Location Awareness Keeps On Rolling

In his article on NYT.com David Carr talks about the pervasiveness of location based services at South by Southwest. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple and more have introduced location enabled apps or features and we are just at the leading edge of adoption among users.

In particular, Carr talks about Gowalla and Foursquare, to location based ‘games’ that feature the ability to virtually ‘check-in’ at a location.  Awards and rewards are bestowed for completing certain achievements, like checking in at your local pub more often than anyone else.

I’m personally ‘Mayor’ of 3 or 4 locations I frequent near my house and with every check-in I get a little more addicted.  In the long run these types of apps will facilitate all manner of marketing and advertising, but they haven’t yet reached the critical mass necessary to really have an impact nationally.  That being said, at a tech heavy event like SXSW or DEMO I’m sure everybody and their mother was checking in at every hall, booth, sidewalk and party.

Carr even mentions that people could tell the SXSW keynote wasn’t doing well when people that had checked in to it started checking in elsewhere.  An interesting way gauge interest and traffic to be sure.

“The check-in is bigger than location,” said Yancey Strickler of Kickstarter, a Web site that helps with fund-raising for media products. “Think of media: Checking into watching ‘Lost,’ being declared the mayor of ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ or earning a badge for braving free jazz.”

What if a highly influential person suddenly became the mayor of your obscure little webcast, new book or you saw that your friends were checking in on a critically acclaimed but struggling new network show? Cue the lemmings and viral things might happen. For the time being, Foursquare and others limit check-ins to physical locations, but that could change.

It’s really an interesting concept and the badges being offered are already creative.  Extending the current location based concept to digital and virtual locations will probably happen organically as users evolve how the use applications (like with Twitter).

The car is an awesome opportunity for this kind of app.  Especially in a place like Los Angeles where mobility is essentially defined by your car integrating things like check-ins with incentives to visit particular locations sounds like a potential killer app for in-vehicle applications.  When it exists, I’ll do my best to avoid the ‘stuck in traffic’ badge, but it seems inevitable.

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