Location-based services (LBSs) have become one of the hottest and fastest growing sectors of social media. You’ve likely heard of a few of the popular location-based services such as Foursquare, Gowalla, and Yelp. And if you own a smartphone, you’ve probably downloaded at least one.
A location based service in this case refers to smartphone applications which utilize GPS in order to locate your device and provide some location-specific insight. In addition to providing useful information about venues and customer reviews, many of these apps have a social-gaming component to build user engagement. The gaming aspect comes in when the application rewards you for actions you take. Often these are as simple as acknowledging your location, also known as a “check-in”. Rewards can be virtual and usually consist of a picture or a badge to decorate your profile. Rewards could also come into the real world with fame or fortune (social notoriety or fiscal) by way of free or discounted goods/services, or having your name written on the menu board.
These social check-in sites have gotten a ton of buzz recently. Foursquare has been growing rapidly and is now up to 1.6 million users. Although the company is nowhere near profitability, there have been rumors of acquisition by both Yahoo  and Facebook . These sites also have their critics, such as Time Magazine which included Foursquare on its list of The 50 Worst Inventions , calling it “the next generation of creepy social networking” and “just another tool tapping into a generation of narcissism.”
I love Foursquare. My social graph on Foursquare is not nearly s large as on other platforms, but it has become one of my daily use social networks, second only to Facebook. As such, when Gowalla did a huge push at SXSW this year, I had to download it as well. This spawned a month long journey into the depths of location-based services, annoying my companions as I spent ten minutes checking in everywhere we went. I knew it was time to pick a winner and drop the rest when my fellow Search Agents made fun of me at dinner for checking in on 7 platforms. If my fellow online geek friends thought it was too much, maybe I had a LBS problem.
So, with the hope of saving you some pain and embarrassment, I’ve decided to publish my findings as the “Comprehensive Guide to Location-Based Social Media .” I’ve done my best to summarize the strengths and weaknesses of 12 different location-based social media sites, from the perspective of both the user and the marketer:
Social Check-in Sites
Social Review Sites
Social Scheduling Sites
Calling this the “comprehensive” guide probably doesn’t make much sense. Just in the time it took to research and write the paper, many of these sites launched new features and enhancements that I would have loved to include. And I undoubtedly left out a few sites that have either a niche following or are just starting to build some traction. Facebook was set to debut its own check-in functionality , but apparently shelved  it in the wake of their privacy brouhaha. Assuming Facebook will eventually launch its own service or partner with one (or more) of the leaders in locaton-based services, it goes without saying that Facebook has the scale and engagement to turn this entire market on its head.
In such a dynamic era of social media, I’d love to know what you think of these services. Which sites have you found to be most helpful? Do you find these check-in sites “creepy”, or do they have long-term applications we haven’t even considered?
Take a look at the white paper  and leave me a comment. I’m sure this journey is just beginning.