The Future of Geolocation: What is Coming?

social media viewpointsSince location-based check-in app Foursquare was launched at South by Southwest in 2009, the app has seen exponential growth, reaching over 7.5 million users this year.

Other apps have been popping up as well, as geolocation takes center stage in the mobile arena and users flock to apps that create games from typical situations and offer rewards for users.

Two years later, check-ins are old news and the still-young area of geolocation is evolving to keep users interested. Apart from gamification through leaderboards and badges (or stickers, or pins), the motivation for users to participate in location-based networks is severely lacking.

foursquare badges

Foursquare rewards users with badges for checking in.

Obviously the gaming aspect is a huge draw, as evidenced by the millions of users checking in across the globe, but developers continue to chase after our elusive social graph to make geolocation as indispensable as microblogging and photo sharing.

If there are any golden rules when it comes to geolocation, I would say they are 1)make it easy and 2) create value. Users want to put in less effort and receive more value. It’s up to both developers and businesses to do what they can to ensure these services have as few boundaries and as much value as possible.

In this article I’ve highlighted some of the ways developers are pushing toward these goals and what we can expect from the future of geolocation.

Recommendations

Possibly one of the most obvious and expected developments is the integration of recommended places to check in to. Foursquare’s most recent version includes a section called Explore, designed to recommend places around you based on your friends’ favorite places and your own check-in history.

foursquare

Tell us what you're looking for and we'll help you find something nearby.

Scoville integrates with your Foursquare check-ins and collects your favorite places on a weekly basis. As more users sign up, these recommendations will create a ranking of places in each city, allowing Scoville to recommend check-ins based on popularity.

scoville

Scoville brings location and bookmarking together to help you keep track of favorite places.

Bizzy is trying a different angle, collecting place ratings and reviews as users leave a venue, through the check-out feature.

bizzy

Bizzy recommends local businesses based on user ratings.

Some newer apps are focusing more on adding valuable content to recommendations, such as special offers or information. Lowffer recommends nearby deals and special offers based on user recommendations and your location, acting somewhat like a mobile Groupon app. Like Foursquare, a game-like leaderboard is emphasized to motivate user participation.

lowffer

Deals and special offers with a local twist from Lowffer.

Groupon founder Andrew Mason has his own ideas about taking the popular deals site mobile, with the upcoming release of Groupon Now. Using Groupon’s successful deals focus, the new mobile app offers users two options: I’m hungry or I’m bored. Each option, combined with the user’s current location, returns special offers nearby.

groupon businessweek

The age-old human conundrum—where to eat lunch.

Like any other location-based app, the take-off will be slow until enough users get involved to make it worthwhile, but with Groupon’s proven success in the daily deals space, this could be the end of that all-too-common question, “What will I have for lunch today?”

Spot, another soon-to-launch app, is hoping to fill a gap some other apps have opened up by offering an easy way to collect location recommendations from friends and save them for later. Alan Danzis’ Wish List for Foursquare 4 suggests similar features that could be added to Foursquare’s next version, allowing users to recommend deals to friends and save their favorites, and providing check-in reminders.

Social Connections

Connecting with those who are already part of your social graph is pretty much expected when using geolocation apps, but connecting with strangers is a whole new game. Unlike recommendations, this is a feature that’s seeing somewhat unexpected traction in location-based apps. Following the success of sites like Chatroulette (for web-based conversations) and social networks like Twitter, it may not come as a surprise that meeting new people is a popular activity online, but using geolocation takes this much closer to crossing the cool-or-creepy line.

chatroulette

Randomized video conversations create new connections on Chatroulette.

Yobongo is one such app that’s slowly rolling out across the U.S. The premise of Yobongo is to create connections with strangers nearby, using your location to show other users around you. By setting up a room of 10 to 15 users, the app aims to help you break the ice and create new friendships. Founder Caleb Elston told GigaOM that offering up your location data to the app (but not other users) is a worthwhile trade for the value you get back.

yobongo

Yobongo offers a location-based way to meet new people.

Taking this idea a step further is the Situationist app, which aims to bring strangers together to participate in random situations. Although the app is based on a political agenda, it offers simple tasks to complete to bring users together in a more casual way as well. Using your location data, the app alerts you to users nearby who have predetermined which situations they are comfortable with; for instance, hug me for 5 seconds, or let me inspect the contents of your bag for bombs and such.

situationist

Situationist app helps you create spontaneous connections.

