Location check-in picks up digital real estate

State of New Media 2011 Trend #6: Location check-in picks up digital real estate.

In 2010, users embraced the notion of using social media tools to “check-in” and report their location. Using geo-location technology, smartphone apps identify where a user is at any point in time and allows users to report their location to their social network community. In 2011, expect location check-in to gain even more traction.

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Location-based social media applications Foursquare and Gowalla really got the ball rolling. Foursquare (which operates more like a game) grew from 500,000 users in March 2010 to 5 million just 9 months later at year’s end.

Meanwhile, Yelp launched a check-in function for its smartphone apps, so check-in information can be displayed on its web site alongside user reviews of local businesses. Yelp sees this feature as a way to add credibility to its user reviews (for example, so readers can see how many times a reviewer has actually been to a location) and as another way to engage users to interact with Yelp more easily than having to take time to write a review.

Social media king Facebook followed suit, by introducing its “Places” function, which allows users to check-in. Once a user checks in, the location appears on the person’s news feed. You can also “tag” friends who are at the same location with you. With its 500 million and growing friends, Facebook certainly has a strong advantage in the location check-in battles. But rather than actively trying to squelch out other location competitors, the Facebook Places feature actually grabs data through Foursquare, Yelp and other geo-location services.

More competitors keep coming into the space. BlockChalk is an experimental service that provides digital chalk boards for users to communicate only with other people in their local neighborhood. Users can leave notes (such as on a chalkboard) about what is happening at a particular place in the neighborhood. Anntenna is a mobile microlistings application. It permits people to engage in real time short communication exchanges (like tweets on Twitter) with other people nearby, based upon a variation of classified listings that can be tagged.

The advantage for advertisers is the ability to target ads and offers to users who are currently at a site or have visited there before. Advertisers also get the advantage of users implicitly establishing the popularity of their businesses through repeat check-ins. This is especially valuable for local businesses.

But advertisers are now entering the fray themselves — developing their own check-in apps, rather than just advertising on existing check-in tools. For example, in December 2010, fast-food chain Carl’s Jr. released a mobile app that features GPS-based check-ins. The advantage for customers to using the Carl’s Jr. app: after you check-in four times to a Carl’s Jr. restaurant, you get to spin a “Wheel of Awesome” to win prizes. The goal, of course, is to encourage repeat visits to Carl’s Jr. restaurants and to tell your friends you are a Carl’s Jr. regular.

And municipalities are getting into the game as well. Cities are opening their infrastructure data to provide residents and visitors new ways to engage with their city. In New York, competition app BigApps was initiated by mayor Michael Bloomberg; it was inspired by the Sfapps project for San Francisco. City agencies provide online data about the city infrastructure, and developers use that data to create their own location-based service and enter the service into a competition. For example, one developer created WayFinder, which helps people find the nearest subway station. In other countries, developers have used such public data to create apps for other functions – such as to photograph and geo-tag streets and public places that need repair.

All location check-in services will face scrutiny over privacy concerns – as people are naturally sensitive about who knows where they are at any given moment. Parents in particular will be concerned about their children revealing their whereabouts at any given time.

But the clear trend is to leverage the mobility of smartphones and geo-location technology to create more user-interactivity. In this world-on-the-go, location check-in is gobbling up more digital real estate every day. Expect that trend to continue in 2011.

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