Tag Archives: geosocial

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.

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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goodbye, google places. hello google+ local. but does it matter?

In its never-ending quest to revise and renew to provide (apparently) desired services, Google has bid adieu to its Places feature and replaced it with Google+ Local. Given the large leverage any Google property has, it technically has potential. But it currently has stumbling blocks, with content being the main one.


If you’re a G+ member (I won’t go for the easy joke), Local will appear as an option in your left-hand sidebar. That’s about the only easy thing I’ve found so far. Clicking it gives me the following screen dominated by an Outback Steakhouse. In Liverpool. More than a half-hour away. When I happen to live in a city with lots of eateries already that are dwarfed by this promoted location.

Of course, I can just scroll and look through a number of options such as Pizza Restaurants, Steak Restaurants, Bookstores, Motels, Pubs, etc. Most of the locations have either no or few reviews, which doesn’t particularly help with decision-making. I checked the Pubs option (near and dear to my heart) and discovered several of the listed establishments had closed. A local power plant was also listed as a pub, so I wondered about data hygiene … i.e. who vets or confirms listed information. And with any system, up-to-date accurate content is a huge consideration!

To make it even stranger, I can’t find any way to use Google+ Local on my iPhone … but I can download the old Google Places. For a geosocial platform, you’d sure expect this to be easier.

So other than being neither easy to use nor updated with accurate content, what exactly does Google+ Local have to offer that makes it a must-have platform?

Let me know if you figure that out, because I have no idea.


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app review: color = better concept than execution

Say you’re getting ready to host an alumni reunion or open house event, and you’d like your visitors to create a community-driven photo album. This is, in theory, possible with the Color geosocial photo application. But good luck making it work easily.

Ed Tatton of Westchester Community College and Greg Kie of SUNY Canton talked a few of us attending the SUNYCUAD Conference earlier this month into trying to create just such a photo album. You’d think people who work in web communication and/or social media for a living could figure this out with little difficulty. Ah, not so much.

The resulting community album (see active view. above right) took a lot of work. Taking the picture is easy enough: Just open the app and click on the color wheel (center button, colored when you’re in camera mode). But for a social application, the real difficulty comes when you try to get, you know, social.

For what seemed like an hour, about a half-dozen people who work on the web for a living had great difficulty creating a community album. I created any number of albums no one could join and that I couldn’t delete. Finally, after seemingly doing the same thing over and over, something worked and suddenly we had a shared album. You can see the results of a couple of days of fiddling at right. As for the buttons along the bottom: The map icon stands for “take photos together” (if you can figure out how to do it), the globe means “see all your albums” (for a globe?), the color wheel means take the picture, the calendar means “view your albums by day” and the envelope means “messages you’ve received” (i.e. likes and comments).

Note that you cannot friend anyone for a permanent relationship, which — given the appeal of enriched connections in social media — seems an oversight. After you take a photo, you can press a paper-airplane icon to share it by Twitter, Facebook, e-mail or SMS. Yes, that’s OR, not and.

Looking at Instragram, which I consider a great geosocial photo app, the competition isn’t even close. Instagram encourages you to find and friend contacts, and offers easy ways to do so. When you take a picture, you can share it simultaneously via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, Flickr, Tumblr, Foursquare AND Posterous (if you want). While the geolocation feature with Instagram is still buggy for me, you can create an album via hashtag — as the #pancaketweetup album at right shows. Instragram’s menu includes helpful words that break things down very simply: Feed, Popular, Share, News and Profile, and submenus are intuitive as well. Interaction via comments and likes are very easy.

All apps have to start somewhere, and Color does bring a good concept to the table. That it is difficult to come together at that table with others is unfortunate — since connections and content are the currency of social media — but maybe the app’s developers will figure a way for its execution to improve.


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#pseweb11 review: the importance of being human.

It may sound strange, but my top takeaway from the 2011 Canadian Post-Secondary Web Conference, among all the talk of emerging technologies, involves the importance of being human.

This thread tied up neatly in the keynote by Scott Stratten, the engaging fellow behind @unmarketing, as he humorously yet passionately championed humanity, customer service and authenticity as a way we can better do our jobs in higher education. Tools are just channels, and social media does not automatically provide connections any more than a content management system magically generates content.

