Tag Archives: foursquare

The state of geosocial media, 5 years later

In March 2010, I wrote a four-part blog series on geosocial media and its potential for the future. In addition to being fascinating to research, the series earned me invitations to speak at conferences and write articles in real publications. And while I saw great potential for what I called “geotagging” social at the time and the players in the field, the closing paragraph of the series may have been the most prescient:

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.

The sad truth is that the past 5 years have seen most of the major players in the market change, get bought or fold. Consider:

  • In 2014, Foursquare mystifyingly launched a sibling app, Swarm, that relegated Foursquare itself to irrelevancy. I just looked and none of my friends recently checked in anywhere nearby. Zero. I occasionally see Swarm checkins pushed into my Twitter feed, but nowhere near what Foursquare was in its heyday. (UPDATE: Apparently Foursquare will partner with Twitter to provide the opportunity for check-in ability, which is the first promising thing in a while.)
  • Gowalla was consumed by Facebook in 2011 and disappeared into the void by the following year.
  • Whrrl, my personal favorite of the bunch, was bought in 2011 by Groupon, which essentially cannibalized its best features.
  • The promising social scavenger hunt app SCVNGR disappeared from app stores in 2012, having transformed into LevelUp … and you’d have to hunt to find any mention of them.
  • Out of the major players, only Yelp retains any semblance of itself. Its Monocle feature that adds a bit of augmented reality for what’s around you and its robust reviews keep it relevant.
yelpnew

Yelp’s innovative Monocle remains a constant. You can find eateries around you even while admiring toddler art.

 

Strangely where do I see more people check in than ever? Facebook. In terms of geosocial capability, Facebook doesn’t let you do much more than check in, but it’s still a relevant social platform that’s been too big for anybody to buy it out, so it kind of garners check-ins by default.

So what happened here? So many companies tried to build a better location-based mousetrap, and the world beat a path to their door oh so briefly … but then buyouts and changes of strategy sent people away from the promise of location-based media. Everybody instead rushed to the next big things, whether Instagram or Snapchat or Yik Yak or whatever the same technology press that called Foursquare “a game changer” decides to (probably misguidingly) hype next.

We can take away that because no one app was perfect or at least all-encompassing (the Facebook goal), most were more likely to become tools not of users but of the desires of larger companies. The way business works now is that if you can’t build that better mousetrap, you buy out the company that does and use it however you please.

We’ve also learned that all the hype in the world doesn’t buy a market category, let alone a company, a future. As much as we all like to think otherwise, what we see as social media communities many just see as tools. Something newer and shinier is always coming next. Maybe all of us (me included) need to realize that in the world of technology, change is the only constant.

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5 social media questions for 2012.

In a field like social media, expanding, extending and exploding in so many different directions and pieces, it’s hard to make rock-solid predictions as 2012 prepares to become mayor of the calendar. In lieu of trying to be Nostradamus or a Mayan prophet, let’s instead look at where we’ve been and ask 5 questions about social media for the year to come.

1. Will geosocial converge or diverge? We saw plenty of shakeups in location-based or geosocial media in 2011. Facebook Places fizzled, but Zuck and Co. subsequently bought Gowalla. Promising platform Whrrl was purchased by Groupon, who celebrated by shutting it down. Foursquare made some tweaks, but mostly I still see people just checking into their workplaces. SCVNGR’s Jeffrey Kirchick and I tend to believe that what’s next in geosocial media goes beyond merely checking in and into the realm of checking out: By which I mean geosocial-driven purchases, more reviews-based activities (like Yelp) and location-based dating apps. Yes, dating. Whether new platforms and communities will drive these innovations or existing players will lead into these more practical areas is a big question.

2. Will Google+ meet the hype? Is G+ the best thing since sliced bread or is it already stale? Depends whom you ask. My opinion is that their invitation-only beta release unnecessarily segregated users; I was in early but by the time many friends joined, my interest had waned. Similar rollouts didn’t exactly put over Google Buzz or Wave (RIP). Now my streams grow ever quieter while most people adding me are scary-looking strangers with unpronounceable last names. Despite all that, Google+ presents a user-friendly product with great connectivity and avenues for quality content. So it may yet make a big move this year and live up to the hype many have (baselessly, if we’re being honest) heaped upon it.

