Guest post by Ben Kunz
A curious trend in social media is how most of its tools start out as perceived toys, worthy of laughter, and then gradually migrate to the mainstream. When Facebook and Twitter launched, early adopters in the business world were often kidded by colleagues. "That's great," an old friend emailed me in 2008 upon hearing I was on Facebook, "now you can stay in touch with teenage girls." Yet soon Twitter is tied in to CNN feeds and chief marketing officers are networking with their ad agencies inside Facebook. In 2010, if you are not using these tools you risk looking stupid.
So here we go again, with geolocation-social media tools. Relatively new services such as Foursquare and Gowalla update your friends when you reach certain physical spots — in essence, broadcasting your location on a map into your online network. Like early social networks, the premise makes sense yet combines a whiff of immaturity that gives grownups pause. Sure, in a busy world it could be useful to get pinged by a colleague when she reaches a certain point. But the services include stupid-sounding updates. "Hein V. in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, became mayor of Vespuccimarket." "Patrick unlocked the 'Adventurer' badge." The only mature response is: "WTF?" And this month, the latest silliness Foursquare update, Jan. 28, 2010 has been decreed "International Day of the Toilet," wherein you can let your friends know exactly when you hit the can.
But pause. Reflect. Before you deride such silliness, realize the two real undercurrents. First, early creators of new technology must always push the boundaries of maturity, because none of us really needs anything new — so first forays often come off as gimmicks. (Remember the first camera on your cell phone, and the jokes about who needed to take a picture of their ear? Now most people love them and real camera makers are watching their business slip away.) And second, in a world where everyone is now leaping into social media, creators of new social media networks must create game-like mechanics to try to boost adoption and break through the clutter. Gaming psychology is extremely powerful; the "follower" counts on Twitter have become high score rewards that help boost loyal usage. So it's no mistake that Foursquare updates users' networks of colleagues with the strange-sounding whimsy of "mayors" and "badges": It's a way to get attention, to wake you up, perhaps to get you to try the damn thing.
As such geolocation technology becomes prevalent, we expect the maturity levels to rise and the gimmickry to settle down. Soon, you'll be updating everyone about your whereabouts, too. Just be careful when you're in the can.
Ben Kunz is the Director of Strategic Planning, and sometimes wishful thinking, at ad planning shop Mediassociates.
3 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Jan 18, 2010
“Daddy, what’s a fax?” Yet I remember how amazing facsimile technology was when it first came out – with the rolled up thermal paper that you’d have to make a copy of to keep from dealing with correspondence you’d have to unfurl. I’ve tried 4SQ for a month or so now. It’s neat. Too much connectedness for me, personally, but I’m more curious about how this data is being used. It seems 4SQ has somehow managed to make a ‘game’ of datamining – which is brilliant. Although, there are no ‘real’ prizes (for anyone playing – sorry for the spoiler.) But rather than scoff at geolocation in social, I’ve stuck with it and am noticing sincere uses for the tech. For example, I go to a restaurant and check in on 4SQ and a note pops up from someone I trust (in my network) warning me to stay away from the chowder. Or maybe I check in at the Apple store and a 10% coupon appears for the store next to it in the mall. For consumers, that’s the benefit. For developers, it’s a whole other ballgame. Imagine having people all over the country happily feeding a very detailed geolocation database with everything from emails, to street addresses to twitter handles, etc. Man, that stuff is like gold that can be sold on the open market, or within the application itself. If history proves right, advertisers will pay through the nose to know where someone is, what they’re doing, who they’re hanging with, what time they do things, etc. etc.
The data – that’s the real genius of this trend.
Jan 19, 2010
Great blog, Ben. Especially your comment on the power of gaming psychology. Of course, what’s clever psychology to dinosaurs like me is just “whatever” to gamers like my nephews. They slide into the ever-evolving tech, instead of agonizing their way through a Digital 12-Step Program. Yes,I’ve accepted my condition — but I still don’t know what to do with my photo album of ear shots.
Jan 20, 2010
Good post, Ben, and good points, Jim and Warren.
Jim, I’m looking forward to the day when ‘real prizes’ are available, when businesses reward us for our loyalty based on app data/tracking. For example, if I’m restaurant X’s Foursquare mayor, when will restaurant X offer me free appetizers or desserts – as a way to thank me for my past visits, and encourage my return business?
Another geolocation app I’ve been keeping an eye on is CauseWorld, launched by Shopkick last month. ‘Karma points’ are awarded when users ‘check in’; collected points can be converted to donations (funded by Kraft, Citi, and other companies) to support non-profit organizations. Essentially, users ‘decide’ how the corporate funds are disbursed. Participating companies get good exposure to the app’s growing group of active users. Cause-related marketing via a geolocation app! If you use CW, let me know if you score extra points for bathroom visit check-ins. 🙂