Tuesday, April 06, 2010

LBSN - Trending

+ This year's hot topic seems (so far) to be LBSNs, also known as Location Based Social Networks. There's a lot more of them out there than FourSquare, the one which seems to be on every marketer's mind and is getting the most amount of press. The plethora of articles and blog posts about these types of social networks grows each day as people are trying to figure out the best way to leverage use these to the advantage of brands and as a way to take their social media strategies farther.

There's a list of LBSN here. It's not complete but it gives you an idea of what is out there and how competitive the LBSN "market" is getting. Apple is even rumored to be joining the fray with its own LBSN called iGroups.

For a long time, I had no desire to try out any of these services. I wasn't interested in having people know my location 24/7. I didn't see any added value to using the services. Sure, I kept up on all the news about them and understood how they worked. I mean, I work in the business, so it's necessary.

A couple weeks ago, I went on vacation and decided to test a couple of them out. I selected the ubiquitous FourSquare, the slowly growing Gowalla, and Yelp. It was a bit of a pain, I will admit, having to not only check in on one platform, but all three. But it was research so I was willing to deal with it. Here's what I've found so far:

Foursquare: Founded in March of 2009, Foursquare has been around for just about a year, and launched last April at the SXSW Festival. In that time, they're closing in on 1 million users with over 22 million check-ins by its users.
The pros:
  • Many locations are already in their system. This makes it easier and quicker to check-in to a location.

  • If you check-in the most, you get to become the Mayor of a location. Watch out ego. Funny that it's Mayor (as in elected official), vs something like King or Queen.

  • Checking-in at your frequently visited places is quite easy.

  • Overall UX is intuitive and simple.

  • Because of mayourships, brands can see who frequents a business most often and many have attached prizing around that, such as free apps at a bar for being the mayor.

  • When adding a new location, you can enter a street address in the event that the GPS on your phone is off a little bit. This is important because if you're trying to check-in and not close enough, you won't get points for it.

  • If you don't want people to know where you are, you can check in to a location that is not on the map, without adding it (you appear "off the grid") to still get points for checking in.

  • If an address is incorrect, you can flag it as such. Also can flag a venue as closed.

  • You can see your friends stats, to-dos and tips.

  • Available on iPhone, Android and Blackberry.

  • From the info screen for your individual friends, you can send a text, email, call or view their Twitter stream, in addition to seeing their friend list.

The cons:
  • You can't see where your mayorships are for or what mayorships your friends have, unless they have checked into it (then you see it as an icon next to their name in the "check-ins" list--but not through their profile.

  • Serivce isn't available everywhere, yet. But it is available in many major markets.

Gowalla: Founded in 2007, Gowalla is available in about 7,500 cities and as of March 2010 has approximately 150,000 active users.
The pros:
  • Because this LBSN is not quite as popular in certain geographic areas, you have the opportunity to be a founder by adding new locations (see cons).

  • The experience is seen more like a game where you can pick up and drop off items at different locations. Point of this? Unclear. But it provides some good marketing opportunities.

  • The experience is seen more like a game where you can pick up and drop off items at different locations. Point of this? Unclear. But it provides some good marketing opportunities.

  • It has more of a graphic feel with larger icons.

  • The service is available everywhere.

  • You can see your friends' pins, photos, stamps, friends and add comments to their check-ins.

The cons:
  • There are a lot of missing locations in the system. Which means if you are going to new places, it takes longer to check in.

  • If you are adding a new place and the GPS on your mobile is off, there's no way to correct for it, which can be an issue when you try to check-in again later on.

  • The UX is not as easy to navigate as others. There's something a bit more clunky about it.

  • There is no such thing as Mayor or King, but you can be top of a leaderboard. This takes away from the social ego aspect that is important to "games" like this.

  • For something that is supposed to be a social network, there is much less emphasis on your friends and what you can view about them (compared to other LBSN).

  • Only available on iPhone and Android.

  • There is no way to flag a location as incorrect.

Yelp: In January 2010, Yelp added the check-in component to their mobile app. The company was founded in October of 2004. Each month, over 25 million people access Yelp's website, and there are about 1.25 million users of the Yelp iPhone app as of Jan 2010.
The pros:
  • Has a well established user base, even if they are not yet all checking-in. The potential for this to grow is huge.

  • You can share your check-in with not only your Twitter and Facebook circles, but also your Yelp circle.

  • Venues that have not been checked-in at yet are quick and easy to find.

  • Local leaderboard shows you how you stack up in your city.

  • The UX is simple and clean, while keeping a graphic feel. It's *very* tied to the look and feel of their website, from functionality to design.

  • Because the site was initially based around reviews, not only can you check-in to places but you can read the reviews of new places before trying them out.

  • Similar to the site functionality, you can bookmark a location without checking in to it. You can also see where your friends are regulars, where they've checked in and their reviews.

The cons:
  • Many don't yet know of the check-in capability of Yelp. From a business perspective, that's bad. But the other pros above definitely make it one to watch.

  • Unknown if current user base that is all about reviewing will adopt new behavior.

  • Check-in is just an add-on to the existing functionality so it's not as slick or quite as dynamic as others that have that as their main functionality.

  • There are no badges or pins to collect as you check-in. The social currency is all focused around the local rank for number of check-ins, and instead of being a mayor or founder, you are termed a "Regular" if you frequent a location multiple times.

Obviously each of these services have areas for improvements and growth. This is just what I found by trying all three at the same time. And of course, there are more services out there.

Personally I favor Foursquare and Yelp. I've been a Yelp user for 5 years now. Their UX is simple and easy. The extension of including LBSN to their service seems a natural extension for their brand. Foursquare may not be as graphic as Gowalla, but I think that's why I like it. It's also simple and easy and has no unnecessary frills, and I mean that in a good way. It's easy to figure out what I get from a social currency point of view and they don't have to tell me that I have to drop an item to be a founder (like on Gowalla). It just happens. I don't have to think about it. There is more control over fixing incorrect GPS locations when the mobile device gets stubborn and "lost".

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