GeoSocial Finally Discovers Events

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It seems that Foursquare and Facebook have gotten the memo that not everything is a place or venue. Events have been the mostly forgotten element to GeoSocial services and it has the potential to be one of its biggest benefits.

Whether it’s a conference or concert people are much more likely to check-in, interact, and discover places and people when they are at an event but beyond this the opportunity for event organizers to plan and engage attendees through location based social networks is tremendous.

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These are all steps in the right directions but it still leaves us lacking a few needed features.

  1. Eventbrite Integration – I think this is the killer feature for Foursquare or Gowalla is to allow people to check-in to an event organized through Eventbrite.
  2. Organizer Tools – Allow us to create an event prior to it happening and roll out business dashboard tools for organizers to add tips and info and schedule when it goes live.
  3. Engagement Tools – Let the organization that claims the event tie into it and interact with attendees as well as get check-in analytics.

I’m certainly not the first to have these ideas and I’m sure these services are already working toward these goals but the service that gets there first will get some serious attention from bloggers and business alike.

PS: Kudos to Gowalla for doing this a year ago and while I give 4sq a hard time about the global venue I really like their emphasis on exploring and their latest updates. Good stuff.

The Case for Checking in

Lately I’ve been having frequent conversations with “normal” people about check-in services like Gowalla and Foursquare (GeoSocial for short) and it seems like many have the same question,

I don’t get the whole check-in thing, why do you use it?

Normally its asked by someone that has seen friends check-in and is slightly interested but hasn’t really discovered a reason they should use it. My 2 part answer:

Geosocial invites my online community to influence my offline world.

Say you love the “Baked Salmon Sushi” at a particular restaurant and you leave that recommendation as a tip or highlight. If we’re friends on the service then when I visit I see your suggestion. I can name hundreds of examples but they all have the common thread of GeoSocial info improving my experience. I call it insider trading in the real world.

Check-ins create conversation.

I checked in at a popular restaurant today and mentioned it was my first visit, withing minutes my Twitter friends sent 5 replies suggesting I try the yeast roll.  Big deal right? Actually it is.

These seeming mundane yet personal shares really connects us with a community. Just this past week my friend @willie discovered where I got engaged through a Gowalla highlight. I know that because he tweeted me.

@tsudo Checked into the Omni is Austin, TX and saw you proposed here. Small world.Tue Mar 22 20:31:05 via Echofon

I’ve learned so much about my friends and my world through these services and that’s why I use them.

Still not convinced? Check out Discovering the value in GeoSocial.

A final word – Moderation is key, don’t push every check in to every social network.

PS: If you’re wondering, yes I use both. I enjoy Foursquare for the tips & love the experience and trips in Gowalla. They both have their strengths. If you decide to join you can find me on Gowalla and Foursquare.

The Impact and Opportunity of GeoSocial on Real Estate

What impact are location based social networks going to have on the real estate business? As a  home buyer, seller, or Realtor what should you understand about this location information around you? Is there an opportunity here?

Listen as Jessica Hickok, @sugarcube, and I discuss the intersection of GeoSocial and Real Estate.

Don’t miss the great tips at the end of how your Real Estate business can use these platforms to build your reputation, become more visible, and be seen as the “go to” people for a particular area.

Thanks to Jessica for sharing her insights. To connect with her follow @sugarcube, visit her personal website JessicaHickok.com, and check out Dizmang Associates at GetPaul.com (Check out how she’s using WordPress to list properties).

Podcast Links:

Subscribe to the Know the Network Podcast in iTunes

The tweet that started this conversation

Showing houses in an upscale neighborhood… Check out all the cool 4sq places these buyers could have! #sarcasm http://twitpic.com/3nbg0bless than a minute ago via Echofon

-image courtesy of Bohman

Dear TechCrunch, let’s stop pretending you understand GeoSocial’s potential

I undoubtedly missed the memo but it’s now hip to be a naysayer concerning the future of location based social networks (LBS / GeoSocial).

grumpy-muppetsEarlier this month the Pew Research Center reported that only 4% of adults are using a service to share their location with friends and many have used this report as a catalyst to decry the potential of GeoSocial services. Today TechCrunch jumped on the bandwagon by issuing a challenge to Foursquare and Gowalla to stop pretending they are useful or fun.

