If you use a location-based app or service such as Foursquare or Gowalla you are a part of the minority of online users. Four percent of online adults either by PC or on their phone use a service that allows their friends and family to know their location, but on any given day, it can be as little as 1 percent (Pew Research). So what are the catalysts for this new technology and will uptake grow?
Many see Facebook Places and particularly its recent ‘Deals’ feature for mobile as the main catalyst for changing consumer behaviour and force location services into the mainstream. The new feature is only a few months old but it has already been estimated to be multiple times bigger than any other location service, before Facebook places, Foursquare was the largest LBS with around 4 million users although it’s un-clear how many of those are regular users of the service.
Facebook has just launched an add-on to Places for mobile, a service called ‘deals’ that allows brands to offer discounts to users who “check in” to a specific location as a specific time. The social network has already signed up several major advertisers for the service, including The Gap, Starbucks and McDonald’s, brands as large as the brands currently supporting Foursquare.
Being offered cheaper prices or deals to check in at a specific location is a nice incentive, but it’s unlikely it’s going to convince the majority of Smartphone and Facebook users to adopt location services. The biggest issue flagged by many users, is the continued notion of privacy. Sharing a physical location breaches a personal privacy barrier that many people are uncomfortable with, even if it is only being broadcast to their friends — and as Facebook places allows your friends to tag you whilst you’re out, you don’t have total control until you check your profile late, which adds to the uncomfortable feeling.
Facebook may have 500 million users, but even that kind of reach may not be enough to move location-sharing into the mainstream.
The ultimate, unanswered question is – what do consumers actually have to gain from ‘checking in?’ LBS need to add as much value as possible.