Location-Based Info

Moving away from discovery and meeting new people, Glympse is designed to enable sharing location data with people you know. Using SMS or email, you can send a Glympse to any of your contacts, showing them a map of where you are, and where you’re going. The map updates using real-time GPS data to show when you’ve reached your destination and how long you will be there.

glympse

Glympse offers an easy solution for privately sharing your location.

This idea is taken a step further with Geoloqi, a mobile and web platform that works in the same way, but adds functions like Geonotes, layers and automatic Foursquare check-ins.

geoloqi

Geoloqi adds new functionality to sharing location data.

Automatic Foursquare check-ins is an impressive feature that we will likely see more of this year in various geolocation apps. By choosing your favorite Foursquare venues, you can set Geoloqi to automatically check you in 10 minutes after arriving, taking the effort out of check-ins without removing the reward.

A lesser-known feature of some of the more popular check-in apps, Geonotes is front-and-center in Geoloqi as a way to use location data to make your life easier. Using Geonotes, you can leave notes for your friends, which will show up when they arrive at a specified location. You can create reminders for yourself as well; for instance, reminding yourself to get milk when you arrive at the supermarket.

Task Ave is an iPhone app focused exclusively on this idea, but with future versions of Geoloqi (which is free to download) integrating with popular to-do app, Remember the Milk, I would be surprised to see anyone paying $2.99 for Task Ave.

task ave

Location-based tasks from Task Ave make your to-do list more manageable.

Push notifications and SMS alerts are proving to be popular for other purposes, as well. Location-based question-and-answer apps like LOCQL and LocalMind connect users to share information by asking and answering questions based on their location. Push notifications are used to alert users who have agreed to answer questions about a place when someone has a question, promoting both a social connection and the sharing of information.

The mobile advertising company Chalkboard publishes ads from local businesses inside supported apps when the user is within 1 mile of the store. Although this is a similar idea to previously mentioned Groupon Now, the focus of Chalkboard is taking the user action out of the equation, providing ads to users automatically, based on their location.

chalkboard

Mobile advertising goes local with Chalkboard.

Automatic Check-Ins

Chalkboard is not the only app taking the manual action out of geolocation. Geoloqi, as mentioned before, offers automatic check-ins for your favorite Foursquare venues, and will most likely add support for other popular check-in apps in the future.

RFID (radio-frequency identification) and NFC (near field communication) technologies are going to become much more popular as geolocation apps continue to evolve and developers look for ways to make sending and receiving location-based data easier. Both of these technologies allow communication (such as sending a post or completing a check-in) with a specified tag by just swiping a device, such as an NFC-enabled phone.

Foursquare has already begun testing NFC check-ins and Coca-Cola used RFID at last year’s Coca-Cola Village teen camp to enable Facebook Likes and status updates to be sent with wristbands.

wristbands coca cola

Teenagers were given a plastic bracelet adorned with what resembled a Coke bottle cap. The cap was embedded with a 125 kHz passive RFID tag.

What Else Can We Expect?

There are some exciting innovations emerging in geolocation already, but there’s surely much more value to be had from this technology. Some of the developments I’m most interested to see are:

  • A collection of user-generated information about a place, like a location-based Wikipedia
  • Mobile check-in for flights, bypassing the long check-in counter queues
  • Mobile check-in at doctors’ offices, sending the secretary an automatic notification of your arrival
  • Mobile identification, providing entry to adult-only venues like nightclubs (our phones are already replacing cash, so why not our photo IDs?)
  • Digital, geotagged nightclub stamps to prove you’ve paid to get in
  • Bookmarking for places with push notifications, so you’ll finally remember to check out that café your friend keeps recommending
  • Interactive maps attached to promotional material (with QR codes?) so you can easily find the new pizza place that sent you coupons in the mail

Weigh In

What do you expect to see in the future of location-based services and what would you like to see? What tools or services would benefit your business most? Leave your comments in the box below.

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About the Author, Belle Beth Cooper

Belle has spent the past four years as a freelance writer and social media consultant and now spends her days wielding a pencil as Attendly's resident Inbound Marketer. Follow her on Twitter @BelleBethCooper. Other posts by »




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  • http://blog.socialmediahq.com/ Nick Robinson

    I think the biggest opportunity for marketers is to capture all of this geo located data, and incorporate it into the CRM. We’re seeing bits and pieces of social media-CRM integration, so this will be the next obvious step. (if it isn’t already happening now)

  • Justin

    Don’t forget about Beluga! Location based mobile app for android which allows for group chatting while also showing where your friends are located on a Google Map

  • http://mariarmcdavis.com/ Maria Reyes-McDavis

    As location-based technology advances, user attention span shrinks. Success will rely solely on keeping the attention of users in meaningful, valuable ways. Great post.

