September 13, 2010

CMO guide to Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt & Brightkite

Gowalla
A Gowalla heat map of Austin, Texas, by Bramus on Flickr

Evaluating the business potential of location-based social applications—is the tail wagging the dog?

Christopher RollysonIf you read any mainstream media or social media sites, you might have started to get the impression that a Foursquare, Gowalla or Loopt application is your only hope to make this quarter’s numbers because check-ins are on everyone’s lips, er, fingertips these days. However, for chief marketing officers of large brands, what’s the real business potential of these apps in 2010? What can they do for your business, and what and where are their limitations?

Below I’ll share some due diligence I’ve conducted for one of my clients and give you some general guidance for using these apps this year. I’ve also included links to the best information sources. First, let’s start with an introduction of geosocial and how it fits into the ecosystem you already know.

A brief introduction to geosocial applications

FoursquareGeosocial — or geolocation or location-based services or applications — represents an emerging space within the Web 2.0 ecosystem, so I’ll spend a minute here positioning them because their development is moving at warp speed. Geo refers to exchanging information related to your current temporal and physical location via a mobile device. Social applies the now-established bundle of practices called “social networking” to your physical location — interacting with friends or friends of friends.

You might think of geosocial as “situational social networking based on where you are” (and what you’re doing). Many geosocial applications use GPS technology to automatically report the physical locations of their users, subject to their privacy settings. For some quick visuals, see Geosocial Applications and the Enterprise (PDF).

Small niches of people have been active in geosocial, using text messaging, for many years. Progenitor Dodgeball was founded in 2000 and enabled users to SMS each other to report their location, notify them about other people nearby to enable “meeting in real life.” Geosocial applications try to increase opportunities for socializing with existing friends or people users don’t know but have certain things in common, based on each user’s privacy and sharing preferences.

It’s worth noting that geosocial is related to but distinct from geotargeting, which usually denotes serving precise marketing messages to people based on their locations. Citysearch has been doing this since Web 1.0, and current players like Yelp and Facebook are converging into the geosocial space. Google tried to morph its Dodgeball acquisition into Google Latitude, but it hasn’t really worked, and I’ll speculate that they are channeling much of their geosocial energy into Google Buzz.

Some key players

Key players in the space include the following:

  • Loopt launched in 2006 and claims 3 million users.
  • Brightkite launched in 2007 and claims 2 million users.
  • Gowalla was born in 2007 and claims 150,000 users.
  • Foursquare launched in 2009 and claims close to 1 million users (with this growth, is it any wonder it receives the lion’s share of the buzz?)
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March 25, 2009

Twiphlo: Making geolocation small & beautiful

Stowe BoydStowe Boyd, a longtime fixture in the tech and social media worlds, is joining Socialmedia.biz as a contributor and collaborating strategist. The following originally appeared in his blog /Message.

Geolocation tools fall into two broad categories:

  • Predictive location, generally oriented toward arranging to meet with other people when traveling to other places (like Dopplr and TripIt), or in your own town (like Mixin)
  • Location streaming, generally oriented to keeping others informed of location (like Google Latitude, DodgeBall, Plazes, or Brightkite), either for arranging meetings, or to maintain a geolocational lifestream.

I have used tools in both categories, and written about my experiences with them.

twiphloMost recently, I have been using Dopplr for predictive purposes, and Brightkite for location streaming. But in recent weeks, I have found that Brightkite is too rich an experience, overlapping too much with what I am doing with other tools, particularly Twitter as my primary lifestream, and the various blogs I maintain on Tumblr. Perhaps it is also that I don’t have a deep sense of community on Brightkite.

One thing in particular annoys me about Brightkite, and that is the Twitter integration. While they have provided a sophisticated template-based approach to posting tweets based on Brightkite location updates, the tool to support updating Twitter location in the user profile is just broken. When I post ‘542 Brannan St, San Francisco CA 94107′ the Twitter location gets set to ‘542 Brannan St’ dropping the city, state, and zip code.

I was quite happy to stumble upon a small but beautiful location streaming tool the other day, called Twiphlo. It seems like the main window is designed for a mobile interface use, like iPhone. The basic idea is that you can post something, while at the same time updating your Twitter profile location.

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