Location-Based Services Take a Turn for the Horrible
Location-Based Services Take a Turn for the Horrible
Location-Based Services Take a Turn for the Horrible

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Mike Schneider, SVP Digital Incubator at Allen & Gerritsen, and co-author of Location-Based Marketing for Dummies.

Yes. This is another post inspired by things that happened during SXSW.

This one is about a former darling of the conference, Location Based Services. Here is the primer: Location is a textural piece of information that gives a piece of context. Location alone is just a latitude and longitude. It becomes Place when you add structure like address, phone number offers and other content.

Location based services (LBS) are an interesting category because they lead with the wrong data point. Place by itself has very little utility. Add to that the fact that early LBS are based on people actively notifying people where they are via a checkin and a cluster of often odd ways to redeem an offer,  and you top out at a small amount of people who will use an app like foursquare.

Location IS interesting, but it should be a backing element in an app ala Path, Instagram, Superbetter, Twitter and Facebook. These applications take your location information into consideration, but they do not oversell the value as the second coming of Elvis.

LBS have taken a turn for the horrible with the introduction of tools like Highlight and Ban.jo whose sole purpose (now) is to tell you via a notification, who is near you, when they are near you by mining your social graph for location elements from checkins, tweets and other content.

Seriously? Who needs to know EVERY TIME someone in your stream is near you? At SXSW this is exacerbated by the fact that 80% of people in the average social media maven’s graph is at the conference, turning iPhones and Androids in very expensive vibrators and causing us all to charge more often than we should have to.

It’s ridiculously painful to test these tools as they were meant to be used. They’re noisy, inefficient (Jeremiah Owyang and 46 other people are near you.) and creepy for everyone but an assassin with an expansive social graph.

How to make them useful? You could mine the data in connected social graphs for important people. (Yes, Highlight tells you things you and people have in common, but it does not use these to eliminate the noise.) Only notify me of the people I tweet with a lot or have in my address book or are in my Facebook news feed or my Path. It’s not that hard. And I know, I can turn off notification, and I did, but they don’t want me to. The problem with these apps is that they have the same problem as Google+. And furthermore, the strategy for these applications must be to be acquired. Come on guys. You’re SMART enough to build these applications. Acquisition is supposed to be the 2nd or 3rd option out. Surely you can come up with a viable business model.


OK. I will help you.

1) Start by building an application that is useful.

2) See #1.

Leave your questions, comments and ridicule below.

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Schneider MikeSchneiderMike has over 17 years of experience in tech and marketing and now runs the Digital Incubator for Boston’s Allen & Gerritsen. SchneiderMike is mobile obsessed and works on brand, SoLoMoCo, content and app strategies for startups, retail, restaurant, CPG and B2B brands. He is a beer extremist, loves longboarding, soccer, wine, tea and food.

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  • Hey Mike – gotta agree with you on the overall concept & the creepiness factor. (Especially for new users or those not necessarily grasping the benefits of LBS in general)

    While I’ve had highlight running in the background for a while now, I’ve actually had it come in handy. At a recent 140conf. a couple of people I knew, but had never met, were at the event & showed up on highlight. It did make the introduction a little easier for them once I brought up the “connections” we shared.

    Also dig your your two-step formula for successful apps. Patent that.

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  • I offer consulting services and most of my clients want LBS. Your post is exactly why I tell them it’s not a good idea … yet. It’s not where it SHOULD be, but hopefully with enough of us telling app developers our wants, an app we want will come. I absolutely loved this! 

  • I think LBS is getting out of control a bit.  It’s young though, give it time, it’ll mature!   Best line though: “…creepy for everyone but an assassin with an expansive social graph.”

  • You know very well I have had these views for a long time my friend

  • Stephanie Beer

    Thank you for writing this. I agree. An app is only useful if it solves a social inefficiency that you want solved. We (4MeNU) have built an app that lets you see friends’ restaurant ratings — not everyone — just friends whose opinions you trust. That to us is the most important filter, not simply proximity. 

