Regular readers of this blog will most likely recall a recent article submitted by Tom Fiddian where he outlined some innovation and funding opportunities that are emerging around the maturing trend of location based services (LBS) – details of an impending £5m Technology Strategy Board Competition in this area are shortly to be publicly released.
In sync with the rapid expansion of the smartphone and tablet market in recent years, the spectrum of service types that can be location-based continues to expand and presently includes examples such as: recommending social events in a city, requesting the nearest business or service – such as a restaurant or hole-in the-wall, turn by turn navigation to any address, assistive healthcare systems, locating people on a map displayed on the mobile phone, receiving alerts – such as notification of a sale on gas or warning of a traffic jam, location-based mobile advertising, contextualizing learning and research, games where your location is part of the game play, for example your movements during the day make your avatar move in the game or your position unlocks content, real-time Q&A revolving around restaurants, services and other venues. To name a few.
Thus seeking to capitalise on this emerging era of internet-enhanced engagement with physical spaces, technology companies everywhere are scrambling to answer the root question of "What do I need my technology to do for me now, in this time, at this place, under these circumstances?" with launches of new location-based apps becoming an almost daily occurrence. One of the more headline-grabbing releases of last week was that of Findery, a map-based social networking service started by the founder, Caterina Fake, of popular photosharing site Flickr. This free app lets users leave notes, photos and videos about real-world locations on digital maps.
US rock band The Grateful Dead poses on Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, California, circa 1965 (via)
Despite the continuing rise of social networks clamouring for elbow room in what is nowadays referred to as "the attention economy", Caterina Fake, Findery’s Founder and Chief Executive, is hoping there’s room for a specialized service that appeals to a different set of internet user’s sensibilities. Rather than become just another app that helps you hook up with your friends at coffee shops recommended by them, the idea of Findery is to connect users/ travelers by giving them a mobile platform to post and find virtual notes of historical or personal interest. A key influence cited by Fake for creating Findery is the notable connection with American post-pop cultural history of her Hayes Valley-Lower Haight home neigbourhood in San Francisco (in a nearby house Anne Rice wrote Interview with a Vampire, the Grateful Dead lived here in the late 60's etc.) She also cites a lightbulb moment of driving through Utah and spotting a convoy of dinosaur trucks that looked like they were travelling in a herd.
Checking out not checking in
The app provides a good example of how the role of location in digital life is acquiring ever-increasing importance as users are more and more seeking to add new layers of location-based information to their posts. A recent study published by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project highlighted “a notable growth in the number of social media users who are now setting their accounts to include location in their posts…Among adult social media users ages 18 and older, 30% say that at least one of their accounts is currently set up to include their location in their posts, up from 14% who said they had ever done this in 2011".
In support of this finding, trend reports further indicate growing evidence of an interesting tipping point that consumers are now more likely to “check out” information relevant to their current location than “check in” with their current status. In line with this growing consumer preference for more alert-style applications, marketeers are increasingly looking to nudge or push relevant, personalised content to users’ devices in real-time. A trend that goes some way to explaining why towards the end of 2013 in an attempt to shift its business model from that of providing a service to track where your friends are going to becoming the go-to place for people searching for local information, Foursquare upgraded both its iOS and Android apps to introduce location-based alerts and notifications.
From a digital marketing perspective, harnessing the power of LBS has become something of a holy grail. Brands and media owners everywhere are waking up to the potential of proximity-based marketing tools and their incorporation into apps to drive greater in-store consumer engagement by bringing the digital and physical worlds closer together. Ever since Apple introduced iBeacons at WWDC last year the buzz around the possibilities – indoor location, in-app contextual information, smarter payments – for the technology based on Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons (BLE) has been steadily growing. (The recent Guardian feature Is 2014 the year of iBeacons? offers a clear and concise overview of the technology and specifically how it differs from NFC.)
As recently reported in Marketing Week, a number of UK retail and advertising brands are also beginning to implement the tool into their campaigns in anticipation of a wider rollout once trials currently taking place in the US to quantify the impact it has on in-store sales have been reviewed. Bookmaker William Hill will be using iBeacons to trigger in-app messages and real-time betting information during this week's Cheltenham Festival – four days of horse racing in the west of England. Cadbury owner Mondelez is also looking at how it can use iBeacons to boost impulse sales. “We see mobile disrupting consumer’s path-to-purchase as well as in-store experience, from the aisle to the register” a spokeswoman for the snacks maker said.
Web's biggest players
Finally, you may have noticed the recent rush of some of the world’s largest internet companies to either acquire or strike licensing deals with smaller, location-based mobile platforms – a trend that illustrates not only the rising value of location data for ad-targeting purposes but also how leading technology corporates are tackling head-on any risk of being left behind as the Web becomes increasingly mobile. Think Yahoo and Yelp, Microsoft and Foursquare, Google and Waze. Plus, of course, Apple and a slew of mostly map-based startups including Locationary (which ensures a business’s digital listing data is up-to-date), HopStop (a popular app for finding mass transit routes), Embark (another mass transit app), WiFiSlam (which uses wireless Internet to map indoor spaces) and BroadMap (another company aimed at improving mobile mapping). Having previously used the location data obtained via its own mapping service predominantly to give drivers information on traffic jams, clearly the company is now determined to exact its pound of flesh within the world of location-based advertising.