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The Trouble With Location-Based Social Media…

Yelp

The big news in the location-enabled social media biz this past week was a new update from Yelp.  As described in the TechCrunch post, the latest iPhone update from Yelp now allows check-ins.  This is a great development: check-ins allow people to share their location, connect, and say what the think about where they have checked in.  All of these things are good.  They allow us to to learn about particular spaces, share our own information and experiences about them, and provide a scheme that makes us feel good about “checking in.”  At first blush, these systems work fine…

But here’s the problem: locked-in environments.  The first location-based system I started using was Gowalla.  Why?  Because, like many other people, I don’t live in NYC or Los Angeles.  I live in a small city that wasn’t on the initial Foursquare list.  That’s fine: I started using Gowalla because it doesn’t care what city you’re in and allows you to create “spots” for anywhere.  Then, in a recent development, Foursquare allowed check-ins from any city.  OK – great news, and I started to try it out.  But then came Yelp – yet another system that allows me to check-in.  So I now have three systems that I can check-in on.  All of them will allow me to update Twitter or Facebook, but they are are still independent of each other.  I can’t add a “place” to Foursquare and Gowalla at the same time.  Choosing one system means ignoring another.  And by investing my time in one system, I’ll be less inclined to join into the next system that comes along allowing check-ins.

Sooooo, here’s calling for a universal check-in system.  Why is it that I have to choose between Yelp, Foursquare, or Gowalla?  Should I not be able to check in on a phone, and then that data gets shared with every location-based Social Media program I have subscribed to?  Interoperability will provide these products with features to differentiate on other than the ability to check-in.  And I suppose that’s the good thing about such a dynamic market space: greater competition and adoption will (hopefully) reward providers that support and promote interoperability.

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  1. January 19th, 2010 at 13:28 | #1

    There are a number of other location sharing applications, as well. I call them the “first generation:” BrightKite, Loopt, Shizzow, among others. Google even has Latitude.

    It’s exciting times, but indeed overwhelming. I’m getting three notifications on my iPhone now when some friends, who are on all the services, check in at each one. Ouch.

    There is a universal check-in system, called FireEagle, made by Yahoo. It pre-dates many of the location sharing applications, but few have implemented it.

  2. Ryan Strynatka
    January 19th, 2010 at 13:54 | #2

    Good points: I’ve used Brightkite and Centrl as well, but never stuck with them due to various issues (mainly bugs/design problems). I’d forgotten about FireEagle, which goes a long way in solving the problem. More on that here with regards to Foursquare: http://getsatisfaction.com/foursquare/topics/fireeagle_integration3

  3. January 19th, 2010 at 17:51 | #3

    Your comparison of location-based social media systems makes me think of classified ads.

    As far as the locked in environments go, I’m sure that is only a business rule to encourage a higher concentration of users and thus a better experience. For instance, a the classified ads for a local alternative/independent news paper encourages a more cultured and tight nit community than that of a city/state wide paper.

    The locked in environments would also allow for better crowd moderation, thus enhancing the clusters of population. For example, craigslist was very exclusive to San Fransisco back in 1995. Now it’s a hit all over the shop. If the released a worldwide craigslist to begin with, it probably wouldn’t be so popular today. That being said, there’s nothing that stopped e-bay from exploding on to the scene, apart from good marketing and branding.

    The amount of people who are comfortable with location-based social media is a small fraction. Its my belief that it will continue to be a niche for a while, and will take time to absolve the problems you’ve written about.

    Good to see you blogging again!

  4. Ryan Strynatka
    January 19th, 2010 at 20:02 | #4

    Hi Jonathan – Thanks for the insight! Interesting comparison with Craigslist, and I suppose it may be a bit of a double-edge sword. It allowed Craigslist to stay focused, but it also opened up the opportunity for regional competition. For example, Craigslist is hardly used at all in Europe, and here in Canada it seems like more people are using Kijiji – which I had never heard of until I moved back here (but it was invaluable for relocation planning)…
    Good point on the privacy issue: this is where control over how your information is shared, and to what granularity (e.g. sharing my home address versus the city I am in) is important.

    Another interesting thing to think about is the data sharing aspect: anyone using a check-in system is contributing valuable business data:
    - Location data (places)
    - Demographic data: user info, along with data on the types of places and frequency with which they check-in.
    - Network relationships: frequency of “solo” check-ins versus checking into places where your friends are.
    The value is massive when you think about, and has a lot of implications for a company like Foursquare. It’ll be interesting to see if they (and others in the space) stay niche in 2010 or if there is an explosion in popularity. I’m on the fence myself. There are certainly some obstacles, but I do see potential for broad uptake.

  5. April 23rd, 2010 at 12:05 | #5

    There are a number of other location sharing applications, as well. I call them the “first generation:” BrightKite, Loopt, Shizzow, among others. Google even has Latitude.

    It’s exciting times, but indeed overwhelming. I’m getting three notifications on my iPhone now when some friends, who are on all the services, check in at each one. Ouch.

    There is a universal check-in system, called FireEagle, made by Yahoo. It pre-dates many of the location sharing applications, but few have implemented it.

  6. June 5th, 2010 at 08:38 | #6

    Your comparison of location-based social media systems makes me think of classified ads.

    As far as the locked in environments go, I’m sure that is only a business rule to encourage a higher concentration of users and thus a better experience. For instance, a the classified ads for a local alternative/independent news paper encourages a more cultured and tight nit community than that of a city/state wide paper.

    The locked in environments would also allow for better crowd moderation, thus enhancing the clusters of population. For example, craigslist was very exclusive to San Fransisco back in 1995. Now it’s a hit all over the shop. If the released a worldwide craigslist to begin with, it probably wouldn’t be so popular today. That being said, there’s nothing that stopped e-bay from exploding on to the scene, apart from good marketing and branding.

    The amount of people who are comfortable with location-based social media is a small fraction. Its my belief that it will continue to be a niche for a while, and will take time to absolve the problems you’ve written about.

    Good to see you blogging again!

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