At South by Southwest this year, people were talking about location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla as the next big thing, the same way Twitter was discussed there in the past. Location-based services let you check in at a place from your mobile device, and people who you have let into your network can see that you’re there.
Lots of people are excited about the potential, but I’m finding I’m much less interested in them as time goes by. For one thing, I live in a smallish town. I think they’re more exciting if you live in a big city. Now, if their use continues to grow and the apps continue to develop, that will almost certainly change.
But there are a few things I want location-based services to do that I don’t think they’re doing yet. I spent a fair amount of time at SXSW wondering where people were. Not, “Where’s the big party?” but “Where the heck is Jeff Cohen?” I could have opened up Foursquare and scrolled through all the checkins, but it would have been great to be able to go straight to my friend list and see where everybody was.
I’m starting to see more check in specials, even in my town, which is a good sign. If you check in on Foursquare at Tyler’s in Carrboro, you get a free plate of garlic fries. That I can get my head around. But the recent announcement that Starbucks will give a dollar off a frappucino to the person who has checked in enough at a particular location to be declared the Foursquare “mayor” leaves me nonplussed. It's a nice gesture to reward loyal customers, but I’m not going to do that much work for a buck off.
I was using Causeworld fairly regularly for a while, which has corporate sponsors and allows you to earn “karma points” by checking in at restaurants and businesses. You can redeem your karma points for tangible charitable tasks, like donating a book or a vaccine to someone who needs it. That one makes perfect sense to me.
I know these services are all in their infancy and are still developing. We’ll go through the same process we do with every new social media tool: it’ll be something new and cool that the geeks adopt, then more and more people will crash the party and the early adopters will get huffy, then businesses will start using it in cool ways, then other businesses will start using it in stupid ways. Then the spammers come. I’m prepared for that already.
How about you? Are you using location-based apps more than you used to? Less?
photo by joelogon