Is it still all about Location, Location, Location?

My Gowalla Page

The mantra in real estate has always been, “Location, Location, Location!” Over the past year, since the advent of  location-based apps such as Foursquare and Gowalla, it’s seemed the plugged-in community has adopted the location motto as its own. Predictions were made, and disputed, about how important these apps could be.

I resisted the allure for a while but succumbed to the new avenue for connection. I’m a sucker for connecting. After several months of using both Foursquare and Gowalla… here’s what I think about the potential and the problems:

Problems I see:

Spam abounds. (It’s possible to drive by a strip center slowly and “check in” to a dozen places in a few minutes.) I’ve “turned off” several people on either service who did this routinely and made my phone go nuts with their check in message. And their poor Twitter or Facebook friends! *shudder*

Stalker potential is high. Early on, I was enamored with the newness of it all and checked in to both services most everywhere I went. Then the sobering reality of just how much information I was giddily sharing with the known world made me pause… and rethink a bit. I still check in often, but not usually if I’m traveling alone. And I keep many of my check ins off of Twitter and FB…. only the connections I’ve accepted on the location services see where I’m visiting.

Reward factor is low. I’m the Mayor of 18 places on Foursquare. Yes, it’s true… 18. And the rewards for that, so far? Nil. Nada. Zilch.

Connection potential is limited. Yes, I can see the possibility of real-world connections happening because of online posting. That’s why I’m still using the services. What bothers me is that when I see someone has checked into St. Francis Hospital, for instance, there’s no mechanism through the service for me to say, “Hey, you OK? Need anything?” or, if they’ve checked into my favorite Mexican restaurant, to say, “Hey, ask for Melinda’s section, she’s fabulous!”

What I’d like to see happen, in order to make location-based services really take off:

Stop the spam. Limit the time between check-ins, perhaps? Reward frequency at the same venues rather than overall number of check ins?

Build actual rewards into the service… Oh, my… the potential here is incredible. Location based apps are the digital convergence of direct mail and intent-based web search. Take for example Pei Wei Asian diner… no dessert offered there. In Tulsa, one of their locations sits adjacent to a Maggie Moo’s store. When I check in to Pei Wei, I ought to get a coupon or offer sent to me from the app for 20% off my order THAT NIGHT at Maggie Moo’s next door. Why, oh why, don’t they do this? They know where I am, they know what I’m doing (location, intent) and the potential to offer me something that is timed perfectly and co-located is huge. Why limit the rewards to free fries for the “Mayor?” Seriously… the data they are developing on customer behavior is worth lots of money and can be leveraged in so many ways. Would bring new meaning to point-of-purchase advertising.

Add connectivity. Let me respond to the shout-outs of my friends. Actually foster real-world connection. What about a badge that’s earned any time 5 people simultaneously check in to the same venue? (the Lemming badge?) Or maybe a trigger for free fries if you and 3 of your friends all check in to the same venue within 20 minutes (long enough to get the ping, decide to go, and get in the door)?

Those are my thoughts… what did I miss and what do you think?


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15 Responses to “Is it still all about Location, Location, Location?”

  1. Doug Stewart March 11, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Your post is making me hungry. Pei Wei for lunch anyone?

    • Mandy Vavrinak March 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

      Yummmm… That does sound good! But can’t today, sadly!

      • Doug Stewart March 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

        I was only joking about lunch Mandy. You make some great points about how effective local social media could be. If you asked 4 non-tech business owners if they know what Foursquare is, what do you think the answer would be? Great ideas. Too small of a user base for any real effectiveness in my opinion. But that will change.

        • Mandy Vavrinak March 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

          It’s true that so many businesses are still wondering about this “whole social thing.” Heck, some of them are still wondering how to effectively use e-mail or drive leads from their web sites. And you’re also right that the user base must grow, especially in concentrated areas, in order for the expanded business ideas to make sense. I’d love to see one of the services cash-flow based on value delivered to both business subscribers (to the data base, and the offer delivery system) and to users (who then get the targeted offers and get to connect with other peeps). Businesses will pay for the ability to deliver targeted advertisements to interested persons at the moment they declare intent. And the location-based apps have the clearest, most direct delivery pipeline for that opportunity.

  2. Shelley Ryan March 11, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    Mandy, I had no idea that these location apps were “broadcast only” and didn’t have some kind of conversational feature. Does that mean they don’t fall under the social media umbrella?

    • Mandy Vavrinak March 11, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

      I logged into Gowalla to check in shortly after posting this and got a notice saying that a new version was available in the iTunes app store… Including the ability to comment, and to add photos.
      I’ve updated and am now checking out the new features. It seems to address the “adding real connectivity” issues nicely. I do think that without the connection component there’s less inherently social about these apps. Interaction is the foundation of any social media, right?

