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.
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.