Location-based services (LBS) – like Foursquare, Gowalla, and Yelp – made a big splash last year as a fairly successful, yet niche, mobile tactic for brands aiming to reach consumers in the real-world. They are great platforms for rewarding loyalty, real-time consumer reviews & tips, and for those who like such a thing, keeping track of your friends/family. I’ve “played” Foursquare consistently for a year now and dabbled in the others – Gowalla, Yelp, Loopt, SCVNGR. There’s interesting potential with this sort of technology, particularly when integrated with placed-based signage. But as I’ve wandered over the last year, I’m left wondering if these technologies will stick and ultimately reach the average consumer. And more than that, what it will take for them to reach that point? Here are my chronicles.
What will drive mass adoption of location-based mobile technologies? Is it all about the game?
Although I’ve spent my last few days at SXSW, I wasn’t really at SXSW. Working the conference means that you operate in a bubble and even the big news rarely penetrates it. From what I hear, though, location and gamification are two of the most prevalent themes. This is important because SXSW is known as the launching pad for emerging trends and start-ups. I suspect Foursquare and SCVNGR – both emerging in their own right – will reap the benefits of being highly present at SXSW this year.
SCVNGR’s CEO, Seth Priebatsch, gave the keynote a few nights ago where he announced a new “game layer” on an already-interesting game platform. I wasn’t there, but it seemed like he gave a good overview of what’s wrong with the current location-based platforms (not enough people using them, tied to specific location, sparse rewards) and looked forward to what can make these types of technologies engaging and sticky. His answer, from all accounts, is tied to making the experience – er, life – more game-like. He didn’t unveil any specific features to SCVNGR that will enhance the experience, but he talked about a few concepts. Most interestingly, he talked about the concept of the “game layer.”
“The last decade was the decade of social — it took connections between friends, family, and coworkers and put them online. It’s called Facebook. The social layer traffics in connections.” Conversely, Priebatsch says that the Game layer traffics in influence — “It will influence where we go, what we do, and how we do it.”
I find this interesting on many fronts. Two, in particular, are:
1. The social layer is inherently influential. Word-of-mouth – offline & online – influences those around us, what they like, how they connect, and ultimately what they buy. I don’t see how making it a game changes the influence dynamic.
2. He, like many others I talk to in the world, think in terms of behaviors, not technology. Technology is a means to an end. It is becoming powerful enough to enable certain behaviors, but it’s certainly not the lead. Does the digital signage industry think in terms of behaviors or technology?
The one concept that he talked about that I don’t think I agree with much at all – he outlined how many of the principles we associate with games — levels, rules, rewards, motivated players, etc. — are exemplified by our school system. The problem, he says, is that school has an engagement issue: people are bored. I don’t think gamifying the school system is the answer. I think better teachers are the answers. Anyway….
All of this is rhetoric right now. SCVNGR, just like Foursquare, has had a nice little entry into the world. Certain groups of people have latched on. Some brands have, too.
But the question remains – what will drive mass adoption? And for the long-term?
Is it really adding another layer to life, this game layer?