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Location-based apps: What works, what doesn't

Location-based apps: What works, what doesn't Lucia Davis

In November, the website Geeksugar polled 150 of its users on their favorite location-based applications, or apps. The results came in with nearly half of the group preferring Foursquare -- at 47 percent -- followed by 17 percent for Yelp, 15 percent for Gowalla, 15 percent for Twitter, and 6 percent for Loopt. For November 2010, the results are typical, but the rise of Facebook Places and the numerous premonitions of Foursquare's demise indicate a vastly changed landscape for location-based apps in 2011.

It goes without saying that location-based apps are rife with opportunities for digital marketers, but, as they grow in number, it can be difficult to sift out the good from the bad. Here, four experts weigh in on their favorite -- and least favorite -- location-based apps:

James Briggs, CEO and co-founder of Briabe Media
When it comes to location-based services (LBS) I am a huge fan of Facebook Places. For me it is not about what the offering is today, but rather what Facebook can make it in the near future. My firm, Briabe Media, just conducted a survey of multicultural mobile consumers. What struck me is the rapid increase in the usage of social networks on mobile devices. We found that 90 percent of the study's respondents accessed their favorite social media sites on their phones. So much, in fact, that it is clear that social networks are now driving consumption of mobile data services such as  Internet access.

Taking into account the frequency in which we now use our mobile devices to search for something or to get quick answers it becomes apparent that mobile search is the true opportunity for location-based players. In fact, a recent study found that mobile search queries have grown by nearly five times over the last couple of years and Google just announced an increase of mobile search of 130 percent over the past year alone. Taken altogether it is not difficult to imagine a savvy player, like Facebook, positioning to take advantage of this space.

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Given Facebook's broad consumer reach, Facebook Places is in the best position to get consumers what they want, when they want it on their mobile devices -- period. This is likely one of the reasons Google so aggressively pursued Groupon. Imagine if Facebook and Groupon combined and consumers are able to search for offers while on the go through Facebook's mobile interface. This would be an offering that could really alter the industry dynamics.

Overall, I am not a big fan of the current crop of  "check-in styled" services. I don't believe they offer enough consumer value to drive mass adoption. One major flaw I see in this model is that there is a belief that over time consumers will desire to receive countless offers on their phone based on their location. I don't believe this is plausible due to the fact that the mobile phone remains such a personal space to consumers and this is not changing anytime soon.

Therefore, rather than bombarding consumers with offers based on their location, a much more viable model would be to efficiently deliver offers when they are sought after, and today the best vehicle for this is through a combination of mobile search and location. 

Brett Barash, vice president, account director at BBDO.
Foursquare is the best LBS today, mainly because outside of Facebook Places, it's the most widely adopted. I like the way I can see tips from friends or non-friends in locations I've checked into. I've stayed away from Facebook Places because I'm not ready to announce my location to everyone I know that may or may not be interested. If someone opens Foursquare, they want to know where their friends are. The offers on Foursquare are also becoming great ways to get discounts on food, shopping, etc.

Recently I've also started checking into content. The app I've used most often is Miso. Again, I like the ability to see what my friends are watching on TV so that I can discuss a show or sporting event.

Bryan Maleszyk, senior experience designer, Isobar North America.
I'm somewhat bearish on the LBS app ecosystem right now. With all of the badges and pins on offer with apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, I think we're reaching a point of "badge fatigue," where badges and their ilk are now more of a commodity and less of a reward. My current favorite location-based apps are the ones that have moved beyond the check-in/badge pattern. There are two that come to mind: The first is Whrrl. Whrrl's differentiator infers context from your interactions -- something that they call a "society." If you frequently check in to your local cafe, you might join the Coffee Lovers society. Within a society, you get more relevant recommendations, deals, and rewards. These societies can be targeted by society owners, who can create relevant society rewards for users to earn. The more relevant rewards potentially lead to hire customer acquisition and loyalty through.

The other LBS social network to keep an eye on is SCVNGR. SCVNGR's mission is to "create a game layer on top of the world." Basically, users go places, check in, and then perform activities (called "challenges" in SCVNGR-speak), such as snapping a photo or answering a trivia question, for which they are awarded points (and potentially, rewards, such as discounts or special offers). Calling SCVNGR a game is a little far-fetched -- it's more Pavlov than Warcraft -- but it's an interesting and unique way to increase the interaction between businesses and customers and it's definitely an app to keep your eye on.

Mae Karwowski, community manager and strategist
Location-based apps know where you are and (fingers crossed) use this information to augment your experience. Some succeed with flying colors, enhancing an evening out or a day spent wandering a city. Others simply drain battery, and now that we're outside without an outlet to call home, a dead phone becomes a scary possibility. Here are some of my personal favorite location apps:

Utility location apps
in terms of utility, this one is fantastic. Share your exact coordinates with a friend and have them do the same. It makes calling and describing which corner of the street you're on look old school. One nifty feature: Your friend doesn't need to have the app on their phone.

Fashism: Does this shirt make me look fat? Upload a photo of yourself in your outfit before you leave the dressing room or your apartment, and get real time feedback from stylish people. I am indecisive in the morning, so this is really fun.

KickMap: What's the best way to get from here to there using public transportation? KickMap takes your location data and does all the work for you. Which trains are arriving soon and which are held up are all laid out in the palm of your hand. I haven't been left stranded on the subway platform in ages.

Social location apps
Now that Foursquare has photo uploads, I'm really happy with the user experience. You are served content from your friends, whether it's a beautiful sunset or quirky coffee cup. My favorite reason to use Foursquare has always been to keep a location based diary of sorts. Now my personal record of places visited has so much more content.

Facebook places: It's geolocation plus your entire social graph. The possibilities for fantastic integrations are boundless, and right now it's cool enough to show your friends what you're up to in a place they'll actually see it (their newsfeed). You're much more likely to get comments and feedback when you use Facebook Places.

Meet Gatsby: Add Meet Gatsby as a friend on foursquare, and then enter in keywords to describe your interests. Meet Gatsby will send you a text when you are near someone else whose interests match up. Right now very few people use it, so the only sure-fire common interest will be "tech." But it's still a cool idea!

Word Lens is not a location-based app, but it is about to make traveling in a country where you do not speak the language much easier. Hold this augmented reality app up to text, and it will translate the words into your language on the screen. Right now it is in English and Spanish only, but this powerful translation tool is a glimpse of exciting things to come.

Here are a few apps that had promise but I've since deleted from my phone:

Future Checkin: I'm tired of checking in everywhere on my phone, and my non tech friends make fun of me. Future Checkin solves this problem by auto checking you in to venues from your pocket. This sounds cool, but in practice it kills your phone quickly, and you definitely can't check in at all when your phone flat lines.

SCVNGR: This app adds game dynamics to any activity by creating tasks and challenges for you to complete. It has received a lot of press and funding, but that can't get me to like scavenger hunts. A good idea in theory, but there's just not enough time in the day. I'm over it.

In-store coupon apps: Get coupons in store to your phone sounds financially responsible and exciting! Too bad only a few big box stores have signed on and there are so many apps that do this that it's hard to actually get deals.

Lucia Davis is associate editor at iMediaConnection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


Lucia Davis is a journalist, social media consultant and founder of The Art Bus Project. Previously, she was director of content at Obviously Social. Prior to that position, she served as community editor at PR News after working as...

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