Location, Location, Location

I’m fascinated by the increased conversation about Location based Social Networks as i personally find them really interesting.  Back in January this year i predicted they would be big in 2010 (albeit my rationale was deeply flawed and influenced by a particular phone!!).

However they do seem to be growing in value and more and more people are seeing business opportunities and benefits from working with them. It is also interesting to see Google and Facebook both supporting Location based features of varying levels that if they see value then i guess we won’t actually get much choice. Location will just be another feature of our interaction with our friends and colleagues.

I was thinking the other day – what would happen if all of the content from TripAdvisor (ratings, feedback, pricing etc) was integrated with a location-based network like Foursquare or Gowalla. In fact there is almost a duplication of content happening at some level anyway. The power of that information is already influencing people’s decision – but if you could see that someone who actually said they liked the place had “checked in” say 10-15 times, would you believe them more than someone who checked in only once?

This is where these tools are starting to move, if businesses are savvy, and want to manage their brand they will need to understand this stuff. I say understand as it is still early days and most of the benefits and new features are becoming useful because the companies themselves are adding value by linking with other sites or companies.

But there is a dark side – isn’t there always!

Privacy is something that a lot of people care about, most people were vocal about Facebook’s dealings of privacy – so we can assume that it is an important thing to get right – it is also an important thing an individual needs to get right so that it doesn’t back fire.

An example of how weird and creepy it can get can be found on Shea Sylvia’s blog. It is the type of story that people will use to say that these sites don’t offer value and that they will only lead to bad things – well i don’t agree with that….Shea’s situation and experience is not something i’d like to go through – i’m glad she shared the story, but it does offer us all a valuable lesson and one which made me think about how all this stuff fits together.

In Facebook i have quite tight privacy controls and only (as a rule) except friends who i have actually met in person – Facebook is a place where i share photos of my family and more personal events. So i’m happy to share this with people i consider to be friends in one form or another.

On twitter, i have a public profile (i don’t protect my tweets) but i generally use this as a professional tool and only occasionally use this in a personal capacity – i do however consider a good proportion of people i follow on twitter (those i have met and some i haven’t) as friends also.

Foursquare and Gowalla – These tools don’t really do privacy that well in my opinion or at least create an illusion on privacy, yes you can accept friends but when you check in somewhere it will share that with anyone who visits that location. I can see the value in this, but why can’t you restrict you check in information to only those people you accept as friends?

My point being that when you decide to share something, it should be based on your own understanding of how you have set your privacy settings – it can’t create loop holes for your information to leak out to anyone.

I will personally be revisiting all of my privacy settings and how they interact with each other so that i can be sure who has access to the information i post to the web.

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.