3. Will Facebook innovate or atrophy? Facebook may be expanding and ubiquitous, but did it really accomplish much in 2011? It gave us a ticker many folks hated, a timeline no one really asked for, the ability to flood friends’ streams with new promotional partners and an took Places to purgatory. User reactions to the developments tended to range from upset to annoyed to nonplussed. I didn’t hear anyone (outside of their flacks and claques) rave about what Facebook accomplished this year. Does this leave them vulnerable to user erosion or will they provide reasons to retain primacy?

4. Will social entertainment platforms go mainstream? People posted what they were watching via GetGlue, wannabe DJs jumped on the Turntable.fm bandwagon and Facebook friends’ musical selections bombarded us through Spotify. Nice starts by all, but none moved that far beyond technophiles and fans. The immense untapped potential of iTunes Ping remains an unknown. (Have you ever heard people actually discuss Ping? Me neither.) But users love/crave entertainment, share musical tips with friends and tweet while watching Glee, Modern Family and awards shows, so huge demand for social entertainment platforms exist in the market for a company, or competitors, to plug into.

5. What don’t we see coming? Since at least the time of H.G. Wells, society has held a fascination with fantasizing over future technology. I’m currently enjoying the fascinating and entertaining Max Headroom complete series DVD set. While the dystopian 1987 cyberpunk series shows a future where megacorporations and media companies control the government (sounds familiar), a striking gap between the rich and poor (check) and the potential for surveillance everywhere (ditto), it omits two key developments — the emergence of smartphones (everyone calls old-fashioned phones or uses video chats at terminals) and the rise of social media. And even as we gaze forward from the precipice of 2012, all the experts, gurus and ninjas of the world will miss at least one big, viral and influential development that will impact social media. What will it be? Stay tuned.

So that’s my take. What questions and trends do you think will drive social media developments in 2012?

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social media’s never-ending quality vs. quantity discussion.

If your college had a million students, but most of them didn’t go to class, would you consider that a success? No? Then why do people chase mythical figures in social media (“I want a million fans!”) for numbers’ sake, and not care about engagement?

The quality vs. quantity discussion on social media seems a never-ending debate. I come down firmly in the quality camp, frequently saying things like 100 engaged fans are much better than 10,000 fans who do nothing. And I believe it’s true. While it’s nice the SUNY Oswego Foursqure account has 3,277 followers, many list Indonesia as their address and probably won’t check into Penfield Library any time soon.

Back in the 1990s, collecting massive e-mail lists was a popular craze. Folks would brag about the size or their e-mail lists, but ask how many folks they e-mailed actually gave money or volunteered, and they would bluff some answer about the prospects of potential audience, etc. and change the subject. And how many of those people had a negative view of an organization or institution that plucked their name off an email list and spammed them unbidden?

Facebook and Twitter allow for very public, instantaneous engagement, which represents much of their appeal. Yet you’ll see folks do everything but beg to rack up large memberships, and we all catch ads or spam on ways to get more fans or followers. We should ask such entities: What does having all those followers really get you if they never engage? Do they have any true brand loyalty, any interaction, any connection other than being a fan or follower?

Granted, fan engagement can take all forms — including complaints, arguments, off-topic posts — but if they are genuine folks who stay connected and feel some kind of loyalty toward your institution (even after they complain about classes not being canceled), then that’s tangible.

When we posted on Facebook about our men’s basketball team, which set a record for consecutive losses in the ’70s/’80s, going to the NCAA tournament, reactions included many Likes, encouragement from current students and alumni from losing years expressing amazement and support. Those are parts of a greater narrative, a simple thread that tells us volumes about our community. Yes, numbers of Likes, numbers of comments, those figures count. If we had 10 times the number of fans and _none_ of them Liked or commented, that would say something much less flattering on the viability and vitality of our community — both physical and virtual.

Or have you ever seen a prospective student post on a page or group weighing attending your college vs. another one, and have a bunch of (unprompted) students and alumni tell them reasons why they should choose your institution? That is the greatest feeling and measure for any community manager — confirmation it’s not the overall size, but the spirit that counts.

