Digital

Beyond Foursquare: The future of geolocation apps and websites

Mar 02, 2013 5:00 am


From the early days of geolocation, with Platial kicking off the geolocation revolution in the practically prehistoric year of 2005, a number of paradigm-shifting startups have already come, gone or been sold, among them fwixLooptDittoBlockboardEveryblock (shut down this month) and the late lamentedNextStop and Whrrl.

On last Sunday, Josh Williams, former founder and CEO of Gowalla and now a product manager at Facebook, penned a great writeup on the early years of the Foursquare-Gowalla death match, spanning 2009-2010, before Foursquare emerged as the King of Check-In Mountain.

Now that the table has been set, what’s next for geolocation? Is it all about Foursquare,Yelp, yawn and go home?

I don’t think so. Instead, we’re seeing geolocation begin to splinter into niches and verticals. And, within a couple of years, geolocation capabilities will simply be baked into our everyday on-the-go lives.

From Silicon Valley and elsewhere, startups have emerged with powerful, useful geolocation capabilities central to their business model. As someone who’s as much an entrepreneur as a social strategist, I’m about to cast off into these choppy waters myself with a startup called Placely. (Come add your email addy to be notified when we’re ready to roll!)

Travel, recommendations, geo-social and more

In surveying the competitive landscape, I’ve been struck by how diverse the geo-landscape has become. We’re still in the expansion, experimentation and buyout phase — before the inevitable contraction, consolidation and hand-wringing phase sets in. Every week, it seems, I hear about a new startup doing something interesting with geolocation. (I still wish Gowalla had pivoted instead of selling to Facebook.)

Navigation apps like Waze and mapping sites (Google, Apple, Mapquest, Bing Maps) are all about location, but they’re too obvious to include here.

So what are the new breed of startups using location information in interesting, new ways?

I could use your help in thinking about how to group these startups. Here’s a first stab. Once we have our categories, I’ll drill deeper with a take on what’s working, not working, and where the real breakthroughs are. Here goes — see if you can group these differently, and let us know about other notable startups we’ve missed that deserve to be listed here, (I’m sure there are dozens!):

Place annotations and discoveries

Description: With these apps, it’s all about places. Document and tag your city, discover what’s interesting around you, share what you discover with the world or your network. This is an amazing category.

Apps & sitesNow (a just-launched “find fun nearby!” app around real-time events), Sidewalk (“find what you love about your city”), Banjo (social discovery app that lets the user look at what is happening around the world in real time), Urbantag (bought by Tagged, it will shut down March 31), Everplaces (save and share places you love, though the app seems to be chiefly for people to keep track of places privately), EyeEm (a photo-sharing app centered on places), Kullect (share your world), Field Trip (an app that runs in the background and serves up information based on your location), Tagwhat (a feed of hyperlocal content), goGlyph (annotations attached to a location), Trover (find and share hidden gems) and others.

Geo-social

Description: With these apps, the focus is generally more on the social than the geo. Share geotagged content with friends and share place-based information.

Apps & sitesInstagram, of course, is the photo-sharing app that lets you see what your friends are doing, with the geolocation element an afterthought. Bonfyre lets you capture and share experiences only with your friends. Findery is a location-based note sharing Web app — no mobile app released yet. HighlightSonar and Glympse all alert friends that you’re nearby. Facebook Places (social check-ins) and Place+ (buggy app lets you check in to places, share your location with friends) round out the field.

Geo and social travel apps

Description: An obvious killer use case for geolocation apps is helping travelers and tourists during their travels. Seems like a new travel startup pops up every day.

Apps & sitesTripAdvisor and TripAdvisor City Guides (spun off from Expedia, TripAdvisor is the big kahuna but only has limited social capabilities), Gogobot (travel recommendations from friends and people who travel like you), BagsUp (Australia-based startup offers trusted travel tips from your friends), Like a Local Guide (travel tips from locals, from a startup in Estonia), Afar (collaborative travel guide), TouristEye (Web and mobile travel guide with personalized recommendations), Airbnb (cool mobile app but just offers geo-tagged listings with no info about surroundings) and a gaggle of other incumbents that use geo to some extent: TravelocityExpediaKayak and LonelyPlanet.

Recommendation apps

Description: One of the hottest startup sectors — everyone wants to be the next Yelp, given the lack of personal social networking in Yelp’s offering.

Apps & sitesYelp (reviews and recommendations), Foursquare (moving past check-ins into recommendations and deals),Zagat (venerable restaurant reviews site bought by Google), Raved (leave raves, share recommendations with friends), Snoox(friends’ recommendations on everything),LiveStar (recommendations from your social network), Citysearch (local city guides),Cityseries (iPad app for restaurants and entertainment), Google Local (reviews from people in your circles), Ditto (now founder-less startup lets you make recommendations to friends), I loves it! (share what you love) and, of course, the spate of both city guide apps and online city guides around the world such as TimeOut or Thrillist (which generally just have online maps). The newest player at the table? Facebook Nearby.

Shared experiences and social streams

Description: Seems every new startup wants to be the Instagram of video. The vast majority of these are primarily social, with location as an afterthought. We’ll likely see a dozen or more new entrants in the next year.

