has put GPS apps to good use for years. You probably have a couple on your phone.

Apps & sites: RunKeeper, Runtastic, Map My Run, Map My Ride, Cycle Tracker Pro, Cycle Watch, AccuTerra and literally hundreds of others

Local experts & real-time knowledge

9Description: Who knows the local landscape better than a local? Some startups are betting that people will want to be connected with local experts.

Apps & sites: Localmind (real-time Q&A with locals and friends about what’s happening now), LocalUncle (Switzerland-based Q&A-based city advice and tips from locals)

Time-based apps & memory aids

10Description: One great capability of GPS is to retrace past events. These sites let you do that for your own travels or to see the virtual footsteps of others who have been in the same place before.

Apps & sites: Path is positioning itself as less a private social network and more of a way to “remember life,” which is why I placed it here. There’s also TimeHop (a virtual time capsule that lets you see your photos and updates from this date in the past), Historypin (not-for-profit effort to chronicle our past), Historvius (mapping history), Rewind.Me (capture your experiences), Breadcrumbs (get a timeline of your day and set goals), Do You Remember (will let you post your memories on the Web; geo component uncertain), Placeme (remember where you’ve been)

Neighborhood connections & actions

11Description: No one has yet cracked the local neighborhoods challenge, but geo apps are helping bring people together in local communities for political activities, social activities and more.

Apps & sites: Nextdoor (neighbors can build private websites where they can swap questions and advice and sell used items in these Web-only communities), RedRover (helps parents make play dates and make plans on the fly), NeighborGoods (share your stuff with neighbors) and dozens of similar sites, SeeClickFix (report neighborhood issues and get them fixed)

Augmented Reality & games

12Description: Augmented reality (AR) hasn’t yet come into its own, though the release of Google Glass later this year may help spotlight this category.

Apps & sites: Wikitude and Junaio (AR apps), Wallit (location-based virtual walls that let you start a conversation with locals), Placespotting (an online map game), scvngr (game about doing challenges at places), many others

Local social & mobile commerce
Mokriya Craigslist app

Mokriya Craigslist app

13Description: The holy grail for geolocation apps is local commerce, and we’re not there yet. Here are some early players.

Apps & sites: ScoutMob (local offers, mobile deals), Shopkick (get rewards by walking into a store), the new Craigslist app by Mokriya (neighborhood marketplace), Zaarly (buy from local service providers), Savvi (local discounts), Groupon Mobile and Living Social (offers from local merchants), Zavers by Google (real-time coupons). Other apps, like Foursquare, also offer local deals.

Other geolocation apps

Other apps and sites incorporate location, of course, in dozens of different ways — and we’ll certainly see an exponential growth in these apps in the coming years. Here are a few:

Foodspotting and other food apps
Skout (meet new people, hook up) and other location-specific dating apps
• Education, medical, workplace, sports and entertainment apps (I haven’t looked into these sectors)
Zillow and Trulia and other services to help you find homes for sale, neighborhood information, etc.
Bundle (how people are spending their money to show you your city in a new way)
• Virtual ownership: MyInchoftheEarth, The Ocean Registry, The International Star Registry

What else? Do these groupings make sense? What would you change or group differently? And what geolocation apps did we overlook? Please add your thoughts in the comments.JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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18 thoughts on “Location-based services are coming of age (and it’s way more than Foursquare)

    • dpatton711 I just discovered Banjo a few weeks ago. It looks really impressive. Congrats on the G+ integration!

  1. Nice article JD. One of the biggest take outs for me is that there are just way too many apps out there. Obviously we need to go through them all t find out what people want, but it worries me that most of the people who will use these are geeks. We need apps to be mainstream in the way Twitter and FB are. I’m also in a start up working AR and LBS.

    • Luigi Cappel Oh, there’ll be a shakeout, for sure. But I’m happy to see all the efforts to explore new directions and valuable use cases. It almost always starts with the geek crowd, doesn’t it? Let us know how your AR/LBS startup works out.

    • JeffBoulter Jeff, thanks, I’m fascinated by the potential of games (i won’t say gameification), so thanks for those addition. Have heard of Geocaching but not Munzee.

  2. A few more local to me in Boston: 
    Spindle (mobile local discovery app)
    Hopper (not yet launched, but highly anticipated, see http://goo.gl/WWXPN )
    OurCommonPlace (partnering with local governments to build community sites)
    BlockAvenue (community and local discovery)

  3. This article sums up the location-based space well. I’d like to add our site into the list,  http://Urban4M.com. 
    We are in the location analytics space – a bit of a different twist than the other categories here. We model and analyze aggregated data as a means of helping our users evaluate location . Our beta is not live yet.

    • Urban4M_ Location analytics, interesting space, would love to see how that looks. Let us know when it goes live, thanks for sharing.

  4. Under #10 Time-based and memory aids, http://jolicloud.com/ is a new way to chronicle your digital life. And Memolane was just acquired by a larger company: http://blog.memolane.com/

  5. Ben Nolan in New Zealand pointed me to https://sayhi.co/
    Its tagline: Narrative mapping the world.

  6. Jeff B. of Connecticut emailed me with this noteworthy addition:

    You listed categories, or groupings, for types of apps and I have one significant omission I would like to add: Apps for Device Management. There appear to be services which will provide asset management by location, but for a small to medium size business this seems like something that could be handled relatively simply “in house” by an IT Manager?

    If you want to track when someone steals an office laptop or tablet then you don’t want it to be easily turned off in Google Maps, and you do want it to be running in the background (silently) whenever the device is connected to the internet. If a business only needs to use it when a device is missing, then the complicated histories and software management functions aren’t really needed, just a simple location where the device is at present would be a huge help.

    Either I have made a helpful addition to your list or launched an idea for someone’s next start-up?