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facebook places: right move or out in left field?

The trouble with trying to keep up with geosocial media developments is how the landscape changes all the time. Like last week, while I finally wrapped my blog entry on SCVNGR, Facebook sailed out of left field in unleashing its new Facebook Places feature. My quick take: It brings all the good and the bad of Facebook into play.

The good: Facebook has an immense user base — in the neighborhood of 500 million and counting. You can check in somewhere and learn your friends are nearby. Or catch up with friends if they’re already out somewhere. Or stalk somebody … er, forget that last one. Anyway, even with the surging numbers for Foursquare, chances are a lot more of your friends are on Facebook and you can see what they’re up to while staying connected to this huge social media community. Anyone can create a place, anytime, anywhere.

The bad: Because anyone can create a place anytime, anywhere, you could end up with duplicates (which detract from shared experiences), erroneous/misspelled entries or intentional misinformation. Facebook’s track record shows little interest in data hygiene if these happen. The app itself brings no value-added. You can check in and comment and … that’s about it. You can’t become a mayor or earn a badge or post a review, tip or photo. Maybe those are coming. But maybe these aren’t so much bad as just streamlined. Let’s save the true scorn for …

The ugly: If you run a business or work at a college, your venue may exist but good luck making it a place of true engagement. When I look for a check-in on my campus, the created venue is State University of New York at Oswego, a name almost no one uses (please call us “SUNY Oswego”). I could create SUNY Oswego, but then you’re into duplications and you can’t consolidate dupes as easily as on Foursquare. Nor can you claim a venue as easily as Foursquare. If at all.

OK, let’s say I want to claim the Facebook Place of State University of New York at Oswego, being the college’s director of web communication and social media canary and all. If I try to claim the venue, I get to this screen:

Hm. I don’t happen to have a digital copy of our articles of incorporation, since SUNY Oswego was founded in 1861. Nor a local business license, BBB accreditation or, well … does Facebook — which started, remember, in the higher education market — expect any college to have these articles?

This Facebook maneuver seems the wicked stepsister of the community page. Not the actual fan page we manage (with some 7300 often-engaged fans) but the spam-filled artificial construct by Facebook where the info comes from Wikipedia. The one I inquired about helping months ago — in case anyone has questions or seeks legit information — but haven’t heard from Facebook about. When community pages rolled out, creating more problems than solutions, Michael Fienen penned an excellent blog entry titled Facebook Hates Your Brand. With unclaimable, unverifiable and uncorrectable Places proliferating, this observation is more apt than ever.

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foursquare next steps: claiming and consolidating.

By now quite a few of you have read (or been subjected to) my basic primer blog about Foursquare. In the months since, many institutions (mine included) have become more serious about using this geosocial platform. But how do we bridge from grappling over mayorships to serving institutional purposes?

The first (and dreadfully obvious) step is creating a location or locations for your institution, if such doesn’t exist already. The next step involves claiming your official Foursquare location. Weeks ago I applied to claim SUNY Oswego online and heard nothing. When the subject came up earlier this week on Twitter, the ever-helpful JD Ross at Hamilton College mentioned the email address of bizhelp@foursquare.com, so I sent a follow-up email with the site I wanted to claim, my Foursquare account ID and contact information if they had questions. Within _minutes_ Foursquare responded to say I had successfully claimed the venue.

The next step is consolidating locations if duplicates exist. In our case, one could find 3 SUNY Oswegos and 2 Suny Oswegos. Many users wander concentric circles but don’t share a neighborhood. I had noted the duplicates in my follow-up email and someone named Ian from Foursquare asked me to provide him the locations and they would consolidate. First thing Wednesday morning I emailed the duplicate locations and after around 4 hours Ian told me it was taken care of. Fast and effective service!

What to do next? We have the opportunity to create a special for the mayor of SUNY Oswego. This would be easier if my social media budget were more than $0 (zero dollars). Or, more accurately, whatever I feel like paying out of my own pocket.

I also want to create more sites (buildings, key attractions) around campus when I find time; I don’t have any social media interns until fall, so that would be an assignment if I don’t do it in summer. I’ve claimed a Foursquare user account (sunyoswego) for my institution, but whether I remember to change back and forth from my personal account to the institutional one (let alone recall the respective passwords) while creating venues and checking in remains to be seen.

