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Location – creative opportunities

In the digerati round-ups of 2010, location or where 2.0 will be one of the key positive highlights of the year, with their being a real neck-and-neck race for a little while between Foursquare and Gowalla. In truth, location has been a long train running: almost a decade ago I used to represent an advertising network that used a computer’s IP address to work out what country an advert was being viewed from and vend localised inventory to them.

By the time I was at Yahoo!, developer Dan Catt was already doing interesting things with geotagging (as it was then called) and eventually given a job working at flickr. He also hosted an early blog on the phenomena at geobloggers.com.

Yahoo! also had an early experiment going on in geotagging images as it happened called ZoneTag. Allowing early adopters to use a Bluetooth-enabled GPS dongle alongside your phone so that accurate location data could be loaded up with the image to flickr. You could also put a descriptive tag in like ‘sanfranciscoairport’. The company also bought Whereonearth; a GIS information provider that previously worked with insurance companies and the like on enterprise systems. They had some smart technologies around neighbourhoods that could have improved local search and a global location database. Not sure what eventually happened with all those smarts.

Around about the same time Google bought a small start-up called Dodgeball and one of the co-founders Dennis Crowley then went on to found Foursquare.

This was a couple of years before Nokia started putting GPS units inside phones and cell-tower location triangulation services like Skyhook were used by applications and device manufacturers.

Yahoo! also had an interesting project championed by Tom Coates called Fire Eagle which acted as a kind of middleware platform for location and for a while an eco-system of services and applications formed around it, with early support from travel social network Dopplr – in a similar way to to the eco-system of developers that formed around flickr in 2004-2006.

Fire Eagle was particularly smart in the way it gave the user control over the granularity of information that you published; a smart approach to privacy that other services haven’t managed to beat. (I presume that its no longer being supported as the last post on the project blog was from May 6, 2009).

From a client marketing perspective location-based services provide a great opportunity and a potential threat, so they need to be at the very least acknowledge the potential of location. At the very least location offers straight location-based advertising opportunities that retailers and restaurants have been using.

Brands such as Louis Vuitton, Wall Street Journal and MTV have the locative equivalent of sponsored or brand content deals in place with Foursquare and even NASA has been raising their profile on Foursquare.

There are also below-the-line options available as well. Google Maps pulls photographs that have been geotagged to a specific location as part of its venue reviews. That’s an easy win to start off with. Notating the tips around an organisations venues on Foursquare again is an easy win. More creative uses that these services could be put to use for include:

  • Competitor de-positioning: Since you are at venue X have you tried venue Y’s products/services/experience? Find out more on their web site at y.com
  • Talent acquisition: Working at venue X? Did you know people at venue Y earn more and get to work on Z cool stuff? Check out careers.y.com
  • B2B brand discovery: Speed Communications director Stephen Waddington has pointed out on the tips sections of many restaurants and coffee shops in the Leicester Square area, that their offices are nearby. A bit more of a reach relying on serendipity but it’s free to do so I guess no harm, no foul

The big question that people are asking around this are is will Facebook ‘kill’ the sector? I am sure that it’ll try very hard, since Facebook sees itself as a general purpose social network; but I don’t think that it will succeed in the same way that Facebook has become a large depository for pictures, but hasn’t killed Photobucket or flickr which continue to do well within their niche.

What’s next series of posts
Just media – drop the social
Augmented reality – use sparingly
Community management

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