Tag Archives: location-based media

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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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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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.


Filed under Web

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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