Earlier, I was watching an Iron Maiden concert and realized that any decent medium can be used to express a story or culture. Social Geo-location might be able to pass a story, but the majority of the usage I’ve seen, thus far, doesn’t. This is just one of a few issues that make social geo-location weak, there is the issue of user base, barrier to entry, and application of the data.
I feel that the location services aren’t proper for expressing the story. They don’t describe the why and what is happening the majority of the time, and when they do the data is extremely condensed to fit within the minuscule boxes of Twitter or SMS. Twitter is hard enough to express a story through, though you can still manage to get it or a cultural message across in one tweet. Sharing a cultural message through one of these locations is likely even harder, with the exception of religious establishments.
How social can you really be with these applications? These applications all have tiny user bases, even after quite a bit of promotion on large blogs and a period of time. Foursquare, which is one the most publicly discussed ones, only has half-a-million, even after breaking out at SxSW, last year. Compared to Foursquare, few of the other services come close in size comparisons. The problem with low user adoption is that without your friends, how relevant can the product be, which I’ll discuss a little later.
The barrier to entry for nearly all of these services, is that they are limited to internet enabled phones, or smart phones. In fact, only one service of the several that I’ve looked at, had a entry level that wasn’t quite restrictive of it’s base, and it’s none other than Foursquare, with SMS check-in’s, which still appears to be hit or miss. If you’re reducing your initial growth capabilities, immediately, in a social market, you’re damaging your product.
The services use the location data, in their own ways, but I don’t know if they are applying it where it would actually be of value, as an addition of context. If you can take the data from these products and connect it to events and people as they occur, you simplify the enrichment of the story. It’s still pretty easy to just say where the event’s took place, with the addition of maybe 2 dozen key strokes, as I write this at my house.
Another issue is that the product might not be relevant to users, especially, when people begin using them to check in as they leave. If I were to use these services, it would be to let my friends know where I am, so now you have users undermining the principles of your product, way to go. You’re app actually ends up being even more irrelevant than it already is. The likelihood that your friends are even on the service is an anomaly in the first place, unless you live in a metropolitan area(e.g. New York, San Francisco, LA, Portland, Miami, etc.).
I give all the people who work on these applications props, though, because they discovered a great system. They created a user-promotion based advertising system, which you encourage by having deals with various venues to reward the heavy users, and little trophies for reaching little milestones for the rest of the users. They have also brought the idea of geo-location to the fore, which sometime in the future will be used to add context to real stories or cultural messages. So I would like to thank all the people, who work on these apps, for their work, but you guys apparently don’t understand geo-location, it is better served to add context to other mediums, than as an independent social medium.