There are a LOT of great things about location based services that I pointed out in my previous article. I strongly believe that any technology that essentially disappears into the background in such a way that makes ordinary everyday life better & easier in invisible ways with little-to-no friction is great. Many people are creeped out, but I’m not, and I’m definitely not alone on that front.
Let’s examine the state of the check-in…. The act of checking in is definitely not difficult or time consuming via Foursquare or Facebook or whatever platform you choose… but people don’t really do it that much. Sure… there are check in fanatics… but seriously… when you enter a busy restaurant, what percent have checked in on a a smart phone. Single digit percents MAX.
Have you ever checked Facebook’s “who’s near you?” feature? It’s full of “so and so checked in 23 hours ago at a place thats 2 miles away”. This is not relevant.
So why are people not checking in? Why should they do it more? WHY should they bother at all… what’s in it for them?
Some potential answers…
1) Let’s play a game? Win points? Become mayor! Reach the top of the leader board! Compete with friends! These might seem trivial but they’re powerful motivators and people love these incentives. Let’s face it, they’re fun. But do they scale to a mass audience? Like a really, really mass audience? Billions of users? hmm. Who knows?
2) Let friends on the same platform that are nearby know where you are? – Now we’re getting closer to something more universally appealing to a mass audience (and potentially quite useful)… I think.
Back to check-ins… There are certainly benefits to knowing WHERE, but do you really want to pull your phone out and INPUT data (feed the machine)… all day long? and if you’re going to bother, what do you get in return? Again, WHY?
3) Serendipity… If these apps are going to work in useful and meaningful ways… the data algorithms, filters, and settings need to become much more intelligent.
The other day on Glancee I got pinged that I like “such and such band” and someone else likes “Spotify”. OH wow!!! What serendipity! Two people on the same block like music???!!! Come ON!
The unfortunate reality check… How do you quantify a friend? Your Facebook friends aren’t really your actual day to day best friends. They are a random collection of all the people you’ve interacted with over the last 10 years – sure… this list also includes your best friends too… but there is a lot of noise in that ever growing list. Your “likes” fall into the same problem… perhaps I “Liked” some page because my friend started the company four years ago… but I have no interest in the product – when dumb algorithms match me “serendipitously” based on noisy social and interest graph data, the results tend to be pretty crappy.
Foursquare is sending me push notifications when I’m near spots that I NO LONGER check into! This is probably not a good sign.
Is the check-in (on any of these platforms) simply a bridge to a newer “frictionless” location technology… Did Foursquare pave the way for the current battle royal going on between Glancee, Highlight, and potentially dozens of other new entrants?
Here are a few of the location apps I’m tracking… these really belong in a “social” location category – I hate the term “social discovery”. Let’s be honest… unless you’re using this as a dating site or you’re a creepy stalker… you’re using these to meet with people you already know in real life… or should know (20 mutual friends, from the same hometown, same college but 2 years apart)… that’s where the serendipity and better algos come into play… were not there YET!
This is happening at lightening speed whether you like it or not. All native mobile apps and HTML5 web apps can locate you and everyone you know right now… any time, any place… as long as you OPT IN.
That’s the big IF… IF YOU OPT IN!!! – Therefore…. What’s in it for the user?
This is the million dollar question AND this is where I find these apps fail.. the trade-off isn’t a good deal. We give a ton of data and receive very little in exchange. Perhaps that will change – it must change if these apps are going to gain better traction – this is my opinion of all these apps in their current iterations.
Over the months leading up to SXSW, there were something like 10 social location apps battling it out – I don’t know how many are still alive or not. Here’s the problem… They all do exactly the same thing.
To their credit… they’ve created very different user experiences and they’ve refined their algorithms for additional differentiation, but from a technology standpoint, they simply triangulate your location and the location of your friends (or strangers) and present that information in different ways.
Is this a product or a feature?
To me… Location itself seems to be a feature, not a product.
Location is a piece of the puzzle… a bridge to a whole slew of amazing new technologies built on top of location based services.
I can think of many ways these services develop. What I can’t figure out is if these current apps launched as location products… or if they introduced location as an introductory feature – part of a longer list of features and services that become a product. Big difference! If location is a product… it’s a one trick pony… and not so interesting in my opinion… plus competition galore. I assume with so many battling it out, each team has their own unique strategy and time will tell who’s treating location as a product and who’s treating location as a feature.
Location apps like Highlight were like crack for techies in San Francisco a few months back… hey, check it out… Web Celeb “X” is across the street at The Creamery with a prominent VC “Y”… COOL! These apps gave users the impression that they had inside information… X ray vision. It was the cool shiny new object and it was somewhat exclusive because its user base was limited to self selected early adopters. This X factor definitely doesn’t scale! The tragedy of the commons or whatever you want to call it.
Fast forward a few months… I’m walking down 2nd street from the Pac Bell Park to Mission St. and I get at least 50 pings on Highlight… “Joe Shmo… CEO of stealth company about to change the world” is nearby… “Sara Sweetheart… Co-Founder of Pet Rock Company” is nearby…
All of this information is certainly INTERESTING and ENTERTAINING! Of course it is. It’s fun to gawk! Its fun to people watch… in real life and in virtual life!
This might be a big waste of time… so what! Many of the best and most successful apps and web businesses are great precisely because they are perfect time wasters!
But I think location can be better than this. It shouldn’t be a gawking time suck… it should be a stimulus, an input of data, that propels action.
The question I continue to come back to is… what’s next… what’s in it for the user? What’s the end game with all this location information? Can this data lead to more / better offline ACTION? Can location information truly create meaningful serendipity? That’s what get’s me excited! But it’s not really there yet.