If you aren’t that into the concept of location based services (LBS) by now, get ready to have them in your face on a 24/7 basis as it looks like the big boys are about to enter the game.
It has been rumored for some time now that Facebook is working on adding location check-ins to its status updates, and thanks to a new article from Advertising Age, not only does it look real, but it looks ready to launch. According to multiple sources, the option to share your location with your Facebook friends could go live as early as the end of this month, but there is a catch. Apparently the mammoth social network is looking at as a way to earn more advertising revenue, and is selling the ability to include company logos and product names in the updates such as letting McDonalds tell everyone about that Angus burger you just ordered.
At the same time, TechCrunch is reporting that Google is prepping a check-in service that will work with its Google Latitude service. While the service already lets you see where your friends are, it just gives you a general location, and not a specific address or business name. Apparently this in the future for the Google service, but no timetable was given as to when it would launch.
These stories about Facebook and Google Latitude point out something I have been saying for some time now that LBSs are more of an add-on to a service instead of a service unto themselves. However, I think in Facebook’s case, they are getting it terribly wrong, and Google may just get it right.
In my experience, people are using LBSs such as Foursquare and Gowalla to actually find their friends, meet new people, and play the silly little games they offer based around those actions. (unlocking badges on Foursquare, finding items on Gowalla) Facebook inserting adverting into your check-ins, no matter how popular the social network may be normally, is going to go over like a lead balloon. “Hey, I’m at Charlie’s Grill … SHOW UP BETWEEN 4 AND 6 PM FOR HALF PRICE WELL DRINKS AND COMPLIMENTARY CHILI FRIES!” That isn’t going to exactly fly.
As for Google Latitude, if mixed properly with other Google Maps features, this could become quite useful to people. This service has been somewhat forgotten since it launched in Feb. 2009, but apparently it has picked up some steam with it being so easy to use on Google Android devices that its user numbers have grown to three million active users now. The problem is that apparently 25 percent of those users have no friends on the service right now, and just use the service to track their own movements.
The addition of location based services to other social sites is inevitable, but they are going to make sure they get the mix of usefulness-to-fun just right. From the sounds of it, Facebook may not do so hot, but once details emerge on Latitude’s plans, Foursquare and Gowalla might have something to fear.
Of course, for the time being, it may be those of us on the Web who have something to fear as we hear endlessly about which of these services is the best …
What say you? Do you even use a location based service? What do you think makes for a good LBS?