Location based networking is going mainstream this year and with the recent announcement from Facebook of the Places launch, I thought this would be the perfect time to write a blog post about location based social networking, explaining what it is and why it is generating so much buzz. I’ll also introduce you to some of the major players in the location based arena.
But first, consider two points that help explain why locations based social networking is going to be huge:
1) There are over 4 billion mobile phones in use around the world: that is 4 phones for every Personal computer. In 2009, phones overtook PC’s as the preferred means to access the Internet.
2) Humans are social by nature. Since the days of the cave, we have enjoyed the company of others. It is in our nature to want to share with others; to do things together; to tell them where we are going and to invite them along. We like our “tribe” to know what we are up to and thanks to LBSN we can now do that in real time.
Location Based Social Networking
Location based social networking is a form of geosocial networking, which, according to Wikipedia is “is social networking in which geographic services and capabilities such as geocoding and geotagging are used to enable additional social dynamics”. In other words, you can use Internet based services to share where you are and what you are doing in real time and based on where you are and where your tribe is at that moment.
For example, Foursquare, one of the top location based social networks, allows users to check in from their mobile phones when they are out and about at dinner, sports venues, tourist venues and even at the hairdresser. As a user, each time you check in to a location your connections are alerted and you are awarded points.
Some of the top location based social networks include: Foursquare, Facebook Places, Loopt, Gowalla and Yelp. Here is a resume of each:
Foursquare is “a mobile application that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. It is a friend-finder, a social city guide and a game that challenges users to experience new things, and rewards them for doing so. Foursquare lets users “check in” to a place when they’re there, tell friends where they are and track the history of where they’ve been and who they’ve been there with.” Launched in 2009, Foursquare now has over 3 million users.
Gowallais a location-based social networking where users ‘check-in’ at Spots in their local vicinity, either through a dedicated mobile application or through the mobile website. As a reward users will sometimes receive items from check-ins. Items have developed to become a promotional tool for the game’s partners.
Yelp is a website that connects people with local businesses and allows users to rate, comment and share their likes and dislikes and review said businesses. Founded in 2004, Yelp now has communities in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland and France and is available on your mobile phone. Yelp now has over 38 million regular visitors to the site.
Launched in August, Facebook Places is a social utility that connects people with their friends: it allows them to share where they are and connect with friends who are nearby. Right now Places is only available on iPhone and in the US but given the clout that Facebook carries, it is surely set to be a major player in this arena. Of especial interest from a business perspective is the fact the businesses will be able to use places to create hyper local ads to targeted users.
Another location based networking pioneer is Loopt, a company that builds mobile applications that use location to help you enjoy the friends, places, and events around you right now. Formed in 2006, Loopt now offers a suite of 5 mobile applications that run on over 100 different phones and are enjoyed by over 4 million people.
Which Tool To Use?
Judging by the following Compete graph analysis of unique visitors, Yelp seems to be the most trafficked location based social network at this point but this could change on the turn of a dime: when Facebook Places launched, Foursquare saw record sign ups for new users.
Check out the location based tools mentioned above and choose the one that best fits your social network and lifestyle preferences. If you are using Facebook extensively already, then it will make sense to use Facebook Places rather than have to learn and maintain another network. If you eat out a lot, then Yelp might be the best choice. If games are your thing then try Gowalla or Foursquare.
Whichever tool you use though, be cognizant of privacy settings and make sure that only those you want to have access to your where about can access this information.