Location-based Services and Density


I experimented with lots of iPhone applications (and wines) in 2010, and most of that time was with location-based apps. For 1/4 of the year, I was in Cambridge, MA, and the rest in Palo Alto, CA. I settled into Foursquare because it was used by many folks I follow on Twitter and because the website and its mobile app are beautifully designed yet easy to use. I went through phases with Foursquare, sometimes integrating it with my status updates on Facebook, my stream in Twitter, and sometimes just checking in but not broadcasting it. I never got to the point where I would use it as a platform entirely, but I could certainly see the appeal of it. I accepted about 50 friend requests, but was definitely careful about which requests I accepted, as the privacy considerations for me were more important than they would be for, say, other Twitter. I used Foursquare to check in to airports, department stores, and restaurants/bars. After settling in to Palo Alto, I managed to get into a mayorship battle with some guy named “Anton” (Die, Anton!) for the mayorship of Cafe Epi. I think again I am one day from being crowned, but all I’ve gotten in return for this activity is stern looks from the cafe owner.

So, for a while, I grew sour on location. It was too hard. Checking in was too much work, with no benefit coming back. I didn’t want jeans from the GAP or 10% off bad yogurt. But, I powered through. The new photo-sharing feature is an excellent touch. And, despite my back and forth, the app still rests on my iPhone homescreen, which is a feat in and of itself, given my OCD restructuring habits.

Then, over December, I spent about 15 days in NYC on two separate trips, for a wedding and the holidays. And, I used to live in NYC years ago so know the area relatively well. I wasn’t really working on this trip, so I turned off Twitter notifications and stopped pushing email. A strange thing happened, as my wife and I were bumming through the city’s neighborhoods, going in and out of different coffee shops, boutiques, stores, and the like. Foursquare was used all the time, and even my wife used it. We searched around us, we searched below, above.

And, then it dawned on me. Nearly half of Silicon Valley tech-types know that location is “big” but also wonder about how to get people to use it and how to make money from it. But, using LBS in a place like NYC, which is significantly more dense, is a totally different experience. On on side street, the amount of places within 1,000 feet of each other, both horizontally and vertically, could take up many screen scrolls. That’s where the tips come in — we searched the top tips for each place and used those recommendations as a guide. Maybe for LBS to work on a scale, it needs scale in the location – or in other words, LBS become not just useful, but vital, to the experience of big places, such as dense cities, huge shopping malls, casinos, conferences, hotel/convention centers, and so forth. Maybe the key for LBS is to follow density.