To paraphrase the general sentiment, No one is using these services except early-adopters and there is no future for LBS outside of coupons and deals.

At the risk of offending the twitterati I find this thinking shortsighted and speaks to an silicon-insulated perspective.  Out here in the normal world the future of Foursquare, Gowalla & friends is still pretty amazing.

Understanding the Cycle

Prior to pontification we must understand where the technology in question sits on the Gartner Hype Cycle. It would be nice to think that services like Foursquare & Gowalla have reached the 4th stage of enlightenment but truthfully they lie just shy of the peak of inflated expectations.

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The tech trigger for LBS was the proliferation of GPS enabled smartphones and we’ve been firmly fueling the inflated expectations cycle for the past 12-18 months. That rocket ride of hype is growing to a close. TechCrunch is hollering from the valley about disillusionment and the chorus has joined right in… and most fail to realize that this is only a stage and it’s a great thing for the LBS market overall.

Where TechCrunch Missed the Boat

The “Who” of LBS Adoption

Are services like Foursquare & Gowalla populated with mostly early adopters? Yes, but newsflash they are in an early adopter stage.

I’ve heard LBS executives state that they think LBS is currently where Facebook was 3 years ago and I’m inclined to agree. These social services are facing the same questions of privacy and value that Twitter and Facebook have just overcome in the past year. It’s time to stop assuming that since you heard about Foursquare back in 2009 that it should be a widely adopted and mature platform by now. When we step outside of our tech bubble we see that the general public is just discovering LBS.

In the past few months I’ve personally seen several of my “regular” friends join Gowalla after seeing the checkins I post to Facebook. So instead of lamenting why the masses aren’t checking in let’s rather build usefulness and visibility.

Build it and they will come. Want proof? Your mom is now on Facebook.

The “Why” of LBS

If I haven’t ruffled your feathers yet let’s take a look at some real GeoSocial heresy:

DEALS & INCENTIVES AREN’T THE ANSWER.

TechCrunch, and to be fair many others, are of the opinion that these services are little more than coupons attached to a GPS. This perception stems from a failure to understand that-

There is a BIG difference between gaining a user & keeping a user

Offering deals and discounts for checkins may entice some people to sign up for GeoSocial network but it’s not going to keep them active. At most an incentive may might generate a checkin once or twice but the only path to building an active user base is to create usefulness.

You may have signed up for Twitter to follow @aplusk but if you are still using Twitter it’s because:

  1. You find it useful & informative
  2. You created relationships and connections
  3. both

Regardless of how we spin it this is the true of any social network. TechCrunch says, “they’re not giving us any good reason to use them” and mocks their slogans of “Discover your world” or “Unlock your city”. The slogans are precisely the point because they go to the heart of usefulness.

How? For a more in depth explanation I invite you to read, “Discovering Value in GeoSocial” but here are a few highlights.

  • I’ve discovered the most amazing sushi that only the regular’s know about.
  • I found out that my friend @cmenking loves to bowl
  • While my wife was expecting my friends kept tabs on us through checkins from the hospital

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GeoSocial networks are serendipity enablers

Foursquare and Gowalla have allowed me to meet awesome folks and have given me an insiders guide to the world around me. In short, they have enriched my life.

If Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR et al. took TechCrunch’s advice they’ll be ghost towns in a year because while incentives may aid adoption they won’t keep you coming back.

Only friends and adding value have that power.

I’ll end by referring you to this brilliant excerpt by @marshallk of RWW. It appeared as a sidebar piece on “Facebook & the Future of Check-ins” (pink box, right side) and it’s one of the best essays on the potential of LBS I’ve ever read.

New, Notable, & Nifty from the week that was Aug 14

Here’s what I found interesting from the past week.

