GPS-aware mobile devices have become commonplace, which means connecting the dots between what you’re doing and where you’re doing it is easier than ever.
In 2009, location-sharing applications finally emerged in user-friendly formats, altering the way we think about where we are and helping us understand more of the meaning behind the data in aggregate.
Technology early adopters showed a predilection towards mobile location-based games, discovering that check-ins could mean something and that being the mayor of a venue might earn them a free drink. Now that businesses are actively exploring the opportunities that these location-aware services provide, we’ll see location matter more than ever in 2010.
1. Facebook Status Updates Will Become Location-Aware
The writing is on the wall. Facebook () is the world’s largest social network, and for the first time ever it was the most trafficked web site on Christmas day in the United States. If anyone is poised to make a big move in the location-space in the new year its Facebook.
Facebook is already encouraging members to be more open. They made a bold and controversial move to alter the default settings around status updates in the hopes of making more Facebook updates public and searchable.
In the same spirit of openness, Facebook would certainly profit by implementing opt-in location-aware status updates. Knowing where your Facebook friends are grabbing a cup of coffee or catching a flick is a just as important, if not more so, than knowing that they’re doing it. So in much the same way that Foursquare () shows you check-ins from friends and people checked in at venues, Facebook could provide context around status updates in the wild, but on a much grander scale.
2. A Popular LBS App Will Be Acquired
Once considered merely novelty apps, location-based mobile applications and games have demonstrated clear value in 2009. Mobile and web users have finally demonstrated that they’re interested in sharing their locations (in the form of places or venues as opposed to lat/longs). With the right privacy settings or gaming incentives, services are catering to businesses who are now offering location-based deals, and aggregating data around where people congregate is becoming increasingly desirable.
When those factors are combined with the crop of applications who get location-sharing right, and an economy on the upswing, you get an environment ripe for acquisitions.
So, who looks good for acquisition? Loopt. While Loopt is still struggling to make up ground in the blogosphere after losing buzz to newcomers with a focus on gaming, like Foursquare and Gowalla (), the company has made huge improvements to their iPhone app (and introduced BlackBerry and Android () apps).
Loopt has even adopted a check-in model, added tips to place pages, and will explore additional gaming functionality as well. In fact, their recent acquisition of GraffitiGeo is what gave rise to the new Tips functionality. Since GraffitiGeo also includes badges and “Street Cred” to measure identity and encourage participation, you can certainly expect similar elements to make their way into Loopt in 2010. Clearly the Loopt of today is drastically different from the Loopt of years past.
What makes Loopt extremely attractive, however, is their massive user base which includes millions across more than 100 different mobile devices. Loopt dwarfs the competition in this arena.
And who will be in an aquiring mood? Two big companies come to mind: Google () and Microsoft.
When looking at the events of the last year, Google has shown clear interest in location, especially with the introduction of Latitude, which bears a striking resemblance to previous iterations of Loopt (i.e., primarily map based, and not place-specific).
Unfortunately, Google is already way behind in the location space. Even with the addition of location history and friend alerts, Latitude is lackluster and still without a native iPhone app. But, Google has shown a propensity of late towards acquiring companies that give them a competitive advantage in a yet untapped space.
Whether or not Google buys Loopt, everything points towards Google taking big leaps on the location front in 2010. We know they were interested in buying Yelp (), and we know that they’re more actively trying to expose their Place Pages product, even encouraging locales to use QR code window decals so patrons can look up information on that particular venue on the spot (and perhaps check-in at a later date?). It’s certainly not a stretch then to assume that Google is interested in further assimilating the Latitude and Place Pages products into a more full-fledged location and recommendation service centered around places. An acquisition like Loopt would help them connect the dots much faster.
Microsoft could also make a play to become recognizable in the location space. They’ve yet to make a splash, but they do have an excellent maps application (especially as a part of their Bing iPhone app), and they tend to try and compete with Google at every possible juncture.
