If there’s one takeaway from this year’s South by Southwest Interactive, it’s that location-based mobile apps and social networks are coming on stronger than ever, with numerous launches and new services making their debut during the four day festival in Austin, Texas.
While a few lesser-known services made themselves known, it was Foursquare and Gowalla who stole the spotlight. In a brand new mobile niche, the two companies are entrenched in a “location war,” culminating at this year’s SXSWi with each company vying for the most “check-ins” from its growing user base.
Not to be left out, others in the mobile location game were front and center, including the likes of Loopt, Booyah, Yelp, Where.com, MyTown and Brightkite- all featuring similar geosocial networking with the omnipresent “check-in” functionality intact. The latter of which, Bightkite, made waves with the announcement of its upcoming launch of “Check.in,” a unique Web app and soon-to-be native app to allow users to check-in to numerous services in fell swoop. With a growing number of services, it’ll likely prove to be a very welcomed addition to the ecosystem, though others are sure to follow.
With the geosocial aspect just now taking hold, the concept is centered more around the game of checking-in, and has yet to produce a solid business model, but location startups are beginning to leverage their unique stance in the market to inject a layer of mobile advertising to make things interesting for both users and local advertisers.
These startups are beginning to ink partnership deals to allow users incentives for checking in at certain locations, melding mobile advertising with the growing popularity of the gaming aspect of their networks. The key will be integrating the two effectively. Jay Adelson, CEO of Digg, expressed his criticism of the idea in an interview with CNN, saying “I think it’s yet to find its sweet spot in terms of being practical enough to live beyond the fun of the game. When the game gets boring, if you want to keep people using it there has to be some inherent value.”
Integrating highly targeted advertising might be the missing link in providing the inherent value. “The idea that maybe if I check in some place I get a free drink or something? OK … now it’s starting to really get interesting,” continued Adelson. “That’s the kind of stuff I think in the next 12 months you’re going to start seeing.”