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Should all geo-location apps suffer Gowalla’s fate?

4 min read


This poll analysis was written by Jeremy Victor, editor-in-chief of For more of his writing, visit and follow him on Twitter and Google+.

SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

With the recent news of Facebook’s acquisition of Gowalla, the category of geo-location apps just got smaller. Facebook is not acquiring Gowalla’s technology nor the service, just some people. Gowalla will actually be shutting down at the end of January. Leaving Facebook Places, Google Latitude and Foursquare as the main players left in the game.  Timely then that we asked, “What’s your take on geo-social services such as Foursquare?” The results:

  • They’re destined to stay a niche channel – 58.57%
  • They’re the next big thing – 23.57%
  • They’re on the decline  – 17.86%

I am with the majority on this question for a number of reasons. In order of importance, I’ll share my reasoning on why I think these apps are destined to stay a niche channel.

1. Privacy

Let’s face it, as much as we want to believe that the community we live in is a safe one, there are devious people everywhere. Using a geo-location service broadcasts your location on a pretty large scale. So not only does it tell the world where you are, conversely, it tells the world where you aren’t. While some people are completely comfortable with this, others simply aren’t.

2. For who? For what?

One of the things I hear a lot from other smartphones owners that don’t use Foursquare or Facebook Places, is that they don’t see a clear benefit to doing so. They know about the small, infrequent discounts, mayorships and learning if any of their friends are nearby, but for most people I’ve talked with on this subject, it is not a big enough carrot to get them to “check in” consistently. I think I’ve come to agree.

3. Location accuracy

Anyone who has used one of these location-based services knows that their ability to pinpoint your location is at best mediocre (and even that could be a generous description). Until advances are made in the global positioning system that supports these applications, users will have to deal with the frustration of searching for their location or picking out their location from a long list of establishments in the area. It’d be so much better if the application knew you walked into PF Chang’s and notified you to check in, right?

4. Time to check in

In doing some research for this article, i.e. checking in on Foursquare, I found it took me around 20 – 25 seconds to complete a check in. Now 20 – 25 seconds doesn’t sound like a long time, but it is when you are with your family at a restaurant and they are asking you, “Dad, what are you doing? And why are you staring at your phone? ” So in that time, you risk actually being anti-social in real life so you can be social with people who may not be anywhere near you. It’s awkward, isn’t it? Has this ever happened to you? From a usability standpoint, this has to be having an impact on adoption.

5. Lack of retailer adoption

I’ve checked in to both Wegmans and Chipotle nearly 10 times each. What do I have to show for it from a consumer point of view? Nothing. I was the mayor of my local Corner Bakery Café for at least a month, the result from a consumer point of view … nothing. Collecting badges is good for some, but for me as a consumer, I’ve found that the retailers I visit are not listening to the social check in. So why do it?

That’s my take. Overall, these services need to do a much better job at creating engaging user experiences with meaningful benefits. Sure it’s great to find out that I’m at the same Phillies game with old “friends” from Syracuse, but how has my life really changed by telling me that. It hasn’t … and as a result I’m checking in less. Are you?

Almost 24% see location-based services as the next big thing; please tell us why you think so. I’d love to be convinced otherwise as I do see some promise with the technology through a combination with geo-fencing, virtual reality and gaming.

What’s your take?