One company that we probably won’t see get snatched up in 2010 is Foursquare. They’re currently riding high on buzz, building up a user base in populous metros, and looking to expand worldwide. While they may be ripe for acquisition, history tells us that Foursquare’s co-founders will want to stay independent. Their previous product, Dodgeball () — a mobile location-based game ahead of its time — was acquired by Google and all but ignored until its final demise.
We have noticed that Foursquare and Twitter () have become quite close, most likely because Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s creater, is an investor, so we do expect more synergies to develop between the two companies in the coming year.
3. Twitter Will Build Their Own LBS app
In 2009 Twitter beefed up their product. Deciding that some things shouldn’t be left to third-party developers, Twitter modified their simple yet powerful platform in a few unexpected ways. We’ve seen the addition of a formal standard for retweets, powerful new Twitter Lists functionality, and even a mobile client of their own. In 2010, we expect that Twitter will continue down this path and build a location app of their own.
Twitter’s already laid the foundation when it comes to location. In September Twitter became location-aware, with opt-in settings enabling Twitterers to tag their tweets with their location. Then in November, Twitter announced a Trends API, opening up trending data specific to locations (i.e., trending places) to developers.
Twitter’s recent acquisition of Mixer Labs is the most telling indication that they’re exploring building their own location-aware applications. Mixer Labs, who’s popular GeoAPI service does reverse geocoding to identify places, supports a places finder for the 16 million business-strong database, and includes media layers to add context — think Flickr () photos, YouTube () videos, even Foursquare check-ins — to neighborhoods.
Twitter will certainly pass along this souped-up geo offering to developers at a cost similar to GeoAPI’s pricing scheme, but they could also be planning to build their own app for even more lucrative opportunities.
One such application we envision would be a feature addition that is rolled up into Twitter’s business services. So as a paying business user of Twitter, your dashboard view could show you valuable context around location-aware tweets happening in or near your place of business.
4. Location Sharing Will Become Ubiquitous
In some ways location is already ubiquitous. It’s already built in to most of our favorite applications. When we use Yelp’s mobile app, we can find nearby restaurants. If we share our location with Flixster () on our mobile devices, the app shows us movies and theaters that are within a certain radius. Even Evernote () tags notes created on mobile devices with location metadata so that if you want to find notes you created in a certain place, you can.
Location is relevant in almost any equation, which means applications, web sites, and services will push to integrate even more location functionality. A Google search for something like “food” already returns local place results based on your IP address. Are we that far off from the same search returning both places as well as real-time tweets from people nearby on food? The answer to that question is a definite no.
As we move into 2010, the value of shared location data will only be as strong as the quantity of people sharing location-aware updates. Twitter, Foursquare, Loopt, Gowalla, Google and potentially Facebook will help contribute to the tide that pushes more people into the sea of location-sharing.
5. Location Will Be Both Media Darling and Cautionary Tale
Those of us who have been using Twitter for some time have followed the course of the micro medium’s macro coverage in the news. Before 2009, and even up through the first few months of the year, Twitter was gravely misunderstood by the mainstream media.
One thing was apparent: Twitter was changing the pace of news, becoming the platform for citizen journalism, usurping the entertainment media’s hold over celebrity news, and evolving into a medium for businesses to set up shop.
As such, the media came a calling, at first with extreme consternation and disdain. But as the stories continued to flood in, they started appearing as headline and front-page stories. Eventually the mainstream media changed their tone. Expect the same course of events to follow the location-based service and application space in 2010. Location will make headlines in 2010.
It’s the nature of the mainstream media to show up late to the party, so while Foursquare and Gowalla continue to make headlines in the blogosphere, those services aren’t getting the same coverage in newspapers or airplay on TV. This will change in 2010. We can expect location-sharing to be both mocked and celebrated in the new year. Stories of location-sharing gone wrong will be described as cautionary tales for those who live their lives too openly. Those stories will be followed by general interest pieces on the value of connecting through location, or success stories highlighting businesses able to capitalize on location-based services.