  • http://thezargon.org Fernando Fonseca

    Can’t quite understand why GoWalla is not even mentioned on this post. It is, by far, much better than Foursquare in what comes to the gaming aspect of geolocation apps and doesn’t allow for any bogus check-ins – unlike Foursquare.
    NFC is dependant on the operators and OEM’s will to implement it since there is nothing new about the technology itself. Same goes for RFID. On the Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, NFC was mentioned with caution by the major players because if you can do a check-in without using data from your data plan, what will stop you from making a NFC network for voice?

  • http://www.waynejohn.com/ Wayne John

    Wow! I had no clue many of those services even existed! It seems to me that with all these services, most users will only choose one, perhaps two. But more than that would be more a burden on the end-user than helpful.

    What will be interesting to see are the subscriber numbers for each service if that’s possible.

    Great article!

  • http://twitter.com/lowffer Lowffer

    Great post. Thanks for the mention. We are really excited to be part of the revolution that is location + services. We are currently in private beta, invite-only. If you want an invite, simply tweet us @lowffer. We’re nice people, we may give you one or two ;)

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/mdyoder Michael D. Yoder

    Very thorough and useful overview of this quickly evolving space in social media. The thing that stands out for me is adoption of the technology by users. If any of these changes and innovations are ever going to gain any traction, they have to find out how to get user’s attention and get them to adopt and adapt. I love all of the innovation, but it’s not going to go very far if people can’t keep up and they lose interest. If it were up to me, I’d hitch my wagon to Foursquare because of the amount of press it has received in the last year. Thanks for a very informative post.

  • http://www.bradleyericsmith.com Brad Smith

    Gowalla only has a million users – http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/10/gowalla-users/ VS. Foursquare’s 7.5 – http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-foursquare-users-2011-3

    Brand awareness & market share are everything in internet start-ups.

  • http://www.bradleyericsmith.com Brad Smith

    Great post Corina. It looks like there will be a lot of interesting opportunities soon in geolocation and LBS. And good point by @Michael – it’s still super early for these services and even Foursquare is still primarily early adopters. It will be interesting to see who can make the transition and how these services you mentioned will shake out.

  • http://twitter.com/abcwatson Alexandra Watson

    Great article! I agree that Gowalla was slighted here…it may lack the number of users Foursquare boasts (for now), but it certainly offers unique gaming & informational value for the travel-oriented niche. Loved your closing “laundry list” of what may come in the near future. As others, I wonder how personal privacy concerns and novelty wear-out will cause geolocation services to shake out over time.

  • http://thezargon.org Fernando Fonseca

    Brad, I don’t think the post is about user numbers but about what the future might bring. By not mentioning GoWalla, it is my opinion that the post’s author is biased towards one application that actually fails to innovate and that is more oriented to big business than to small ones ($150k/monthly for a badge is a lot of money).

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    I agree, Nick. If people continue flocking to check-in services, there is a lot of insight to be gained from that data about their day-to-day lives.

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    Thanks Justin! I’m sure there are many more I have left out as well. There are so many new apps joining the game, each with a slightly different approach. It can be hard to pick the ones you want to try out!

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    Hi Maria,
    Thanks for reading. I think you’re right about attention span shrinking. There definitely needs to be more rewards for users if they are going to keep checking-in. Now that they’ve given us so much data, I think it’s very important what we do with it, to make it worthwhile for the users. Great point.

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    I’m actually a big fan of Gowalla, I use it almost exclusively rather than Foursquare. However, Foursquare’s newest update included a recommendations feature that is in-line with a trend we are seeing across geolocation apps and services. Gowalla’s latest app updates were focused on a new look for the UI, but little else in the way of new features or innovation.

    As for NFC issues, that’s a good point. However, I don’t see (and hope I won’t see) developers – or users for that matter – letting that stop them from trying to implement this technology at some point soon.

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    Hi Wayne,
    Considering the many, many applications I did not mention, there certainly are a lot! And with each one focused on a tiny piece of the geolocation pie, it can be difficult to choose just one! Since Foursquare has so many users already, if it keeps implementing new features and improves the value for users, I wouldn’t be surprised if it stays as one of the biggest in the game.