  3. iGoByDoc March 13, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    Hi Mandy,

    I enjoyed the post. I think businesses are already starting to figure out how to monetize this. You are seeing some businesses, on Foursquare for example, where if you become mayor there may be some reward, or if you just check-in and broadcast to your followers you may get a free drink at a club (they are doing this in Vegas)

    I think you are right about a business possibly paying for the service of a direct delivery and your Pei Wei example is on point. But I think still the best part of either Gowalla and Foursquare is the recommendations and tips you get from other people who have been there.

    The interesting thing to pay attention to (now more than ever) if you are a establishment visited by people who check in is, you have to make sure your business and your service is on point as someone will make a comment that will stick on your profile for all to see.

    Sure, with just Twitter or Facebook for that matter you may get a bad comment from time to time, but unless people are watching your stream 24/7 it may or may not be seen. With these location check-in services, it is tied to your location for good.

    Thanks for the invite to check out your post!


    • Mandy Vavrinak March 14, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

      Thanks for reading & commenting 🙂

      You bring up a good point… The recommendation (or condemnation) is permanently attached to the location. No ability on Foursquare to respond or address any issues or unhappy posts. Gowalla now allows comments, at least… A smart business will be monitoring what people are saying and trying to respond/redress if there’s a problem.

      I am just beginning to browse the tips on the service to help make choices. Hasn’t been enough density in Tulsa for it to be worthwhile until recently. I think the experience would be different in a larger venue.

  4. Bobby Rettew March 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    So this post has reinforced my thinking…what is the purpose of all of this location based Social Media. It feels like when Twitter began it’s be popularity push and people loved it. Now it feels like the shift has gone to these platforms using Twitter and Facebook as distribution points to inform the masses about their locations. Which brings me to my thought, who is benefiting here? The organizations that are recognized when someone says I am here eating food or the person(s) making the statement? Who benefits from this piece of marketing or do we care? You have me thinking, as always! 😀


    • Mandy Vavrinak March 14, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

      You got it, Bobby… Who benefits? The only way these services can monetize long-term is for there to be a tangible benefit for participating in the crowdsourcing of a database (which is essentially what is going on… Building a geo-tagged, named, customer-reviewed database) AND for that database to be valuable to others.

      If the data can be washed, think about knowing purchase cycles, sentiments, market draw/area and more. Serious possibities exist for selling access to that data, even beyond the “delivery pipeline” I’ve described for digital POP.

      • Bobby Rettew March 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

        I am trying to wrap my head around this one. I understand the concept, but as a practitioner…I am looking at the potential strategy. This provides real conversation for those who want to engage with this concept and how they can use it to engage with their constituency bases. There has to be benefit beyond the Twitter effect. So many organizations stood back and watched the Twitter effect, then bought in…slowly. But this integration into communication strategy has been just like the honeymoon stage. Now, I would say those are using this location based concept are early adopters. If this is a viable option for organizations…how can they benefit and integrate into a strategy. I think it is a situational solution.

        I am probably making this more than necessary, but thinking out loud to understand the potential use and integration.

        Thanks for making me think!

        • Mandy Vavrinak March 14, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

          I think you’re right about those using the services now being early adopters… And if the user base remains tied to Twitter ( those who use the services are also those on Twitter), the long-term potential may be limited. The cross-section the data gathered would provide would be limited/skewed. If they grow beyond social networks, into their own networks/connection platforms, could be powerful.
          I think the key to that growth happening is adding some features/benefits along the lines of what I wrote above, something so when I get asked, “What is Foursquare and why would I join?” my answer can be more powerful than, “It’s a location-based app that lets you tell your friends where you are and earn points & badges that don’t mean anything.”

          And thanks for making me think, too… Best part of blogging!

  5. Daniel Gordon March 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    Very Nice post, Mandy. This is a great topic and one that I am very fascinated with at the moment. I agree the reward is pretty much the benefit of the businesses right now. Some of them may not even know it yet. BVut they are being talked about, hopefully good for their sake. I am very glad to see Gowalla add commenting and photo taking capabilities on their new app version. I think it’s a huge step in the right direction. It’s puzzling to me why this isn’t mirrored on the website right away,as well, it could be a Twitter and or Facebook like site pretty much instantly if they would allowing social interaction from home to those who are out. At least the app show promise and hope that is the direction they’re going. I have heard foursquare has cut much better deals with larger companies to do large promos coming very soon. One I heard was Starbucks and I read somewhere they’ve lined up entertainment companies with big names. I stil favor Gowalla because I like it’s benefits and features more. If they get the site more social I think the will even mover further ahead. Foursquare’s site it just something to see statistics. I’d like to be able to use either service from my home on the web to communicate with those that are out, and vice versa, they with me when I’m out. I think this is something we could gain to benefit as users even more so than tangible rewards. Information by word of mouth to help us make better decision on the places we go. Almost like word of mouth market research. A location based communication tool that lets us see what’s popular where and when and what people are saying and showing us about these individual places. Like a what’s what and where’s where on the web, but out and about in real life. Just my 2 cents.

    • Mandy Vavrinak March 16, 2010 at 9:37 pm #

      Absolutely… A relevance-based app with a location component. Information nirvana!


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