Monthly Archives: March 2010

geotagging: the next big thing? part iv: yelp = enter augmented reality.

Imagine you’re in another city and looking for a bite to eat. You pull out your mobile device, hold it up and on the screen appears names of the restaurants surrounding you, with their types, ratings, approximate meal costs and directions. Then clicking on a specific restaurant’s link takes you to more information.

Sound like something out of the future? The future is now, thanks to Yelp … if you have the right device. If you don’t have the right device, it still works pretty well.

Currently, Yelp’s monocle function (described above) is only available on devices like the iPhone 3.0 with a video interface. Developers even had to hide the function as an Easter Egg to get it into Apple’s app store, noted in this Mashable article (includes video of monocle at work). As the monocle function gains in availability, providing an entree to the sure-to-be-big augmented reality phase of geotagging, this could really be a game-changer.

Whether or not you have the monocle, Yelp provides all kinds of information on businesses around you. If you’re looking for fast food, elegant slow food or ethnic fare — or other goods and services — you’ll find options under the Nearby function. A starred review system tells what users think. A $ rating system tells what to expect to pay. A compass-like function, tied to your device’s GPS, tells you where to find your destination.

Since Yelp generates the basic information, you don’t have to worry about the bad data issue of Gowalla. And while Foursquare also offers reviews, Yelp tying to your phone’s GPS — to say nothing of potential augmented reality feature — gives this service a leg up despite Foursquare’s greater current popularity.

Yelp also lets users in on special deals available to its businesses partners. “I like that instead of having one ‘Mayor’ like Foursquare, Yelp allows people to become ‘regulars’ at locations,” explains Seth Odell, media relations assistant at UCLA. “It seems like a lot more fun and inclusive, rather than exclusive, approach.” Let me reiterate this key point: Social media works best when inclusive, so that Foursquare skews toward exclusive benefits for the singular mayor of any location runs against the grain.

Fred Vigeant, assistant general manager for content at Oswego NPR affiliate WRVO, has the monocle function but also enjoys creating reviews for others. “I like how I’m helping build up a local network of reviews in our area” to help if “someone from out of town comes to visit and is looking for some information,” he says. “I also like how you can follow certain reviewers. This feature is nice because maybe they have similar taste and can suggest new places to explore.”

Jacqueline Lalande, who works for Solar Energy Systems in New York City, likes “that the reviews are passion based. You have to really care about how much you liked or didn’t like a place if you’re going to get online and post about it. This is a great way to get a feel for a place, as I like that it’s an everyday person’s opinions.”

But while reviews are easy to find, Yelp (very curiously) won’t let you contribute one from your mobile device. “While I can check in and upload a location photo, Yelp doesn’t allow people to write reviews from their phones,” Odell notes. “If I could make my entire Yelp experience mobile (writing and commenting on reviews, uploading photos, etc.) then I would be more likely to do that while at the location and to check in in the process.”

A drawback for higher education is the service’s genesis via Yellow Pages listings. Generally, a college has only limited listings, thus you would have to work with Yelp to get them to generate listings for, say, dining halls, specific schools and departments, residence halls or other aspects of the campus experience … if you’re brave enough for the feedback. I haven’t yet seen a college who has worked this out. And it’s worth noting Yelp has four different overall listings for my college with different names, which certainly leads to confusion and data diffusion.

As for benefits to businesses, some exist already. “Finding reviews of bars and restaurants are the most utilized function. However, I could see a use for other businesses to jump on the program and … see what the crowd thinks of them,” Vigeant says.

“Businesses are already on there and I like that,” Lalande notes. For colleges and harder-to-define services, Yelp has potential, as “it’s almost like a message board … which has its good and bad points. You’ll get your good comments, but you also run the risk of people giving it a bad rating.”

For businesses as well as higher ed, Odell thinks Yelp — and geotagging in general — still isn’t there yet. “People talk about how rewarding people for checking in is attractive to businesses, but I don’t see that,” he says. “Sure it’s nice to encourage customers to become regulars, but in the end you are providing discounts to a customer who was already coming. The only way I see advertising becoming successful is if they approach it as a way to attract new customers, not simply build a stronger bond with current ones.”

Building bonds — with other users and with establishments favorite and unfamiliar — remains the big draw to geotagging, so we can’t underestimate its future. Since, as this series has shown, each comes with different drawbacks, neither Foursquare, Gowalla nor Yelp seem like that killer app that will become that next service with Facebook-style popularity. But the potential is there if some of these apps merge. Or if a developer can build a better mousetrap, the world may beat a bath to his or her door … since, with geotagging, we’ll know exactly where to find it.


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geotagging: the next big thing?: part iii: gowalla, a kinder gentler service.

In terms of geotagging services, Gowalla could recycle the old Avis advertising campaign “#2 and trying harder” in terms of its matchup with the more market dominant — but more frustrating — Foursquare.

