Geo-Social Nonsense: the Redefinition of Location-Based Services

  Recently, at the HighEdWeb conference in Austin, Texas, SCVNGR Universities and Independent School Specialist Jeff Kirchick led a dialogue on a subject seemingly self-sacrificial:…

Recently, at the HighEdWeb conference in Austin, Texas, SCVNGR Universities and Independent School Specialist Jeff Kirchick led a dialogue on a subject seemingly self-sacrificial: Geo-Social Nonsense. An employee of a location-based service, geo-social platforms are without a doubt his end-all and be-all, at the very least a source of income, if not his leading passion. And thus, he has faith in these platforms and their founders - as long as they’re ready to change.

According to Kirchick, geo-social applications will not exist in the near future as they do today, though they’ve certainly expanded well-beyond their original social components. Location-based services, perhaps popularized first by the success of Foursquare, now include both social and influential enterprises: Facebook, SCVNGR, Gowalla, Twitter, Yelp, SmartRide, MeetMoi, I’m OK!, and onward and onward. A check-in is at once a verb and a noun, a notion with technical connotations, a colloquial mainstay. This, Kirchick agrees, will last.

The “nonsense,” though, is what he calls the Even Value Exchange, the fact that users will engage only to the extent that a reward is within reach. This is an element of human nature. Most of those brands that have survived have, in a sense, invented, distributed, and then re-appropriated the technology; it’s no longer about social check-ins, but about check-ins that drive behavior. Those platforms that persist have moved toward an ability to influence and instigate, rather than simply proclaim.

This type of progress, he continues, is largely a coming together of two forms of location based services: social, like Foursquare, and influential, like Yelp. Beyond certain technically-savvy demographics, a check-in for a check-in’s sake is meaningless; without a friend base willing to engage, or a reward at the other end of the multi-step process, all value is lost. The faddish strength of young, hot startups might bolster strong early engagement, but even Foursquare, highly-valuable itself, has a somewhat low active user base among its 10 million downloads.

At Fueled, I’ve written before about the value of location-based apps with far-reaching API capabilities, like Snapr, which, as a free-standing photography app, has a balance of strengths and weaknesses seemingly geared toward expansion. Off their platform, which allows users to append photos to a communal map, they’ve released Capture the Flag, gamifying the Snapr experience by providing rewards for photo check-ins. Now a marketing tool implemented heavily in their New Zealand base, the Snapr team is moving toward monetization by stepping away from a solely-social platform.

The big names, like Foursquare, have maintained relevance and strength by way of a similar trajectory. Foursquare began as a check-in only application - so lean it would presumably garner little attention if launched today - but has since established vendor relationships that reward users for check-ins. It’s also a recommendation engine with a merchant API and established partnerships with brands like ESPN, Songkick, and Once criticized for a lack in plans for monetization, it’s now succeeding by coupling its social features with influential capabilities - like Yelp, without the extraneous banter of strangers.

In this, Foursquare has shown, by building its clout, that location-based services are not slowly dwindling but, instead, doing the opposite - improving lives by, somewhat counter-intuitively, hastening interaction with the outside world. Moving from the other end of the spectrum, sites like Cliq and Trippy take standard services - web searches and travel planning, respectively - and channel them through social spheres, leveraging our faith in actual, real-life friendships on a digital platform. Conversely, heavily-tauted applications like Color are dead-upon-arrival if their social utility is so free-standing it’s too difficult to use.

For mobile app users, this filtration is promising - this type of progress will leave non-utilitarian apps by the wayside, at least those that boast only social capabilities. Still in the middle space between generations raised on mobile technology and those still adjusting to its stranglehold, we’re moving toward a compromise between both parties. Now, rather than strengthen our digital relationships while disregarding the physical world, we're moving toward finding a collaborative platform that demands interaction with both.

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