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Lets talk about the conundrum that is geolocation and social networking. Many were surprised by the Facebook Web phenomena. Now with 500 million active users, Facebook set the social networking wagon rolling.

Mobile devices extend the potential for social networking to include geolocation or place. Who or what is near me. Marketers soon recognised the potential geolocation presented to engage and influence consumers, via mobile networking. Foursquare were first off the blocks introducing the idea of the check in. Users fire up their Foursquare app on their mobile when visiting their favourite haunts and check in. Incentives were somewhat meager; an application badge, mayor of the location, maybe a discount on purchases. But the Foursquare user base saw dramatic increases after its 2009 launch. Today, it boasts 7.5 million users. A number of other companies soon entered the check in space, following in Foursquare’s footsteps. These included Gowalla and Brightkite. The latter recently announced they were refocusing their business.

But who are the current users of such geolocation apps? No great surprise; early techie adopters, mostly young males. Hardly the most affluent, free spending group. Add to that increasing references to ‘check in fatigue’, and one begins to wonder about the long term viability of the likes of Foursquare in their current form. Though Foursquare founder and CEO Dennis Crowley, talks about a move away from the check-in, the recent 3.0 Foursquare release remains check-in focused.

Geolocation Marketing

If the hype about this new geolocation sector is driven by marketing, which segment of the population is most sought after? Maybe those who control family purse strings; namely 30 to 40 something females. And here lies the conundrum; how do companies encourage this group to check in using their mobile devices? Clearly, not using the current batch of apps centred around manual check in and gaming, offering little monetary incentive. The answer is maybe passive check in, attached to real financial incentives, likely in the form of discounts. But passive check in has its own issues, most notably privacy. Google may well have hit on a potentially successful solution with its Latitudes persistent location feature. Users can pre-identify specific locations, allowing automatic check in each time they visit. If this is tied to significant enough incentives, this may be a winner.

Geolocation Potential

Mobile location based services have considerable potential. Use-age so far remains limited; the Pew Research Center reporting only 7% of online US adults using these types of services. Mobile computing and geolocation is generating a flood of new companies and innovation. This will broaden to include the more traditional geospatial industry, particularly with the widespread adoption of tablet devices.

What is your take on the future of geolocation? Let me know your thoughts, reach me at:
rory<at> webmapsolutions <dot> com

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