Geolocation services are not about giving us something to do, as Joe Chernov writes, although I think that's a pretty good insight. They're also about giving us something to talk about. That something is status, it comes with the territory.
The sociological aspect is probably not as refined as fondness for the whimsical wedded to the devices through which we relate to the world. It runs deeper than that all the way to the human desire to mark territory.
Badges are a manifestation of that desire. Take for example the Mayor's badge. You don't care much about it, until you get one. Then you work on ways to figure out how to get more.
More means more places where you show up as the name of the person who hold the Mayor's badge. Something to talk about in your presence or when your name shows up in that location.
Eventually, check-ins become normal, the ho-hum thing to do when going to a place. Then what? Before we get there, though, let's take a look at what applications like Foursquare engage:
- your social presence and graph
- a mobile app you carry with you
- social gaming with a point system
For those who had difficulty understanding Twitter, Foursquare should provide a new headache. Or maybe not. Shoe design house Jimmy Choo integrated Foursquare successfully with Twitter and Facebook for off line experience and online amplification. It implemented a treasure hunt by using check ins around London. The goal: launch a new shoe line. The winner got to keep the shoes. [hat tip Andrea Colaianni]
And people talking about Foursquare and doing public check ins on other social networks is the reason why so many are joining the network. That's the reason why Foursquare is fast approaching 1.7 MM members.
Having status -- or badges -- is not too much fun if you cannot brag about what you're able to do with them, although there is plenty of gaming of the system and associated bragging about it going on. So the company is experimenting with badge rewards.
The suggestions and notes left by others about a location might appeal. Retailers like Sport Authority signing up to provide deals for frequent check ins may be another incentive. However, we're far and away from reaching mainstream appeal.
In a recent competition/study run by uTest, 300+ testers (70% male/30% female) from 35 countries participated in a week long competition. The study included one key question What Most Prevents You From Using Check-In Services More Frequently?
I admit that when at SxSW testing Gowalla I tended to check in only when I was about to leave places.
Mostly, I wanted my off line experience to be untethered from the online validation of it -- "oh my, you must be important if you have x-thousand followers," you know how it goes. I can talk with and meet interesting people without talking about follower counts, thank you very much. I also prefer to be one of the people in the room -- and not the Mayor of something -- on first impressions.
However, I can see how location-based services can play a role in stimulating sales by offering deals like 20% off for a Mayor, a freebie for all check ins, since the information gets broadcast to the networks of the people using the service.
If you own a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, or retail store that could take advantage of this information sharing, you can claim your location by going to the Web site of one of these services, say Foursquare, searching for your business, confirming you're the manager on the profile page, and following the steps to claim your location and offer a deal.
For these services to go mainstream, status symbol is not enough. They need to start incorporating incentives for people to use them, and make the interface easy to use for non-Geeks.
Do you use a geolocation service to check in places? Why/why not? What would make it useful to you?