When it comes to the basics of geotagging — creating and finding spaces and interacting with other users — I find Gowalla more user-friendly, intuitive and responsive. Put simply, I can do things on Gowalla that I either can’t do easily, or at all, on Foursquare. A big plus is that you can locate spaces via Google map, satellite or a hybrid of the two views.

“I had been trying Foursquare and hated that I had to know the address of my location to add it as a new place, since their app doesn’t use the iPhone’s GPS,” said Seth Odell, media relations assistant at UCLA. “The fact that I could create a new location in Gowalla without the address and just my GPS coordinates was the main reason I decided to give it a try.”

In an oddly Pokemonesque touch, creating sites sometimes rewards you with virtual items — skateboards, slices of pizza, saxophones, you name it. You can “drop” these imaginary items to become a founder of a space, whether or not you created it. Whereas Foursquare provides mayorships and such to encourage repeat visits, “Gowalla rewards EXTENDING your territory more” and “taps into our acquisitiveness, with the concept of items,” notes Jon Boyd, online media manager for admissions at North Park University.

“The fun part about using it is mostly as a ‘hey I’ve been here too!’ tool,” said Wassan Humadi, higher ed diversity consultant for the US Educational Group. As opposed to the more popular Foursquare, “Gowalla isn’t used enough yet where you’re in a spot and can see who else is there. I would think that would be a pretty fun use of it, if you’re at the library on campus, I can see who else checked in here as well.”

In the time since I surveyed users, Gowalla had a major upgrade that amps up ability to interact with others, augments a social-gaming leaderboard function (similar to Foursquare) and adds a very user-friendly way of posting photos of your location. These things move fast.

Among users, the passport function — showing a list of places you’ve been — comes up as a favorite feature. Globetrotter Humadi enjoys that “when you’re traveling around the world, you can make it a bit of a virtual scrap book. I would anticipate that soon I can share the list of places I’ve been to via email, Facebook or other similar networks.” With growing functionality, she could see potential for travel journals created on the spot, perhaps combined with text, photos and video.

A major downside of Gowalla involves poor “data hygiene,” as “only a creator can edit a spot, the rest of us have to live with everyone else’s poor data entry,” Boyd explains. A good example: The entry for Sheldon Hall, our oldest and most historic building on campus, was created by a student. Despite the listing, the Extending Learning office is _not_ in Sheldon Hall, which means the only way I can correct it is by bugging him to edit the description.

Gowalla also occasionally has locating issues, especially indoors. In the test drive so far, I’ve seen Gowalla put me in the wrong place less often than Foursquare, although with either service you can drag and drop a pin to correct erroneous location issues. Also noteworthy, unless I’m really missing something, Gowalla lacks the review feature that makes Foursquare and Yelp attractive options for those in unfamiliar territory.

Users have mixed feelings about its business potential. “Combining a bit of a game idea/scavenger hunt with a more detailed iPod/podcast may be a way of giving a more personalized tour to students who want a more in-depth campus visit than the one the tour guide can provide,” Humadi suggests. She could see benefits from students or participants checking into an activity or class, instead of using roll call or a sign-up sheet.

Odell, on the other hand, doesn’t see Gowalla benefiting businesses — yet. “Down the road I think there will be lots of opportunities for businesses, but right now I think it’s pointless,” he says “For colleges I see absolutely no value right now. The numbers just aren’t there for this to matter. Obviously it’s something to watch though. As the numbers increase so will the value in it.”

Time will tell whether Gowalla plays Betamax to Foursquare’s VCR or becomes the Facebook to Foursquare’s MySpace. Whatever happens, the healthy competition between geotagging services will ultimately make users the winner.

Stay tuned for Part IV: Yelp, Enter Augmented Reality


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geotagging: the next big thing? part ii: foursquare’s gorilla marketing.

With the largest user base, Foursquare is the 800-pound gorilla of geotagging, or location-based social media options that allow you to interact with spaces and other users. But be cautioned that it is a competitive, clumsy and gregarious gorilla.

Chances are, among your friends, more of them are on Foursquare than Gowalla, Yelp or other geotagging service — an advantage in itself. Theoretically that means that establishments will have more tips (microreviews) — which means a better picture of whether its food, service and/or amenities are good and bad — but the sheer socializing aspect holds great appeal. “I’m hopeful for the day when a friend checks in and I really am right by where they are and I can go over there,” says Michael Climek, an MBA and marketing grad student at Baruch College. “That hasn’t happened yet, but I can dream.”

“Foursquare is best for one’s regular haunts, with more incentives for repeat visits,” explains Jon Boyd, online media manager for admissions at North Park University. “Social media has been fun and productive for me, but until these platforms, I was often frustrated by the unfulfilled desire to make the social connections SPATIAL as well.”

Some users like the gaming nature of Foursquare, where users can become mayor of a property, collect badges and score points. You become mayor as a most-frequent visitor within a time frame. Since the Foursquare interface is clunky, anyone who can figure out how to do anything deserves something. “It’s fun to check into a place to check to see if you’ve become the mayor … or find that someone else has beaten you to it,” says Jason Smith, “Morning Edition” host of Oswego NPR affiliate WRVO. “It isn’t clear what the points are for. I’ve earned 15 points this week so far. Foursquare doesn’t tell you what the points mean.”

