location_interesting_Facebook_mobile

After joining in the debate at MobHappy on the post ‘Location on Mobile: Still Wandering Around A Little Aimlessly‘, I decided to post on here why I think location is about to become popular with consumers.

The conversation started because of a blog post on Mobile Entertainment describing The Top 10 Mobile Entertainment Misconceptions with number 9 being:

9. “Location-based technology is intrinsically exciting for consumers…”

No it’s not. The phrase “location-based technology” intrinsically puts most people who aren’t in the mobile industry to sleep. And they look equally unimpressed if you promise them their phone can guide them to the nearest cashpoint.

That was the big selling point of the early days of LBS, until the industry realised that even half-cut consumers can womble their way to the nearest bank machine under their own steam. Now the buzz is around social location, and mashing up your handset’s GPS with social media and Web 2.0 services.

The problem is that this is all still technology-led. The assumption that everyone wants to track their friends – and especially that they regularly go out in town with no specific plans in mind of who to meet or where to go – is unproven at best. As is the idea that people want to geotag all their photos and videos and share them with the world, all the time.

The next year or two will see some really smart, desirable mobile services launch that use location. But it’s the ones that are actually based on stuff people want to do that will succeed.

It’s more about great, desirable services that happen to have location elements in the mix.

I disagree with this statement on many counts.

Of course the term “location-based technology” isn’t interesting to the consumer, just like “Capacitive Surfaces” (iPhone touchscreen), “API’s” (applications, websites, plus loads of other cool stuff) aren’t, however these are the things behind the most popular consumer products and services today. You just need to wrap up the technology in a way the consumer can understand and get excited about.

“The problem is that this is all still technology-led” – I really don’t understand how it is technology-led, it’s totally service-led. Location needs to be a service to exist for consumers, for example a GPS chip is just a GPS chip without a TOM TOM attached it. Without all the other stuff knowing your own location is pretty useless, unless your a mountain trekker.

Lets face it, go up to a consumer and say “Location on your mobile will help you a ATM!!” and they probably won’t give a damn. I mean realistically how many times are you going to search for a ATM every week or even use your maps application in general for that matter. Maybe two or three times a week? Now lets try and put it into a better context for you as a consumer, compare your Maps usage to the amount of time you spend on lets say…Facebook. If it’s anything like me and my friends, the difference is huge.

From experience in conducting user research, you don’t just throw in buzz words and hope to get a reaction, you find out where most of their time is spent, tech usage habits and so on, then work in scenarios based on that. I can tell you now that in these tests everyone interviewed aged from 18 to 55 spends an awful lot of time on Facebook.

Once Facebook and Twitter start integrating location (soon), you’ll suddenly have over 300 million consumers location-enabled. No sign ups, no apps, no downloads and no barriers. They just continue updating like they always have. That’s how I see location being a hit, not by walking past a Starbucks and getting a voucher, that stuff won’t ever work until there are standards put in place and adopted by all handset manufacturers (things like vouchers wallets etc). Facebook will be one of the catalysts for adoption, social location is a powerful thing

In the past social location hasn’t really taken off because of the difficulty getting more than a handful of friends signed up to a service. Google Latitude is one example, great application but only 7 of my friends have it, incompatible handsets, lack of Gmail account, blah blah. Compare that to Facebook where all of my mates have an account.

It goes without saying that not everyone wants to track their friends, just like not everyone wants to share photos or tweet, but people do. Give everyday users the ability to do so without a fuss then you’ll see the popularity. There is clearly a demand otherwise money and time wouldn’t be spent developing this sort of thing. Anyway, privacy settings are there for a reason.

I blogged about location based status updates back in May, mainly because I can see the value in them as a Facebook user as well as a consumer. Below is a mock up of how I saw it integrated.

You can already see the popularity in seeing your friends location in services such as FourSquare. I think that we are close to seeing location on mobile being big. Watch this space.