  • Cash Edwards

    I get into four square at an multi-dimensional event like SXSW or AMA or Folk Alliance … I do think of it as a fun game though more than a
    helpful tool. I do not like to use it in just normal times as I did get
    creeped out by the thought of people knowing when I was at home or out
    somewhere… During the conference it was fun to see where friends were
    and what was up there… but it was the third of four apps to keep
    checking.. i.e. first Twitter and SXSW GO, then four square then

  • Cash Edwards

    I get into four square at an multi-dimensional event like SXSW or AMA or folk Alliance ..i do think of it as a fun game though more than a helpful tool. I do not like to use it in just normal times as i did get creeped out by the thought of people knowing when I was at home or out some where… During the conference it was fun to see where friends were and what was up there… but it was the third of fourt app to keep checking.. i.e. first Twitter and SXSW GO, then four square then facebook…

  • Great post. I agree with just about everything here. Except…. 

    There has been no “turn” in the LBS direction in my opinion. The category has been headed in the direction of useless single-service disconnected and noisy apps for a long time. It may be picking up pace with new apps jumping into the mix, but LBS has been in an ugly downward spiral for a while now in my opinion. 

    Connecting social graphs and providing useful info is just half the battle. Without people in your network posting (with location data attached) on a regular basis, who cares? Deals alone clearly aren’t enough. People need to see value in opting in to adding the extra layer of data to their social posts and understand the return (besides $1 off their next sbux cup) in order to make that part of their normal social behavior. The desire isn’t there yet because no one has been able to create an LBS experience to justify it. 

    Even at a basic technology level, it just took 10 seconds for the Facebook app on my droid to populate a list of places that I can attach to a status update. There needs to be a clear value in frequently opting in to adding the location data layer on top of my posts for me wait that extra 10 seconds before posting. From a technology perspective, we need to reduce that lag time, otherwise the value that we need to create in sharing location data becomes larger and larger. 

  • I love biting sarcasm and there’s no shortage of it in this well-written post. Frankly, I’ve always thought LBS was just a bunch of BS. You made my morning!

    • Ha! To be clear, I’m not against LBS. I just feel it’s better when combined with Social and Commerce. Glad you dig the post though.

  • Jen Zingsheim

    I don’t really have anything to add other than the phrase “and creepy for everyone but an assassin with an expansive social graph,” made me laugh.

    Good article.

  • I think the point is being missed here. Location is simply one more tool to base applications on. The fact that someone here has abandoned foursquare means it had no purpose for her. At SxSw, Foursquare was completely instrumental in locating the current hot parties at the time by tracking all my friends, but this was not about Foursquare, it was about how Location “takes a turn for the horrible.” Well, first off, the fact that a couple companies try to fill a need does not mean Location has done anything. That is like saying Salt has taken a turn for the worst because a few new chef’s over use it in some recipes. In April, in San Francisco, the Where 2.0 conference will once again bring people together to talk about new developments in Location. Last year it was all about Color and Waze and a few others. Some apps take off, some don’t. Like salt, it is simply one ingredient that can be helpful or overused. I agree that some of the current “hot” Location based apps don’t suit me, or are not as exciting as when Foursquare and a few other launched, but that would just mean the title is blaming the salt and not the chef

  • LBS based apps have never caught my fancy and now it is clear to me that I won’t be there for a very long time. Loved the article, Mike.


  • Thanks for sharing such
    an interesting information. 

  • Now I don’t feel bad about abandoning my FourSquare account. Seriously, though you did touch an excellent point about using the data in a useful way. Location in and of itself is just creepy. If there’s no value in it, then it’s just annoying static.

    • Foursquare doesn’t need to notify you of people or places near by, it is an added option but not by default. Banjo can be a lot more intrusive but foursquare is still a fun app for users as well as a powerful business tool.

    • foursquare has content and deals. I like it even thought the behavior is unnatural. I think LevelUp gets it right. 


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