Geography 970

January 27, 2010

The Hipness of Location

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tim Wallace @ 4:58 pm

With a new year comes all sorts of lists.  Lists about food (Saveur 100), and music (Pitchfork Best Albums) and technology (Webby’s Top 10 Internet Moments)  spring to mind, but the tabulation does not stop there (Time Magazine did a Top 10 of Everything in 2009 – really, everything?).

Some of the lists look forward and some look back.  The New York Times Bits (Business, innovation, technology & society) Blog started 2010 by looking forward with a list of “Five Tech Themes for 2010“.   Much of what is mentioned – both in the post and in the reader’s comments section – is geoweb-related, but I’m going to stick to one of the five main themes mentioned and have a closer look at some of the companies mentioned.

Number two on the list of themes for 2010:

Location, location, location: Start-ups like Hot Potato, Foursquare, Grindr and UrbanSpoon have generated a lot of buzz for their forays into the mobile location-based arena, but it’s only the beginning — particularly in light of the new geo-location features made available to developers and users on Twitter. It’s likely we will begin seeing many more useful location-based applications.

So, what’s a location-based service?  Well, loosely, it is an information service – usually available through a mobile device, like an iPhone, Android or Blackberry – that utilizes your location to serve up relevant content.  An example of this could be a a device that automatically tells you the local weather.

Why are these services so hip right now?  Well, who wants to print out stuff from their desktop PC for their weekender?  Driving directions from MapQuest, restaurant reviews, hotel prices, movie show times . . . that’s an awful lot of paper.  And every bit of ink on that paper could be outdated the instant you hit print.  So, it’s not all about having the newest gadget.  There is real benefit to having these services at your fingertips no matter where you are.  (As a side note, I read yesterday that Nokia is offering free navigation on their new smart phones as a reaction to the Android.  Nokia says their system is better than Google’s because it is “faster”.  We’ll see.)

Hot Potato.
From the looks of it, this is a service that compiles all blogs and tweets about a particular event in a particular place and creates a sort of instantaneous web site from what people are saying. So, if some weekend, the beets at the Dane County Farmer’s Market were particularly delicious and loads of people were blogging, tweeting and posting up photos of them, Hot Potato could be used as a portal to all of the hype.

Part reality and part game, Foursquare offers users the ability to check out what other people have said about where they are (restaurant, pub, theatre, etc.) and perhaps some kind of tip (go in the side door, avoid the ornery cashier, don’t drive here, etc.) as well as – in a way that isn’t entirely clear to me – collect “points”  toward “badges” for checking in from time to time.  Apparently, if you visit a place enough, you eventually become “mayor” which qualifies you for discounts (rules and restrictions may apply, right?).

Their website reads: “Whether he’s Mr. Right or Mr. Tonight, your man is hanging out on Grindr, a killer location-based social networking tool for the iPhone or iPod Touch.”  Grindr is a location-based dating service for gay, bi and curious men.  It shows the location of other men on Grindr in your neighborhood (again, based on your location).  Other location-based dating services include Meetmoi and Skout.

This service offers up some location-based restaurant reviews. If you click the link above, it will automatically read your IP address and suggest that you go to the Daisy Cupcakery for lunch. It will do the same if you are on a geo-enabled mobile device. Since I would also recommend that you go to the Daisy Cupcakery for lunch if you were in Madison, this service really drove home the whole idea of location-based service to me. If someone were to ask me where they should get some lunch. I would have to ask them where they are and how far they would be willing to travel. Urbanspoon and other location-based services eliminate those extra steps and jumps right to what you need (where you are).

After just having a cursory look at these services, I have to agree with the hype surrounding their utility.  However, I think it will be interesting to see which of these services, in this flurry of startups, will last.  I know that people love their “aps”, but having to install a different one for every type of location-based service may prove tiring.  Perhaps if the Bits Blog is right, 2010 be the year all of this gets sorted out.


1 Comment »

  1. Foursquare looks kind of fun. Last Friday my friend sent around an email suggesting that we celebrate his birthday with dinner, watching a band at the Brink, and a house party at Jennifer & Few. Basically, we we’re going to be headed east from campus for multiple stops, and we needed to pick a place to eat and keep different people (~12) in the loop. For that purpose, foursquare might have been useful/entertaining.

    On the other hand, we handled all of the arrangements with email and texts. No problem. Everyone had a good time, and the schedule worked itself out very well. I think this type of social gathering — impromptu, multi-site, come as you are — is the best fit for foursquare, but I wonder how much time and fun is lost by people spending a few hours ‘checking in’ and ‘mayoring’ and earning ‘badges’. Is this the target for foursquare? Is it for vacationers or business travelers? I can’t help but think that when I’m in my hometown, going out with a network of friends, most of the features of foursquare are just hassles that take time out of socializing.

    Comment by mattmoehr — January 27, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

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