“By mapping the world, we have mapped ourselves.” — James Burke, The Day The Universe Changed, 1985
Of the many brilliant utterances scientific historian and great mind Burke has uttered, that line most resonates with me, 25 years later. While I had a chance to ask him about the quote a few years ago (barely maintaining my composure), he modestly brushed it off as not terribly prophetic. Yet the rise of the Internet, the iPhone and GPS has changed the game … and the almost-certain future explosion of geosocial services will take it further. We have mapped ourselves and then some.
By geosocial, I refer to mobile services tied to your smartphone that allow you to interact with your physical environment and other users. With services like Foursquare and Gowalla, you can create or check into spots at your favorite bar, cafe or restaurant and write and/or read reviews for these spaces. A more advanced platform like Yelp also allows for augmented reality, where you can use more advanced portable devices to “see” metatags on the spaces around you and touch links for more information.
The benefits to users are obvious. If you’re bouncing around Brooklyn looking for the best brews or seeing Seattle’s SoDo seeking the most sumptuous sushi, there is indeed an app for that. Your iPhone’s GPS or other markers can give you a listing of what’s nearby, which can be sorted further by category, and find out the best options via user reviews. If you’re a business, this is an opportunity for customers you didn’t know existed.
When a user checks into a location via Foursquare, Gowalla or Yelp, they can push this information to their Twitter or Facebook accounts, thus providing promotion to the establishment they’re visiting and the geotagging service itself. Thus the viral nature of social media spreads the word … but, as a double-edged sword, sometimes irritates the receivers. As my friend Laura Parisi puts it aptly: “All I know is that people updating about being at the Target on Elm Street in my Twitter feed makes me want to stop using Twitter.” To be fair, the push is an optional feature, but we’ll discuss more in a later episode.
Of course, all advances come with potential drawbacks. I often explain these services to people whose immediate response is: “But what if someone gives us a bad review?” To which the best reply might be: “Um, run a business in such a way you please your customers?” Others note that by declaring you’re out on the town or out of town, you’re announcing Please Rob Me! to burglars.
Concerns real and imagined aside, what’s clear is that the geotagging market will only get larger and larger as services continue to attract more customers (Twitter-type growth is not unimaginable), smartphones gain more technology and developers continue advancing platforms. The next installments of this blog series will look at the three biggest services currently on the market.
- Part II will review Foursquare, the most popular.
- Part III will explore Gowalla, probably the most user-friendly.
- Part IV will look through Yelp, which has the potential to be the biggest game-changer.
I’ve tapped some knowledgeable users of each for their feedback, and hope to answer questions along the way. We can all find our way together!