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Technology Aside, Most People Still Decline to Be Located

31 августа 2010

Internet companies have appropriated the real estate business’s mantra — it’s all about location, location, location.

But while a home on the beach will always be an easy sell, it may be more difficult to persuade people to start using location-based Web services.

Big companies and start-ups alike — including Google, Foursquare, Gowalla, Shopkick and most recently Facebook — offer services that let people report their physical location online, so they can connect with friends or receive coupons.

Venture capitalists have poured $115 million into location start-ups since last year, according to the National Venture Capital Association, and companies like Starbucks and Gap have offered special deals to users of such services who visited their stores.

But for all the attention and money these apps and Web sites are getting, adoption has so far been largely confined to pockets of young, technically adept urbanites. Just 4 percent of Americans have tried location-based services, and 1 percent use them weekly, according to Forrester Research. Eighty percent of those who have tried them are men, and 70 percent are between 19 and 35.

“Ever since mobile phones and location technology got started, there have been conversations about the potential for doing something really incredible with this for marketers,” said Melissa Parrish, an interactive marketing analyst at Forrester. “But clearly the question is whether it has reached the mainstream, and it looks like the answer is no.”

Foursquare, for example, which lets people “check in” to public places on their phones and let their friends know where they are, has close to three million users, most of them in cities. Loopt, a similar service, has four million users, about a quarter of whom actively use it. Compare that with Twitter, which has 145 million registered users.

This month, Facebook introduced Places, which adds some Foursquare-like features to its social network. If Places catches on with Facebook’s 500 million users, many think it could bring location-sharing to the masses.

“Clearly location is not yet mainstream — it’s still a younger-demographic phenomenon — but if anyone can change it, Facebook will,” said Sam Altman, chief executive of Loopt.

For now, many people say sharing their physical location crosses a line, even if they freely share other information on the Web.

Some users of Foursquare like the spontaneous social gatherings it can inspire, or the way it keeps friends informed of one’s nightlife exploits. But people who are not frequent bar-hoppers need other reasons to check in. The companies that make location-based services are working to add incentives that they hope will reel in a bigger audience.

Sharing location becomes a simple cost-benefit analysis for most people, said Matt Galligan, chief executive of SimpleGeo, which sells location technology to companies building apps. “There has to be an incentive for giving away very specific information, like coupons or points.”

Shopkick, which became available this month, offers coupons to people when they walk into stores like Best Buy and Macy’s. The application allows users to share their location just with the store and not with other people, and is making inroads with a broader demographic.

Foursquare hit upon the idea of allowing people to become “mayor” of places they visit most frequently, touching off competitions among users. Now it is teaming up with big companies and small stores so people see special offers when they check in, whether they are in Brooklyn or Milwaukee.

The company has signed promotional deals like a recent one with the History Channel, which sends users historical facts when they check in at a landmark.

Источник: NY Times

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