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The Evolution of Location-Aware Services: From “Check In” to “Check Out”
Thursday, March 15th, 2012 | Comments | Latest Posts

Highlight AppYou’ve probably heard by now that location-aware apps were the Next Big Thing at SXSWi this year. Highlight, Banjo, Glancee, and other “ambient location” apps are designed to not only tell you who you might know nearby, but also provide information about those people. These apps don’t tell you where to be, but provide information about who else is near where you are.

Most of the hot new location-aware apps are designed to help you discover and connect with people, not places. This may be somewhat counterintuitive given the apps’ focus on location. Still, people often form the foundation of where we want to be, so it’s only natural that location-aware apps should start with who, not what. Eventually, though, I think we’ll see location-aware services begin to recommend the places you should check out right now, based on your friends and interests.

Foursquare Radar is starting down this path by providing alerts of nearby friend checkins, as well as places you might want to be based on previously selected interests. This is the first step in the evolution from “checking in” to recommendations about what’s worth “checking out” right now, based on your friends, interests, and connections. The “up-and-coming” ambient location apps do seem to be all about people thus far, so Foursquare might have an advantage if it can focus on places (and/or events).

Regardless of where they head, though, location-aware services prove the value of mobile for providing us the information we need in the moment, when we can act on it. A GigaOm article emphasizes this aspect when it comes to Highlight (emphasis added):

Highlight is not about meeting people, [Highlight CEO Paul] Davison says. It’s about being able to walk into a room and know the people you share friends or interests with. What you do with that knowledge is up to you, but it’s not meant to be the starting point to some sort of pickup line.

Mobile provides the information, people act–just how it should be. But how long until apps like Highlight stop being social and become corporate? DVWLR is already proposing this (emphasis added):

Highlight currently shows people with whom you’re connected and are nearby. Replace “people” with “businesses” and you can see a long river of money that flows from an enormous ocean of money.

I think as soon as ambient location apps become about where companies want you to be, rather than where people organically are, they’ll start to decline. Or is that already happening? How do you use location-aware services, if at all? What would make you start using apps like Highlight if you’re not already?

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