Apps & sitesZkatter (social street view — real-time videos of what your friends are doing and where, although it’s marketing itself as a way to preserve memories), Flock (capture and share experiences with friends), LooxcieMoments (capture moments and stream video in real time), Koozoo (see and share live views of places you care about). Old-timers Justin TV (life streaming), Flixwagon Geo (combine mobile video sharing andGPS navigation), Qik and other live-streaming services aren’t really optimized for what I want from social geo. Next2Friends Live has already bit the dust. Other mobile and Web video-sharing apps such as Vine (6-second videos from Twitter), SocialCam (bought by AutoDesk), ViddyKlipTellyGlmps (capture and share short videos with friends to “relive the moment”) and Recood don’t really have location elements at their core.YouTube Capture may help shake up the game.

Storytelling apps

Description: Storytelling and citizen journalism are increasingly being done on mobile devices.

Apps & sitesBlurb Mobile (create and share short media stories using your mobile),Mobli (capture and share the perfect photo or video), Qwiki (turn memories into mini-movies, best seen on iPad), Meograph (create multimedia stories on Web), Rememble (storytelling Web app doubles as a memory aid).

Geo-fencing and keeping track of your kids 

Description: A long-crowded field, a variety of geo apps enable parents to keep track of their children and other family members. Features often include messaging systems, geo-fencing capabilities that send out alerts, built-in sirens and more.

Apps & sitesFootprintsFamily TrackerSecuraFoneNearParentLookoutTrick or Tracker and others all help parents keep track of their children.

Health and fitness apps

Description: The health and fitness sector has put GPS apps to good use for years. You probably have a couple on your phone.

Apps & sitesRunKeeperRuntasticMap My RunMap My Ride,Cycle Tracker Pro,Cycle WatchAccuTerra and literally hundreds of others

Local experts and real-time knowledge

Description: Who knows the local landscape better than a local? Some startups are betting that people will want to be connected with local experts.

Apps & sitesLocalmind (real-time Q&A with locals and friends about what’s happening now), LocalUncle (Switzerland-based Q&A-based city advice and tips from locals).

Time-based apps and memory aids

Description: One great capability of GPS is to retrace past events. These sites let you do that for your own travels or to see the virtual footsteps of others who have been in the same place before.

Apps & sitesPath is positioning itself as less a private social network and more of a way to “remember life,” which is why I placed it here. There’s also TimeHop (a virtual time capsule that lets you see your photos and updates from this date in the past), Historypin(not-for-profit effort to chronicle our past), Historvius (mapping history), Rewind.Me (capture your experiences), Breadcrumbs (get a timeline of your day and set goals), Do You Remember (will let you post your memories on the Web; geo component uncertain), Placeme (remember where you’ve been).

Neighborhood connections and actions 

Description: No one has yet cracked the local neighborhoods challenge, but geo apps are helping bring people together in local communities for political activities, social activities and more.

Apps & sitesNextdoor (neighbors can build private websites where they can swap questions and advice and sell used items in these Web-only communities), RedRover (helps parents make play dates and make plans on the fly), NeighborGoods (share your stuff with neighbors) and dozens of similar sites, SeeClickFix (report neighborhood issues and get them fixed).

Augmented reality and games 

DescriptionAugmented reality (AR) hasn’t yet come into its own, though the release of Google Glass later this year may help spotlight this category.

Apps & sitesWikitude and Junaio (AR apps), Wallit (location-based virtual walls that let you start a conversation with locals), Placespotting (an online map game), scvngr(game about doing challenges at places), many others.

Local social and mobile commerce 

Description: The holy grail for geolocation apps is local commerce, and we’re not there yet. Here are some early players.

Apps & sitesScoutMob (local offers, mobile deals), Shopkick(get rewards by walking into a store), the new Craigslist app by Mokriya (neighborhood marketplace), Zaarly (buy from local service providers), Savvi (local discounts), Groupon Mobile andLiving Social (offers from local merchants), Zavers by Google(real-time coupons). Other apps, like Foursquare, also offer local deals.

Other geolocation apps

Other apps and sites incorporate location, of course, in dozens of different ways — and we’ll certainly see an exponential growth in these apps in the coming years. Here are a few:

• Foodspotting and other food apps
• Skout (meet new people, hook up) and other location-specific dating apps
• Education, medical, workplace, sports and entertainment apps (I haven’t looked into these sectors)
• Zillow and Trulia and other services to help you find homes for sale, neighborhood information, etc.
• Bundle (how people are spending their money to show you your city in a new way)
• Virtual ownership: MyInchoftheEarthThe Ocean RegistryThe International Star Registry

What else? Do these groupings make sense? What would you change or group differently? And what geolocation apps did we overlook? Please add your thoughts in the comments.

J.D. Lasica is a social media consultant, strategist, public speaker, journalist and author. He is founder of Socialbrite.org, a social media consulting firm for nonprofits and a learning hub with hundreds of free resources and tutorials on how to use social media. Twitter @jdlasicaContact him at jdlasica@gmail.com.

This story originally appeared at MediaShift Idea Lab.

idea lab small logoMediaShift Idea Lab is a group blog by innovators who are reinventing community news for the digital age. Read more, follow on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can sign up for the Idea Lab Daily email newsletter.

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