  1. Hootsuite launched Premium Accounts – I think the plans are reasonable and I’m glad to see such a good service actually show interest in making money. We’ll see how the community responds and this will hopefully open doors for other competitors. (We have Hootsuite joining us for the Cotton Club podcast this coming week so if you have questions let us know.)
  2. WeePlaces released a very cool Foursquare Visualization – They take your checkins and map out your movements. I’m tempted to create a new account and hopscotch around the world to prove there is an issue with accuracy and to make the map visualization spin like a globe.
  3. Gowalla announced released some new Political Events and a Check-in API – Great opportunity for politicians to leverage Gowalla to inform the public about campaign events and the API is a long time coming so let’s hope for more integration in the near future.
  4. Twitter released new Retweet Buttons – Nice idea to have official share buttons but you shouldn’t use them just yet, stick with Topsy’s buttons.
  5. Facebook is testing a topic unsubscribe feature and updated it’s notes composer. In other words the largest social network in the world is discovering tools that internet forums have had for 10 years. *yawn

The fun side

Tune in next week.

Privacy as a Feature

What is the number one stumbling block to location based social network adoption?

Photo by rpongsaj

Privacy.

To better judge how people use networks like Foursquare and Gowalla I did an informal survey.

twtpoll

63% of users only share their location with close friends, while 37% have a much more open approach. There are varying shades of gray in between the 2 choices I listed but I think the 60/40 split is an accurate representation of the larger user base.

The question illustrates the basic problem with geosocial apps.

To maintain privacy you have to be very restrictive whom you friend which lessens the chances of extending online connections to the offline world but the more public approach is at times just too public.

It’s time for Gowalla & Foursquare to recognize that Privacy is a Feature.

The Case for Complexity

The recent debates about Facebook have elevated the conversation of online privacy into a very public arena and this should prompt social networks to seriously consider their privacy offerings.

We’ve all heard the stories of people getting prank calls at the gym and the media salivates every time they can possibly tie Facebook/Twitter to a home break-in, while some of these incidents are a bit overblown the fact remains that sharing our exact location has ramifications.

*As a sidebar I think this is particularly important when we are talking about ladies using geosocial networks.

Facebook needed simplicity. Gowalla/Foursquare need complexity.

Checkin privacy should be a layered approach based upon two factors

  • Groups – I should be able to define a group of close friends that can see my exact location while others can only view neighborhood/city/state.
  • Proximity – I should also be able to adjust that privacy based on your proximity. If you are an acquaintance but checked in to the same location I should be able to allow them a more detailed view.

The more correct answer to my poll is “both”. Geosocial apps should offer users a better method to control who can see our current location so we can use it how we prefer.

GeoSocial adoption must have privacy as a feature.

Notes & Links from Incslinger’s LBS Roadshow

Yesterday I had the pleasure to attend the Social Web Summit, Roadshow edition and hear Simon Salt @incslinger do a seminar on location based social networks (LBSN).

I must admit I’m a born skeptic and often find similar seminars, webcasts, and teleconferences to be little more than introductions to technology which I’m already familiar with. I usually come away being reminded I’m not the target market (i.e. people looking for an intro to these platforms) and gain very little.

Mr. Salt’s seminar is a most excellent exception.simon_salt_incslingers

He nails the fine line of catering both to a businesses just discovering these services as well as experienced LBSN user.

If you are a business evaluating these platforms you’ll find great practical case studies, ideas, and Simon’s enthusiasm in contagious.

If you are already heavily involved in LBSN you’ll be rewarded with excellent historical context, technical and business analysis, and his perspective on what we can expect next.

Simon is extremely knowledgeable, experienced, approachable, and even more important- thoughtful. Being thoughtful is about the best compliment I can give someone.

Simon Salt just got added to my shortlist of LBSN experts.

Takeaways

  • Will Facebook enter the LBSN arena? – Yes, but it probably won’t matter. Their mobile apps are dreadful and there isn’t a high demand in community
    • My take: Completely agree. Facebook could change the game with a purchase of one of the major players but I’m not convinced it will happen anytime soon.
  • Foursquare or Gowalla? – Simon says 4sq. He thinks their lead in content partnerships (Bravo, Zagat, etc…) will lead to continued 4sq dominance
    • My take: Even smart guys can be wrong ;). 4sq partnerships are too expensive and only include national brands that make little difference on the local scale. If Gowalla extends it’s virtual item platform and eases SMB adoption then I’ll put my money on Gowalla. More here – but competition is great and there may be room for both apps.
  • Is location accuracy an issue with Foursquare? Simon doesn’t think it hinders possible adoption because the business benefit outweighs the minority that will try to game the system.
    • My take: Undecided. In some cases it doesn’t matter but in others it is crucial. 4sq has made minor steps to improve accuracy but they fall well short of creating a trusted system
  • Corporate Responsiveness. Simon mentioned that 4sq is very responsive to the developer community and is open to input and ideas and this will continue innovation and development.
    • My take: I’m glad to hear that 4sq is listening to developers because they continue to ignore the majority of its user base on Twitter and GetSatisfaction. I’ve found Gowalla to be much more engaging and helpful.

