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."

7 comments about "Social Location: There Can Only Be One".
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  1. Kirsten Gronberg from Renegade, March 22, 2010 at 2:44 p.m.

    I certainly hope we don't have another "Foursquare." This is not because I think there are too many geo-location tools out there. This hope is entirely based on the fact that I think that just checking in is quite limiting. UGC is still very powerful and the next round of geo-location apps to gain popularity will empower users to enhance geo-based experiences with their own creative content served up from the places themselves.

  2. Will Larson from Ticketmaster / Live Nation Entertainment, March 22, 2010 at 3:21 p.m.

    Why do we have to settle for one service? Multi-protocol clients dominate the mobile IM market so why can't we have a multi-protocol, location-aware, always-online social network solution integrated with IM? BeeJive, I challenge you.

  3. Rich Wright from MobileSpinach, March 22, 2010 at 3:57 p.m.

    Yes, "checking in" on a location based network can be amusing, just as Tweeting can be both useful and entertaining but its overall usefulness is subjective. One user's idea of a "good time" or "hip" place can always be subject to skepticism. Really, only exact details, always found in monetary endeavors and figures, can be objectified by an entire user base. Everyone wants to save money and the best deals, in this era of frugality, always bring the best crowds.

  4. Mark Mayhew from, March 23, 2010 at 1:36 a.m.

    what happens when Facebook offers location data?

  5. Howard Greenstein from Harbrooke Group, Inc., March 23, 2010 at 9:18 a.m.

    I would like to know more, @Kirsten. I'm thinking that when I check in, I want people to know where I am, and when I use FourSquare or GoWalla, I want to know where my friends are. At SXSW this was very useful since there was a large concentration of friends and acquaintances using the services at the same time. It made it easy to zoom in on the action. However, when I'm out, I'm less likely to be creating UGC, except short photos or videos (which many services already support) - I'm more likely to be enjoying being out with friends.

  6. Howard Greenstein from Harbrooke Group, Inc., March 23, 2010 at 9:19 a.m.

    Oh, and shameless self promotion -I wrote about this last week:

  7. Andrew Martineau from The Martineau Collective, March 23, 2010 at 6:12 p.m.

    "The One" is coming ...

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