By now, you've probably heard of location-based services such as Facebook Places, foursquare, and Gowalla. For the most part, these services provide a way for individuals to report where they are in a social way. To be honest, as currently implemented, these services haven't provided much value up until now, unless you care that Mary checked in at the vet or John is at the pub. While you could argue that there is some implicit value in knowing which businesses your friends frequent, the more common response is probably "big whoop." You might rightly wonder if this is taking social networking too far when we have to know the whereabouts of one another 24/7.
However, consider the value if you could learn about the world around you based on where you are using the GPS capability in your smartphone. Imagine for a minute holding up your phone and having relevant content delivered to you based on your physical location at any given moment. Instead of just manually checking in about your location, you could get information delivered in real time about where to shop, eat, and play based on where you are. That's a very different location dynamic than you get from simply communicating "I'm here."
Now imagine as a business or content provider, you could deliver meaningful content on-the-fly based on where a person is, not in an intrusive way, but simply as a matter of course. You are in front of Restaurant X. Tap to see a menu. Tap to see reviews. Tap to see if your friends have been here and what they think of the place. And the restaurant owner might even offer you an incentive to come inside.
Suddenly, location becomes a powerful driver of meaningful content delivery presented to a user automatically based on where he or she is at any given moment. And it's not annoying anymore. It's potent and useful.
Before we get too excited, it's worth noting that a Pew study released last November found that only 4% of Americans were using location-based services, but these are clearly early days for this technology. As developers grow more creative, many more people are bound to come on board as we see more sophisticated uses.
Where Are We?
Clearly, there are several technologies coming together that are making this location-content connection possible.
In particular, we now have smartphones equipped with GPS and smart mapping technology in our pockets and purses. These technologies provide a way for the apps on the phone to know where we are in the world at any given moment, and once the phone has that information, we have a starting point to link that location to meaningful content.
Matthew Link, VP at MapHook, a mobile application designed to help you find and track information based on location, believes that the technologies that link content and location have been coming together for some time. "It's a natural path given the evolution and fusing of GPS and wireless technologies. Mobile devices have become smarter, can manage and store more applications and data, and have increasing broadband access," he says.
Akash Agarwal, SVP of platform products and business development at LocationLabs, a company that develops location-based APIs, agrees that there is a strong connection between mobile and location (and by extension, content). "Location is the one piece that is unique to mobile and many more interesting use cases and applications will emerge. From new ways of engagement for brands and businesses to new types of enterprise applications to entertainment apps. They all need location and the context around the location," he says.
"Crossroads" image courtesy of Shutterstock.