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    Thanks, Michael! Keeping users interested is definitely at the forefront of making use of geolocation services. Although Foursquare’s newest release was worth looking at, I will be interested to see what Gowalla does next to keep up with them, and whether any of these more specialized apps can gain as much interest as the game-based types have.

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    Oh dear, I seem to have left Gowalla out to dry without meaning to! As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I am actually a Gowalla user primarily, and personally I like it more than Foursquare. My focus here, however, was on what’s coming next to geolocation, and what innovations we might see in the near future. Foursquare’s new recommended places feature is a big step forward, and something we are likely to see more of in other location-based apps. Hence, the inclusion of Foursquare in the list.

  • http://www.mynotetakingnerd.com/blog Lewis LaLanne – NoteTakingNerd

    Holy Smoly!

    I wonder what Facebook has in the works to incorporate all the gaps these services fill to compliment the attention they have on the jillions of eyeballs they do. It seems like if a ninja like you, Corina, has insight into all of these, that those guys would have at least one person on staff whose job it is to bring these sites to their attention in order to beef up what their check-in services and ad network services offer up.

    Well see what they hatch!

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    Lewis, that’s a brilliant point…about me being a ninja, of course! Actually, I think it is a great point about Facebook lagging behind. Since so many people are already part of Facebook, and Facebook has so much of our data anyway, it seems obvious that they should try to incorporate geolocation to a point that it gives the user more reward than posted their location for their Facebook friends to see.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Katevdvoort Kate VanderVoort

    Hi Corina,
    Great article. I hope some of these great apps make it to Australia! We are such a small market and often get forgotten. I have a question that I have asked in many places and can’t seem to get an answer…..do you know if Facebook plans to allow Business Pages to check in to locations? This is a major gap in their check in functionality. You seem very across this space…..thought you might know.

  • Ross

    Great information. I agree with previous comments – there are so many – which ones are going to survive? Geolocation is great for small businesses – don’t be overwhelmed with all the different ones. Choose the one that fits your strategy and go for it.

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    Hi Kate,
    I have to agree, we are sadly a long way behind here in Australia, and seem to lack the early-adopters and enthusiastic users to get new ideas off the ground as quickly as they do overseas. For instance, I’m yet to meet anyone here who uses Gowalla regularly besides those I’ve recommended it to!

    I haven’t heard any news on Facebook planning to allow Business Pages to check-in, but I agree, there are many functions missing from Facebook check-ins that would be handy to have. Perhaps have a look at insidefacebook.com, which is a blog dedicated to information about new features and plans happening at Facebook.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1617346021 Rich Rodgers

    Corina,

    I would like to walk you through our new app (in the app store) and what we have coming soon for it. We also have a crm for restaurants and bars that let’s them run a geo-checkin loyalty rewards program so users can get free food and drinks.
    Regards,
    Rich

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  • timoplatt

    Nice summary of the current players, Corina. For texting without borders, social activity messaging, and extended communications with people you don’t know, look to Apps like PoKos Chat(TM).

  • John Knight

    I think the biggest win would be auto check-ins and ones the user can specify to do. So, auto-check-in at the office or the airport, but not the movies because that is my personal time. Also RFID/NFC will be big-wins as well. As more people get comfortable with it I think we will start to see some consolidation of apps within the next year or two…

  • http://www.mybiztoolkit.co.uk/ Ann Mullings

    Unlike the US, the adoption of location based app is not that widely used. To be honest a small majority may use Foursquare and when they do, it’s to checkin at random places like train and tram stations. Most people here don’t like to be tracked down- I suppose!
    any thoughts?

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    I agree, I’m really looking forward to auto check-in features. Anything that makes it easier to participate will have my vote, and possibly lead to a wider user-base. At the moment it can seem like a hassle to pull your phone out at every place you go, especially when the rewards are not worth the effort.

  • http://twitter.com/corinamackay Corina Mackay

    It may be privacy concerns, for sure. I think the effort required vs. the benefit received is a big issue as well. Twitter seems to have had that same issue, as so many people do not understand what benefits they might get from using Twitter, so they don’t bother with it. I would also guess that knowledge is a big factor, especially for those who aren’t early adopters, or within “tech circles”. New(ish) technologies like geolocation and QR codes are taking a long time to take off here in Australia, for instance, and I think a lot of that is because too many people don’t know about these technologies, and/or don’t know how to use them for the benefit of themselves or their businesses.

