Beyond the Checkin: Where Location-Based Social Networks Should Go Next. (from Mashable.com)
Yan-David Erlich is the founder & CEO of photography app Mopho. He was also the founder and CEO of Social.im and a product manager in the digital media consumer web group at Google.
Location-based social networks are currently enjoying a great deal of attention, and companies are rushing to get in on new services like checkins and geo-location. But before we all jump on the bandwagon, we need to ask ourselves what we really want to accomplish with social media.
While location is a major part of navigation and mapping services like Google () Maps, social networking’s real purpose is to get users to create, share and communicate. Adding location data to social networks can enhance these experiences, but it is not the end goal.
Location — the “where” of a social experience — is not the most important characteristic of social media. In order to create lasting value, location-aware social networks need to look at what motivates their users to share with one another and make it central to the app’s design and user experience.
Location is a Supporting Attribute
Most location-based services have already figured out that simply checking-in is not enough to keep users engaged. Companies are adding new and evolving features in order to remain competitive and interesting.
Foursquare () uses checkins to give users new information and award badges. These can then translate into special deals or privileges. Similarly, Gowalla () users can check-in to leave their own tips, trips, and photos.
But those companies — and others in the same space, such as Loopt and Brightkite () — have got their priorities backwards. They’ve tried to tack a sense of purpose onto an action (checking in) that is essentially uninteresting. Their services are built around the checkin.
Instead, these companies should focus on the reverse. Features and services should come first, and checking-in should be viewed as an accessory. We have to move from creating services that are location-based to those that are “location-enhanced.”
Why We Share
Whether an application is intended to capture the smile on your mother’s face, give you a competitive challenge, or help you snag a free cup of coffee, it should provide real-world value.
Location-enhanced services need to put the “why” at the forefront of their user experience. When I take out my phone to snap a picture, it’s because I want to capture a moment that is meaningful and share it with others. The main purpose of that photo is to share an experience. The ability to geo-tag that photo should be an afterthought.
Several emerging companies have figured this out and are using location as an enhancement, rather than a purpose. For example, location awareness can facilitate or augment the experience of listening to live music (Superglued ()), networking and attending events (SitBy.Us), making payments (TabbedOut), using personal reminders and alerts (Plerts), and taking photos. Booyah’s MyTown is another great application that puts the game playing first, and includes location as an interesting (but secondary) attribute of that experience.
While their specific functions are wildly different, all of these services have one important thing in common: They understand why their users pull their phone out of their pockets in the first place.
Life Is Not A Trivial Game
In my opinion, checkins will never appeal to the mainstream. Checking-in is viewed by non-adopters as a trivial game, gratuitous to both the unique experiences and daily drudge of the places we visit. The relentless chore of updating one’s location has even spawned a new phrase: “Checkin fatigue.”
If checking-in isn’t compelling to most people, then why do so many apps still make it a central to their user experience? Perhaps these companies think it’s too late to rethink the basics, or they’re afraid of veering away from what has given them a small trending foothold.
In fact, Foursquare recently released their own app store in an attempt to solidify “location” as a feature on which developers can build a variety of services, enticing big brands like Nabisco to jump in on the trend.
Ultimately, the location-based social networks that will thrive in the long-term are the ones that design their user experiences around users’ real motivations. The checkin, as a stand-alone act, is fundamentally empty. It begs to be put into context.
As part of a more comprehensive experience instead of a contrived first act, location can provide an intrinsically rich layer to social experiences. By itself, the checkin faces fatigue, or worse.