Enjoy my notes (PDF) and links from the event.

#SWSroad notes

Foursquare vs Gowalla – the battle for your business

The competition for your business in the Location based social network arena is heating up. The two major contenders, Gowalla and Foursquare, are gearing up for a high stakes battle, and the winner will be you.

Here’s my audio post on the current state and the future of the GeoSocial giants and what it means for your business.

Articles referenced:

Friends mentioned

  • @amybhole
  • @arkstfan

Discovering Value in GeoSocial

Wordle: Explore Your WorldEvery new social platform must prove it’s value to users.

It took Twitter the better part of 2 years to conquer the “Why do I care what you had for breakfast” perception and now location based social networks (or GeoSocial) like Gowalla and Foursquare face similar refrains.

  • What’s the point?
  • It’s ridiculous
  • I just don’t get it

Often the early life cycle of social applications are dominated by critics who are quick to dismiss the technology so let’s step back from the business and marketing angles for a bit and answer one simple question.

What do location based social networks offer you?

I’ve often described my twitter community as carrying my friends around on my shoulder. This ever-present cloud is always up for conversation, ripe with new discoveries, and is ready for a brilliant quip or sarcastic aside. It’s a virtual traveling roadshow.

But what if my virtual community could impact my physical world?

Welcome to GeoSocial. Serendipity’s helping hand.

Discover People

This opportunity cannot be emphasized strongly enough. You get to meet people that is the core definition of social.

Last Friday night I was at the local ballpark when I received a twitter mention that an acquaintance had checked in to the same venue via Foursquare. I discovered he was with another friend and I decided to walk across to say Hi.

Although I’d never met either of them in real life we were familiar with one another because of our online interactions.

What happened? Familiarity turned into friendship.

It was amazing chance to deepen a connection and impossible without the aid of a location based social network.

A simple Foursquare check-in by @jdo2 brought all of us together. I was able to meet @lonapete and on the walk over I bumped into my friend @laureneclark, whom I met previously through #LRtweetup.

@Bryanjones defined the value of geosocial networking beautifully,

@k_wade_a real life @ real (interesting) places and real people. (cc: @katiemcmanners @tsudo)less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

Discover Places

Imagine you are out-of-town visiting friends. They take you to a local dive and insist you try this super secret item that isn’t listed on the menu. Feeling adventurous you agree and you’re rewarded with a totally unexpected and amazing dish. If you aren’t a regular patron you don’t even know it exists. Heck, you probably wouldn’t have even stopped here.

But you are with an insider.

GeoSocial apps are insider trading in the real world.

Whether I’m discovering something in my backyard or across the country these tips are tied to the location. Tips left by friends and strangers that drastically improve the world around me.

Here are just two examples from the hundreds I could share.

  • I checked in at a Mexican restaurant that I’d previously never visited. My friend @bpmore had left a tip recommending the pollo asada. Suddenly my social network leaped out and said, try this. No surprise it was wonderful!
  • A beautiful day prompted me to wander a few blocks for lunch when I found local luchador @bryanjones at a nearby Mexican joint (yeah I love great Mexican food). I stopped in to say Hi and when I checked in I discovered his tip to ask for a secret habanera sauce.  Wow, it was HOT, but excellent, and unlisted.

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Through Gowalla & Foursquare we’ve shared everything from favorite snow cone flavors to where you can find the best desserts in town.

*It probably goes without saying if you are looking for amazing food and sweets I’m your guy, need a tip for a great gym? … ask @amybhole

So much more

In the interest of brevity I’m omitting many features like deals, specials, and prompting conversations that can enrich the world around you.

Forget the critics, go discovering.