  • https://www.vizzmedia.com/ Vizz Media

    Nice post. Geolocation is getting popular now a days. But still quite doubtful about its offline effectiveness. It’s becoming more of a kind of a game now and conversion of virtual check-ins into real foot-falls is going to be a really challenging task for the marketers.

    http://www.facebook.com/vizzmedia

  • http://www.socialxplosion.com/blog/ SocialXplosion

    Convenience will be very exciting for consumers. The ability to check into flights with your cell phone or pass along information to your doctor by just walking into the place.

  • http://treytitone.com/ Trey Titone

    What happened to RFID implementation at grocery stores? Walking out of the store and embedded RFID’s automatically charging your account.

  • Stefanie Lang

    and MAKIme – we connect business people on the move that happen to stay in the same city/location away from home – on a business travel via iPhone App or Web

  • Stefanie Lang

    I like your overview – Thank you. In this market you never will have them captured all in one articel

  • Leland

    From my personal research, it seems that the applications that motivate people to open up new conversations with strangers and meet new people are going to be the most successful. This is one of the primary reasons people use mobile apps today, and finding a way to motivate people to form new social groups at venues is going to be powerful for both the location (more foot traffic) and the users (create new social networks).

  • Stefanie Lang

    We from MAKIme very much see it like you. Would you have some numbers for this – as we have build up this kind of service and are now looking for investors – and they like study results…

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  • http://pulseofcentralflorida.com Ashley K. Edwards

    I remember downloading the Glympse App quite some time ago, but have never really been able to wrap my head around its value. As a blogger, I throughly enjoy location-based products, and use them quite frequently when THEY ADD VALUE to my audience(s).

    One App you didn’t mention–or may not be familiar with–it WeReward (which our company developed). Certainly not trying to “plug it” but it would be a valuable add to your list. It allows users to “check-in” at various locations, to use different services, and then broadcast (optional) a message to their social networks. They in-turn earn points for said actions, which can be converted to cash.

    Awesome post – thanks!

  • http://pulseofcentralflorida.com Ashley K. Edwards

    I remember downloading the Glympse App quite some time ago, but have never really been able to wrap my head around its value. As a blogger, I throughly enjoy location-based products, and use them quite frequently when THEY ADD VALUE to my audience(s).

    One App you didn’t mention–or may not be familiar with–it WeReward (which our company developed). Certainly not trying to “plug it” but it would be a valuable add to your list. It allows users to “check-in” at various locations, to use different services, and then broadcast (optional) a message to their social networks. They in-turn earn points for said actions, which can be converted to cash.

    Awesome post – thanks!

  • http://www.brosix.com/ Brosix

    Amazing article! Going to check out Lowffer now!

  • BlytheSprit59

    Until the issue of accurate location gets resolved speculation about future possibilities may be a bit premature.

    I suggest you watch “The Last Enemy” on BBC America if you wish to view the possibilities of what could go wrong.

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  • http://twitter.com/penichol Pete Nicholls

    And Beluga is now part of Facebook. We are going to see some serious consolidation as the major players beef up their mobile features

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Krzysiek-Ogi/1631748101 Krzysiek Ogi

    The market
    lacks the tools with which the brand can ‘cooperate’ with customers,
    give them what they want. A satisfied customer will tell his friends why he is
    satisfied. I’m looking for such tool, so I want carry out a survey on LBS and
    social websites. If anyone has some time and desire to answer a few questions -
    it would really help me.

    survey link: http://www.surveypie.com/survey100347

  • Carmenchunga20

    Geolocation is quite a trend now, and there’re lots of new and fresh apps that are based in geolocation, but directed to various purposes. I would suggest you 2 apps I’ve recently tried: “5 Miles” and “GeoAnts”. The 1st one allows the user to broadcast messages in a 5-miles radius, and any other user can inmediately read them and follow the user that broadcasted it, as well as knowing its exact location, it’s really good, like the opposite of Foursquare. The 2nd. app is directed to connect the user with his neighborhood, through the messages a user can send, and the user can be part of a determinated community, according to his or her location. The user can be part of a community in Paris, France and in New York, USA, if he has 2 houses perhaps. Both apps use maps and geolocation technology, as well as micro-blogging. You should try them :)  

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  • http://vincedelmonteabout.com/ Andra

    Thanks for the extra recommendation in addition to all the fantastic ones listed above. Really useful to have them all gathered together in this one post.

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