Scott doesn’t know the ROI of responding to a student who tweets their acceptance to your college, “and I don’t care,” he said. “Just do it!” As to how we let complicated policies and committees get in the way of good conversations, he recalled asking an educational leader (tongue in cheek, I assume): “What’s your social media policy about talking?” The response, an excellent one: “If someone asks me a question, I just answer.”

Both Scott and Penn State’s Robin Smail (@robin2go, in “You Can’t Stop the Signal, Mal … Authentic Social Media) brought up the now famous example of the Red Cross social media worker who mistweeted on the company account about “getting slizzerd.” And how the Red Cross quickly said “oops,” reassured people they were sober and engendered a lot of goodwill. We are a forgiving society full of humans who make mistakes. In social media, we are greater when we act as humans and connect as humans. Social media channels are merely opportunities to connect … it is our content, our humanity, that determines if they are effective.

Many other presentations in a conference addressing technology focused on the human touch. In “Herding Cats: Web Governance in Higher Education,” Mark Greenfield (@markgr) of the University at Buffalo said the keys to creating a great institutional web presence do not involve web tools … they involve the education and empowerment of everyone working on the web and the buy-in of top leadership. With “King Content: A Social Media Audit,” JP Rains (@jplaurentian) of Laurentian University gave a great study of effective content among several institutions, which all came back to knowing your audience and interacting with them. Ryan McNutt (@ryanmcnutt) of Delhousie University, presenting “Fire and Ice, Status Updates and Tweets: Emergency Communications in the Social Media Age,” likewise looked at how relationships with your campus and community are vital bits of crisis communication plans.

PSEWEB also saw an upsurge in presentations related to the mobile web — increasingly important as our users go increasingly mobile — and how to produce great video on a low or no budget. My presentation on geosocial media (viewable online) may still represent a novel subject, but the audience was wonderful. The conference once again had great variety in the presentations and the institutions represented, and I learned such a marvelous melange of lessons and met such a magnificent mix of people.

Moreover, if you follow the #pseweb hashtag, you’ll see this conference creates a community that interacts throughout the year. Much praise to the tireless Melissa Cheater (@mmbc) and everyone who came together for a first-rate post-secondary education gathering!


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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.


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yesterday’s newspapers = tomorrow’s geosocial community builders?

It’s no secret the entities once known as newspapers continue to transform into multimedia, multipurpose organizations. But can they also use new tools — especially geosocial media — to lead the process of online community-building? The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s score! app raises such intriguing possibilities.

While the company did not return an interview request from this lowly blogger, this interview on WXXI and this Nieman Journalism Lab story provide interesting context — the project started as an alternate-reality partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology, then had another short civic-engagement run around the midterm elections. It relaunched a few months ago as a full-fledged social gaming site with location-based challenges.

“[T]here’s this huge community in Rochester that we can send people to all these cool places they don’t know about,” project developer Mark Newell told WXXI. “We have reporters and contributors that are trying to get more stuff out there. … We have this amazing cache of knowledge that I think we’re trying to get out in more ways than just writing newspaper articles.”

Sign-up takes less than a minute if you connect via your Facebook ID, and the site is pretty easy to navigate. You can pursue missions, which may include logging onto the score! mobile site for checkins like any geosocial app. Missions point users to both known places and hidden gems, such as New In Town with Driardonna Roland by the D&C’s young professionals beat reporter or Ashish’s Sport and Spice by an intern on local spicy food and sports hangouts.

And score! represents a merging of user with content and, for the D&C, revenue potential. The missions tie in advertisers as destinations, while giving users a chance to discover local flavor (perhaps literally), all the while promoting Rochester as a vibrant community. Quite a brilliant concept, really. User activity seems decent, albeit not overwhelming, and it’s hard to predict a development curve.

The question at the heart of this is: Could colleges or other businesses create a similar homegrown solution? (By which I DON’T mean: Drop a huge chunk of change to an app developer.) The D&C benefits from economies of scale — they already have a large staff of content providers, backend development support for their website and a well-used communication vehicle. Some colleges have those advantages as well.

Colleges establishing their own rich geosocial applications and networks — to better connect students to each other and their institutions — would require not just resources, but a paradigm shift in some traditional roles and expectations. But hey, if print media, (erroneously) considered dinosaurs by some, can jump on this kind of innovation, why shouldn’t other industries consider it too?

