There’s an interesting story today in the NY Times, Technology Aside, Most People Still Decline to Be Located. Its point of departure is the earlier Forrester survey that finds a slim minority is using LBS/check-in services (e.g., Foursquare) and argues marketers should hold back from using them too, accordingly.
The article is also something of a survey of the state of LBS/check-in services: Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Whrrl, ShopKick, etc. The main point is that most people aren’t using them and many people are ambivalent about notifying even friends of where they are with any frequency or regularity.
Like the Forrester study, a quick reading of the article fuels the impression that location on mobile devices isn’t that big a deal after all. That would be an incorrect conclusion however. Location and locally relevant content is in huge demand on mobile phones. However it is true that people express concern or ambivalence about location and privacy:
Source: Internet2Go/Opus Research (2009), n=707 US adult mobile users
There is a difference between asking someone a question in the abstract, as we did in the survey above, and a concrete situation with tangible benefits. As ad network inMobi demonstrated in a briefing I recently attended, if there’s a clear value exchange users will opt-in and are receptive to advertising.
I do agree with the NY Times piece that there’s a limit to how mainstream the current check-in services can become — though Foursquare now has three million users and MyTown claims four million. There needs to be more than simply novelty and “fun” involved. Among the companies mentioned, ShopKick does offer the most tangible rewards. Yet I believe it too will need to evolve before becoming mainstream.
The smartphone is a bridge between the real world and the Internet and people are using their smartphones to discover all sorts of information around them. The importance and utility of location on mobile devices is indisputable and distinct from LBS games/check-in services, which are largely novel and still immature.
Ultimately check-in functionality is just a feature of a much larger consumer proposition.