Location alone gets you nowhere

As if making sure @DannyWhatmough never becomes Mayor of Wildfire PR wasn’t enough, I’ve actually found real value from Foursquare here and there.

In the first example, I checked into a bar and was quickly called by an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time who just happened to be around the corner. In the second, I spotted that one of my cousins was in town and reached out to see if she wanted to catch up.

In addition to aiding and abetting “ad hoc” plans, it’s also a great way to access inside knowledge on a whim about any unfamiliar area in which you find yourself. What’s more, you tend to get info on even some of the most trivial places like the best seat in Costa.

So what’s holding more people back from having these experiences and deepening the value it offers beyond temporarily entertaining mayoral power struggles?

Just one piece of the puzzle

Location alone is not enough. The relatively low uptake on location-centric social networks demonstrates this and really seals their fate- if you don’t get the users, average people can’t experience the joy of serendipity it introduces and so they will never “get it”.

Instead, Facebook and Twitter take their already extraordinarily well-developed networks and bolster on the location function. The obvious big advantage here is that you’re immediately hitting hundreds of millions of users and their current networks from day one.

What’s more, Facebook doesn’t really need anyone to ever use the feature. Instead, they’re able to develop their own Foursquare/ Groupon style offering to make use of it and provide clear and obvious benefit to anyone who wants to get involved. All the while, they aren’t relying on its success for survival.

The winner takes it all?

Ultimately, there doesn’t need to be one winner. But there’s more pressure on Foursquare, Gowalla and co. to make a good show of it… or go bust. As a result, they’ve very wisely adding some extra content like photos and commenting systems around check-ins to bolster the offering.

Whatever the service, it emphasises a point of growing significance- the registered user base comes first and may well determine the success of your endeavour. In this case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more people start to check out of Foursquare instead of checking in…

- Max Tatton-Brown

January 26th, 2011