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whrrl: geosocial graduations, building societies and more.

If not for the piece I wrote on geosocial media for the January issue of CASE Currents, I may not have checked out Whrrl. It’s not as well-known as the likes of Facebook and Foursquare but, in some ways, it holds as much promise as any location-based platform.

Whrrl allows you to do all the things we’ve come to expect of geosocial apps, such as check in, receive mysterious points and leave metadata (in this case, a Note). You can add photos as well, although this feature is not as novel as it was when I wrote the initial geosocial blog series. It also has perhaps the cleanest, most intuitive interface of any location-based service.

But one feature I love is the Society function that allows you to find, connect and interact with those whose checkins show similar interests … i.e. coffeeshops, live music, etc. within a geospatial construct. Unlike most geosocial apps, Whrrl’s Society feature actively promotes the possibility of expanding one’s network.

I also like the Ideas tab, a memo-like function that allows you to record thoughts on things you’d like to do in these spaces (“try the Al Roker sub,” “check out the organic vegetable section,” “look into renting kayaks”). This links users more tightly with spaces and real-life activities. (There’s also the Fun Fact, which I haven’t figured out yet.)

But one of the coolest things (as mentioned in the January CASE magazine article) is how St. Edward’s University in Texas used Whrrl to create, as the college’s director of communication, Mischelle Diaz termed it, the first “socially-connected graduation ceremony” last year. For its 125th anniversary, St. Edward’s partnered with Whrrl to create an additional level of connectivity and excitement to the event.

“With Whrrl, we were able to capture real-time texts and photo submissions from graduates and other audience members,” Diaz said. “This allowed graduates and their families to see photos and texts from everyone at the event, not just the photos they were able to take themselves.”

They faced the challenge of Whrrl’s low user base — its main current drawback for any user — by using various campus communication and social-media channels, pitches to student and regional media as well as a pre-graduation Happy Hour signup event. They focused less on the technology (shiny object) and more on, as Diaz called it, “a significant life experience” and “recording a moment of history for the university.” Putting people and goals in front of technology! How excellent.

“Given this was our first attempt at using social media at such a large event, live, in such a visible way, we were very pleased,” Diaz said. “We took our cues about the success of the project from the audience reactions during the live slide show. There was lots of laughter and enthusiasm. After the event we did more Facebook posts with links to the Whrrl slide show, which is still accessible.”

If, as SCVNGR’s Jeffrey Kirchick said on last weekend’s HigherEdLive, the future of geosocial is not merely checking in, but in connecting and creating memorable experiences, then the underdog Whrrl may yet become more of a destination for users.


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‘in defense of food’ and lessons for the workplace.

Just finished reading Michael Pollan’s enlightening In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which will definitely influence what enters my kitchen and my body. But, as an information omnivore, I couldn’t help but notice some of its lessons also could feed our workplace management and communication habits.

Briefly, Pollan argues that the rise of processed foods, our fast-food mentality and nutritionism — the science of breaking food down into its smallest components and drawing isolated conclusions — have had disastrous effects on our national diet. He champions a simple philosophy — Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. — supporting real food, measured portions and healthy options. It’s a great place to start … and it parallels good advice for other parts of our lives:

Tradition is better than fad. There’s a reason, Pollan argues, that cultures can eat the same food for generations, centuries really, and suffer few adverse effects. Switch a nation to fast food and dubious quick-fix diets and health chaos ensues. Not a coincidence. As for traditional wisdom on interpersonal communication, I’ve been subjected to countless management treatises, tomes and texts, but the best advice continues to come from Dale Carnegie’s 1937 book How To Win Friends and Influence People. Advice like: Smile. Be courteous. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. How much better would the business world be if we followed such simple rules?

Goals and guidelines are better than rules. Pollan offers general guideposts starting with his refrain: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He adds other suggestions such as not eating anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize, avoiding food with unpronounceable ingredients and cooking instead of buying pre-packaged meals. Nothing earth-shattering or diet-dictatorial, but easy-to-remember algorithms. It’s common sense for a purpose, the kind of thing that should govern day-to-day business instead of 27-page memos with bulletpoints and sub-sub-subchapters.

