Foursquare just had its 40 millionth ‘sign in’. Many of your phone apps now ask you if you’d like to geo-locate. Facebook is coming out with a location based update capability.
What’s happening to all this information?
First off, Foursquare is not a game. I’ve been signing in since its inception and I’ve added lots of locations to its map, filling in the grid of ‘what business is operating where’. I thought about what I was doing, since the first thing people said was, ‘you’re telling the burglar that you’re not at home’. Yes, I was telling Foursquare where my kids go to school (I sign in off the grid), I was telling Foursquare that I love the fresh blueberry scone at Café Marmalade. I am the Mayor at 22 places and have 10 badges.
Reverse phone directories give a remedial picture of who is in business, where. But no one touches phone books anymore. We rely on search engines, Yelp, CitySearch, and Foursquare and Gowalla to see what businesses are near our location. Can you imagine not ever needing your Zagat book when you travel? There are already a whole slew of good location-based info source apps, including AroundMe, UrbanSpoon, AND Zagat.
Even Shazam now asks if I want to geo-locate. Why does it matter that I’m on the Richmond Bridge when I’m trying to buy a song?
Travel patterns matter. Purchase patterns matter. Advertisers freaked out a few years ago when their formerly ‘couch potato’ viewers began to fast forward thru ads as they watched DVR pre-recorded TV shows. The advertising industry has gone to awesome lengths over the last century to get into your brain, to figure out how to addict you enough with information that you’ll reach for a specific product at the supermarket. So where will advertisers turn, now that you’re not sitting in an arm chair waiting for them to release your favorite show from the hostage of their ads?
Geo-location information. Pretend that I think Foursquare is a game and I’m the Mayor of all my favorite places (oh, I already am…) Advertisers can data-mine this information to figure out what kinds of food I like, what kinds of places I spend my money and suddenly they are back in the proverbial game. Only this time, its not 11 disruptive commercials, scatter-shot into each break of my favorite TV show, its going to be ads about places I already frequent, or for foods I already love.
Facebook’s upcoming foray into geo-location will change the game, in unknown ways. Facebook already datamines, sending me countless Singles ads because I list myself as single (they don’t have a ‘divorced single mom with kids’ option). If I tell Facebook where I am, then they’ve got incredibly connective personal information about me, jewels to sell to advertising conglomerates who will know practically everything about me.
The government already has geo-location information, thru its tax records. But it is undoubtedly piece-meal and resides in many different agencies. The beauty of Foursquare and Gowalla is they have very quickly created a 3D map of streets, neighborhoods, and cities. They are going to populate the world with names, addresses, sentiments about businesses. They’re going to have foot traffic information about business use. They’re going to know who is where, and when. The government will have a vested interest in this information, to augment what they’re learning from their ‘big brother’ traffic lights installed by Homeland Security.
Facebook entering this arena means it will go from quaint to mainstream very quickly. There is talk of making a unified open source public database of geo-location information, but so far the major players, Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Twitter and Plancast have not acted to place their proprietary information available to the public. Given that each company has profit motives, it will be interesting to watch their next moves.