the fall of whrrl and the future of geosocial.

Between the announcement Whrrl will check out at the end of the month and speculation over whether checking in has jumped the shark, the past week gives us pause to ponder the future and direction of geosocial, or location-based, media.

As stated previously, I liked Whrrl for its Societies (connecting users with similar check-in habits), its clean interface and its functionality. But with Groupon acquiring Pelago, Whrrl’s parent company, the geosocial service will spin off into oblivion. Groupon will likely take on some of Whrrl’s better features, but since Groupon already has some location-based elements to it, one could argue redundancies existed.

Way back when I started studying geosocial media, I predicted some players would fall by the wayside and others would be acquired by other companies with similar interests. Whrrl had a low user base and, despite some pretty decent promotional ideas, more prone to being rolled into something else. They may have been the first, but they won’t be the last.

Jeffrey Kirchchick of SCVNGR, who first let me know about Whrrl’s demise, likes to (accurately) say the future of geosocial goes well beyond the check-in. You can find a more extreme position via a RWW guest post by Goby CEO Mark Watkins declaring 2011 as the year that check-in died. Leaving aside the very legitimate question as to whether it’s in Watkins’ self-interest to declare the check-in dead, he notes:

In July 2010, Foursquare had 2 million users performing 1 million check-ins per day. By the end of the year, that number had risen to 5 million users performing 2 million check-ins per day. Impressive growth, yet this means check-ins per user declined from 0.5 per person to 0.4. It also suggests that many of those five million users aren’t active.

Between that and poor data on Facebook Places — always the weakest of location-based offerings — Watkins explains that the mere art of the check-in may not be enough to sustain these apps. It’s a great point. Yet the article has, at best, a flawed headline and, at worst, flawed assumptions.

Let’s say I own a bookstore. In the span of a year, the number of customers coming increases 150 percent. And my sales double. True, my average sale nets 20 percent less than the previous year, but … did I mention I had twice the sales of my previous year? Would I declare my bookstore dead? Of course not. It’s silly overstatement and cherry-picking of numbers. If I were a smart bookstore owner, I’d work with customers to see how I could better meet their needs … and I’m pretty sure geosocial media companies are smart enough to do the same. It’s too bad Whrrl won’t be among them, but I suspect these companies have plenty of sharp mind to help them navigate solutions.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “the fall of whrrl and the future of geosocial.

  1. danno74

    It’s been intriguing to watch this market unfold, I have to admit being a moderate skeptic myself. I think once businesses truly buy into the concept and offer people incentives to check in to their establishment, then it will really become a dominant social media application. Everyone likes to save a buck and have fun doing it. Great article, Tim.

  2. I love the idea of the “check-in” but I always forget to do it. I am also so concerned about preserving my battery life that a check-in requires me not only taking out the phone and firing up the app but also turning on the GPS and waiting for it to get a position fix.

    All this for a badge? It’s no wonder my motivation is low!

    And yet when I get my haircut they ask if I have my Frequent Styler card and at the sub shop and coffee shop they still expect me to carry around a beat up, hole punch mangled business card until there’s little left of it to show. When I visit my beloved Beaver Lake, as I am a member, I need to show my “card” to get a paper dollar that let’s me leave!

    Geosocial needs easy ways for smaller businesses to implement and deliver on its potential by rewarding us using old skool concepts in a new skool way!
    Great article Tim!

  3. Tim Nekritz

    DAN: The future of check-in/geosocial definitely should revolve around ability to reward your customers — whether casuals or loyalties — for their visits. I think this is all really in its infancy and will evolve in terms of richness, sophistication and integration. The biggest drawback right now is the crowded marketplace — when I check in somewhere, I’m only going to use one app. So maybe I miss out on other options.

    JASON: I think exactly that kind of rewards system — switching (in part, at least) to smartphones and away from cards — holds so much potential for small businesses and geosocial platforms. Of course, most of the geosocials are startups going after the big fish and not hitting the street to help out the little guys. That’s where I hope my dissemination, as a kind of reviewer/middle man, can help spread some knowledge and ideas. Thanks!

  4. It’s short sighted of these start-ups…imagine if you will a sort of “one geosocial to rule them all!” solution. Something with an easy interface that gives a business owner the ability to set up a loyalty rewards program with ad support for free on a very basic level, and for a fee, expands the options I can offer my customers. Such an app would offer me as a consumer the ability to be informed that a loyalty program exists at the location I just checked in to, tracks my eligibility to current offers and notifies me when I reach a reward to spur me to revisit to claim it! Brilliant! I’d pay for such an app that would offer true ROI. Take it a step further and offer me incentives with an online companion that rewarded me for repeat visits to online retailers that sync’d to my phone…the scalability is ENORMOUS and the amount of money being blown in the pursuit of web traffic is mind numbing. Can you imagine a universal incentive platform in the real AND cyber world?
    I wish I was a programmer instead of so darn good looking!
    A man can dream I guess!

  5. Pingback: The state of geosocial media, 5 years later | InsideTimsHead

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