But, as users push their mayorships and new badges to friends via social media, one could argue this noise drowns out the more important feature of showcasing and providing reviews for businesses and attractions. As Lori Packer, Web editor at the University of Rochester says, “I like reading other people’s ‘Tips and To Dos’ for various venues … But the whole ‘unlocked the Adventurer badge’ nonsense just feels like Farmville-esque social gaming spam to me.” Personally, when I see a tweet declaring “I just became the Mayor of the Duluth Wal-Mart” (or whatever) — the hi-tech equivalent of the 4-year-old who screams “look at meeeeeee!” — it’s hard not to feel a mix of annoyance and pity.

Georgy Cohen, managing editor of Web communications for Tufts University, rebuts that “the Foursquare backlash about it clogging up Twitter streams” is misplaced, as “it’s not Foursquare’s fault; it’s people’s fault for pushing all of their updates to Twitter.” As with Gowalla and Yelp, Foursquare users regulate some information they push to Twitter and Facebook, so “I feel Foursquare gets a lot of crap for what is really an (arguably poor) decision by the user,” Cohen says.

But the biggest real drawback to Foursquare is usability-based: As a geotagging service, its GPS locating ability is unreliable, and spots often are created instead via street address. Nearby location lists tend to be erratic and incomplete. The complicated creation system is especially a drawback for use on some college campuses, as my building has no street address; if my office were a place of interest, the closest I could place it would be the college’s main entrance.

The business and marketing potential of Foursquare remains muddy — current challenges to GPS-based location being a real drawback for many campuses — but users saw potential. As the services continue to grow and evolve, Boyd likes the opportunity to connect users geographically and perhaps develop tours on his urban campus. Climek notes NYC’s Cavatappo Wine Bar gives a free drink to whomever is mayor of it at the time. Cohen thinks it could be great for treasure-hunt style fundraisers, with potential to expand it “as Harvard has done, to encourage students to explore off-campus locations.”

Whatever its faults or flaws, Foursquare remains that 800-pound gorilla … and if you’re a marketer, you ignore it — and geotagging in general — at your own peril.

Stay tuned for Part III, Gowalla: A Kinder, Gentler Geotagging Service


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geosocial media: the next big thing? part i: mapping ourselves.

“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!


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twitter as a teaching tool? tis true.

For my Media Copywriting class this semester, I added Twitter use to the syllabus. I didn’t add it for the sake of saying I was using Twitter to teach — after all, I preach goals first, tools second. My particular goal involved trying to boost and broaden class discussion.

A perennial challenge is that, while my students are bright and articulate, they often prove reluctant to participate in, or initiate, class discussion. I decided to start them 140 characters at a time. Their homework, on most class days, includes an assignment to answer via Twitter with a class-relevant hashtag. These work best when cultivating more thinking than a simple quantitative response. Top tweet topics so far include:

Name a Super Bowl™ ad you thought was effective and why. As I’ve said before, having the Super Bowl™ during a class that involves advertising is a boon. Using students’ Twitter responses, I could call on them directly, show the ad they mention and ask for their analysis. When I tried this without Twitter, even as an official assignment, drawing participation was more difficult.

What do you think your brand’s biggest weakness is? Students tend to select the brands they’ll work with their semester (Nike, Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons, Wegmans, Fender, etc.) based on strengths or qualities they like. But knowing a brand’s weakness, or perceived weakness, can inform the creative process as well, and provides a nice entree to critical thinking. It also ties into a research assignment I give them that involves a SWOT analysis, finding target demographics/psychographics and critiquing their brands’ current campaign.

Tweet about the first thing you encountered on Thursday that annoyed you. They looked at me funny when I assigned it, but nonetheless talked about roommates, landlords, sinus headaches, slow drivers and other professors. I was providing practice in InDesign, so my in-class assignment was: Do an ad for a product (real or imagined) that would solve your problem (which also illustrates the suffering point concept). The students came up with all kinds of products including landlord repellent, traffic-beating hovercraft and The Shrink Ray, which neutralizes annoying psychiatrists. The amount of ingenuity many put into it was impressive, and the opportunity to blend creativity with problem-solving quite valuable.

As with the creative process itself, the quality of answers are only as good as the questions asked, so my challenge is to keep coming up with good questions. And I’ve noticed the class doesn’t interact with each other (although they do with me) on Twitter — though those accustomed to interacting via Facebook probably do so that way, and I’m not going to require them to cross-converse via Twitter unless I have good reason. But their rate of completing Twitter assignments exceeds 95 percent. And, strange but true, Twitter assignment completion actually runs higher than class attendance.

So Twitter — or any social media platform — can work in the classroom, as long as you tie it to goals you want to reach and are willing to put the time into it to make it relevant.


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