Since I emphasize goals over tools (aka chasing shiny objects), with Foursquare, my overarching goal is to build connections both among the campus community and with the campus itself. Sure, new students and visitors can use it to discover and explore things or become mayor of our library. But I’d like to throw in some other fun, engaging initiatives; as a geocacher I think maybe we could put hidden prizes in some locations and use tips to find them. But these are things to brainstorm and develop … the first step is (was) to claim the space and consolidate to bring our users together.

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5 (+1) keys to social media platform adoption.

I clearly spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about social media platforms and explaining them to others. Part of this involves pondering why some catch on easily and others don’t — a combination of factors defying a simple recipe. Yet I’d propose at least five key factors driving user adoption of any social media platform: usefulness, usability, user interactivity, sharability and sustainability.

Usefulness: Is it clear what you can do with it? You don’t need much of an elevator speech to explain why folks use Facebook. Not everyone gets the appeal of Twitter, even in more than 140 characters; you have to learn by doing. Proponents would compare LinkedIn to a powerful, interactive rolodex. On YouTube, you share and watch video. Geosocial services like Foursquare and Yelp that offer reviews and tips make plenty of sense for those visiting another city, whereas Gowalla makes more sense if you just want to know what’s around. Innovative tools like Yelp’s monocle — a visual augmented reality layer that shows metatags of what’s around it — could serve as true differentiation as the market shakes out.

Usability: How easily can you take a desired action? Honestly, this is a huge key to why Facebook is so large a juggernaut it’s worrisome and MySpace a punchline. I could never find anything easily on MySpace, and other user pages were run-screaming-from-the-room horrible. Facebook offers a clean and consistent look with commands brilliant in their simplicity — “Add As Friend,” “View Photos of ____,” “Comment.” Twitter offers great ease of use (unless there’s a fail whale sighting). The often-poor user interface, clunky navigation and various glitches among the geosocial services (as described elsewhere) may hold them back at this point. Communities like YouTube and LinkedIn could use some navigational streamlining but are overall fairly facile.

User Interactivity: How easily can you interact with other users? No problem on Facebook — you can comment on photos, comment on status updates, comment on comments, etc. With Twitter, it’s as easy as replying with an @ or DMing for more privacy. Comments and replies are easy on YouTube. In terms of LinkedIn, since I use other connective media more, I have yet to find any reasons to interact with anyone (YMMV). With geosocial services, interaction is often more passive at this point, users more likely to read tips and reviews in Foursquare and Yelp. Although I guess ousting someone else as a Foursquare mayor represents an unusual wrinkle on interactivity.

Sharability: How easily can you share information within the community or export into other communities? Facebook and Twitter are on a different plane here, as not only is it easy to share or retweet within them, but the likes of Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp rely on appearing in Facebook or  Twitter feeds for their introduction, visibility and viability. Indeed, the main backlash on Foursquare is the annoying flood of checkins, badges and mayorships into other users’ Facebook and Twitter streams. I’m not sure how to share anything from LinkenIn, nor can I think of any reasons I’d want to. YouTube exports anywhere and everywhere.

Sustainability: Why would you want to stay engaged with it? Again, with Facebook, ongoing interaction is self-evident. With Twitter, this creates a quick divide and pundits note how many people abandon it. But this isn’t entirely bad: Those who want to use Twitter as a megaphone will not find it sustainable (fortunately), while those who understand it as a party-line telephone will keep using it. A challenge I’ve had with LinkedIn is that I find content from my contacts on other platforms already. Foursquare’s sustainability gains a boost from its mayor function, as people check into places to try to gain mayorship of that establishment. And with 24 hours of new video uploaded per minute on YouTube, there’s always something new.

Across all these runs an additional factor toward any platform’s tipping point: critical mass. A key reason people adopt Foursquare over Gowalla or Yelp is the simple fact they see more of their friends on Foursquare (and sharing this via Twitter and Facebook). After all, a key draw of social media is the ability to interact with others, so knowing friends are already there will increase adoption of any given community.

What do you think? Did I miss any key factors?

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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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