Social Location: There Can Only Be One
With Foursquare the breakout star of last year's SXSW festival, a host of social location startups were scrambling to be the darling emerging from the 2010 edition of the music and high-tech hoedown.
Talk of "location wars" or "geowars" began filtering through the blogosphere even before the event kicked off, since the space has gotten superheated and Foursquare has become the new Twitter. Now, even Twitter and Facebook are trying to become Foursquare by launching their own location-based features.
TechCruch's MG Siegler (who was actually at SXSW) has already complained of "check-in fatigue" in trying to track a slew of different social location services at the confab, including Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Whrrl, Brightkite, Burbn, MyTown, CauseWorld, Hot Potato and Plancast.
"Even with great AT&T service, this would take a solid 10 minutes or more to check-in to all of them. And it took even longer when I'd have to pause to explain to my friends what the hell I was doing on my phone all that time," he wrote. And there's perhaps dozens more me-too startups out there, including Booyah's MyTown, which boasts having more users than Foursquare or Gowalla.
If ever an area cried out for consolidation, it's social location--a natural monopoly even more so than online social networking. People will want to be on the service that most of their friends are on, not a half dozen different networks trying piece together a social map from fragments.
It's one thing to track a number of different social networks sitting at home or work; it's another when you're out on the street or in a bar and want to get information about where other people are and what they're doing as quickly and easily as possible.
Marketers will also ultimately aggregate around one or two key players in the space to reach the largest audience and streamline promotional and advertising efforts. That doesn't necessarily mean Foursquare will be the sole survivor, despite its first-mover status going back to its origins as Dodgeball. MySpace was way ahead of Facebook in the social networking game at one time and look how that's turned out. And Google certainly wasn't the first search engine to hit the Web.
With plans to launch its own location offering next month, Facebook itself could end up sucking up all the oxygen in the niche or acquiring Foursquare or a hot competing startup. Or another upstart will emerge that will blow away the current crop of social location darlings. Keep in mind that a year after debuting in 2009 at SXSW, Foursquare now has 600,000 users--as many as Facebook was adding a day last year. Gowalla, about 100,000. There's still room to grab mobile real estate here. But ultimately it's a winner-take-all equation, meaning at some point we'll be mercifully spared having to hear about the "next Foursquare."