Location Based Social Networks

I was asked earlier this month by a colleague “what do you think will be big in 2010?” An obvious question for the beginning of January really and one which I don’t normally have many views on but this time I did, I replied quickly with:

“Location Based Social Networks will be big in 2010”

I think the reason I thought this was not based in science or crystal ball gazing. I think I was slightly influenced by the fact that iPhone is now available on other networks and will increase its user base. Now I’m not saying that iPhone drives location-based networks but i suspect that a large proportion of users (not based on any stats) are using a location-based social network of some kind. Perhaps not the best method to form an opinion but on reflection i started to think that they may actually be big in 2010.

I saw this interesting post on location-based social networking platforms, in particular foursquare in Harvard University.

The service, which is accessible from smartphones and other mobile devices, enables students and visitors to explore the campus and surrounding neighborhoods while sharing information about their favorite places……

……..We believe that Harvard’s participation will allow our community to engage with friends, professors, and colleagues in new ways. We also hope visitors and neighbors will benefit from the platform as it grows through use.

via Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness after the Digital Explosion.

Essentially the opportunity for a University is huge as it could help new students settle in and understand their surrounding quicker if they connect on the network.

Now when i mean by  “big in 2010”, i don’t mean that we there will be a revolution of location-based social networks but more that people we start to see the potential in them and will start to engage with them more often.

It did get me thinking about the possible applications and benefits:

  • Moving House – the networks could give an easier way to familiarise yourself with your new surroundings, perhaps where local libraries are, local schools etc.
  • Mobile and flexible working – if we started identifying “wifi hotspots” more proactively, then people would be able to connect offline in local “hubs”. Perhaps as councils we “think we know” the best places for people to work but it might be that they prefer sitting in a café connecting to the network.
  • Mobile Libraries – this i thought could be something that could be interesting for libraries to explore as way of connecting with people locally, it might also allow for a more flexible approach to “stops”.
  • Emergencies – we could start to create and tag “emergency centres” so should people need to find one they could use their network and the GPS to easily find the centre.

I have only started playing with location-based social networks, one of the challenges i have is that you benefit more when you get out more and this i felt was a key difference in these networks as they encourage real life social interaction more than some of the traditional social networks. I feel more inclined to respond to people who say “social networks are causing people to stay in their homes and disconnect from their community” – Well location-based networks have the potential to really tackle that view-point.

Like most networks however they always work better when more people are in them. That is something i believe will happen during this year and we will start to see people blogging about their “positive experiences” with them in ways which signal that a critical mass has now been met.

I look forward to this year and hopefully get to connect to more of you face to face.

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