Trust your gut. Is eating a fatty grease-laden meal healthy as long as you leave out the carbs, as Atkins Diet cultists claimed? Unlikely. As are any quick-fix claims telling you to merely avoid one thing or another. Similarly, pitches from vendors promising products or services that seem too good to be true usually are. For millenia, we humans survived on logic and gut instinct. With good reason.

Go local. Pollan suggests buying from farmers’ markets or farms as much as possible, or to consider granting a garden. Given the boom in location-based social media (geosocial), we see that our online behaviors increasingly favor the hyperlocal and instantaneous interaction with our local environment. In both cases, the benefits are fresh and immediate.

Enjoy what you do/enjoy what you eat. A central theme is the French Paradox, or how the French traditionally eat foods that would make nutritionists wince, aided by wine, yet remain healthy. But note they also enjoy actual meals — real food, consumed leisurely, with friends … knowing when they are full and not just cramming down super-sized fries in their car. Consider the psychological advantage of enjoying what you eat as an experience, as opposed to spending all your time fretting over every little thing or pursuing fad diets. Which sounds more mentally healthy? But this also should suffuse our lives: When we enjoy what we do, and what we eat, life is so much better.


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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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SCVNGR hunt: using geosocial gaming for orientation and education.

In the arena of geosocial apps and gaming, SCVNGR may represent one of the top potential challengers. For end users, SCVNGR offers a rich experience combining the best features of Foursquare and Gowalla. As an app for higher education and business, it provides immense potential for created user experience.

Our college used it to implement a scavenger hunt at all eight freshman orientation sessions where incoming students formed teams and followed clues that allowed them to meet people while gaining more information about college functions and facts. The collection process involved points for texting correct clues, with bonus points for the first teams done. With the prizes being Oswego hoodies for top teams, students threw themselves into the competition with great gusto.

Students on a dead sprint = throwing themselves into a scavenger hunt with great gusto.

Students on a dead sprint = throwing themselves into a scavenger hunt with great gusto.

Brandi Ostrander, who coordinated our scavenger hunt, said the technical part was not difficult — somewhat easy compared to finding 20 offices/partners to participate (including web communication folks getting feedback on a new website). She created and put in tasks, locations and the point system, guessing about a “50/50 split” with what SCVNGR developers did for the project.

Scavenger hunters on smartphones downloaded the easy-to-use free SCVNGR app; those with older phones could text SCVNGR (728647). The game started with receiving directions to their first location, and those with the app had the added benefit of a Google Map. Completing tasks and earning points could include inputting a specific keyword, inputting any response (for an open question) or posting a photo. After the task, the program sends the next location, which can be randomized (we preferred this as opposed to all hunters converging at once, although smartphones could see a linear menu). Incorrect answers could lose points, though players could advance after a number of tries.

As an administrator, you can use most SCVNGR features for free, but if you need a lot of development help or something highly customized, you can contract at various price levels. Our Orientation Office bought a year-long unlimited plan, with the huge advantage being nearly instant support — otherwise, you have to post a question on a message board or browse the site FAQ. With our extended support, we plan to implement a similar game during Opening Week to help students learn even more about the campus.

As far as everyday end-user experience, SCVNGR is robust and impressive. At any time, users can create venues, write tips and post photos (and get points for all of the above). You can create your own scavenger hunts and point systems fairly easily, and play existing games or hunts others have already designed. Unfortunately, like Gowalla, you can get stuck with poor data hygiene if the information is wrong. And like Gowalla and Foursquare, you can find duplicates of the same venue, but with the exception of more controlled apps like Yelp, this seems a common challenge to geosocial platforms.

Did the students enjoy the scavenger hunt? “They had a blast with it,” Ostrander said. “They thought it was a lot of fun and met a lot of people.” The most important thing, she suggested, is the game coordinator needs to be very organized, have everything set well in advance and know how to do with unexpected results — like when students lost service inside our cavernous Campus Center and had to repeat some steps (they remembered the clue words, and Ostrander had them re-enter them).

“We wanted to keep it simple, but you can also do multimedia messages, like photo or video clues,” i.e. find this building or person, Ostrander said. “I don’t think we tapped into its full potential.” It is that potential — as well as perhaps the best usability of any geosocial app I’ve seen — that could turn SCVNGR into a huge player in the market.


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