Ever wondered why your friends are incessantly letting the world know where they are ‘checking-in,’ be it a restaurant, club, or even their homes? Well, welcome to the world of geosocial networking. As the name implies, it is a form of social networking that integrates the current locations of users. It enables users to integrate their social networks locally, encouraging coordination of local events and assists in connecting like-minded individuals or groups. Geolocation on web-based mediums can either be IP-based or through the usage of hotspots (Wi-Fi). In the case of mobile social networks, mobile phone tracking or texted location information opens up location-based services. Web mapping services paired with geocoding data for places (such as streets, commercial complexes, parks, residential areas, etc.) can be utilized in tandem with geotagged information (such as events, concerts, nightclub/restaurant reviews, etc.) to promote social networking amongst a set of users.
Applications such as Yelp, Foursquare, and Gowalla have already successfully cashed in on the recent geosocial trend with differing results. These applications go a step further by allowing users to share locations as well as recommendations for a particular restaurant/club/venue across a host of different social networking mediums. Geosocial networking has huge repercussions for a number of fields. For the vast potential, it offers event planners in terms of organization, communications, and tracking of events.
A mobile ad-hoc network can be set up with minimal effort amongst a group of mobile devices in the same local area connected to a master device. The mobile ad-hoc enables free communication within the network. This sort of social networking is used mostly during events enabling the host (operating the master device) to share relevant information, personal suggestions, or discount coupons specific to the event. Examples include Apple’s iGroups and Hot Potato. Geosocial networking has huge implications for disaster situations as it enables people in hazard zones to communicate (during say an earthquake, tsunami, etc.). A sort of collective awareness can be brought about during such critical circumstances with the use of geosocial networks.
With the advent of social mapping, users now have relevant information about the surrounding social spheres, be it restaurants, stores, commercial complexes, etc., available to them in the palm of their hands. Users can utilize their profiles in order to rate, share, and post about venues that they visit, as and when they visit them. These networks rely on mobile location tracking and can prove useful in directing users to and from venues (using GPS services). A prime example of such would be Google’s Ogle Earth. Paperless ticketing as the name implies replaces the use of tickets with the use of smartphones. An example of this would be iTravel, Apple’s recently acquired patent for a travel ticketing app.
Social shopping services enable users to create profiles allowing them to collect relevant information on products/services that they may be interested in. Users can create virtual shopping lists, with some social shopping sites having gone to the extent of even featuring products and entering tie-ups with producers (who pay for their products to be featured). Sites have gone so far as to allow users to add their credit card number so their purchases are automatically checked in. In an attempt to promote their brands, a handful of fashion houses have placed sensors (to track customers) in their stores so as to encourage users to physically be in the store and gather points. Examples of this include ThisNext, Shopkick and Do Together.
The fast food industry is gradually coming to embrace the geosocial networks at their disposal. Many players encourage users to choose the ingredients of their order, name it, and are awarded points for every order based on their suggestion. Customers are given discounts and coupons for their involvement and the restaurant receives more customers.
Facebook versus Google
Facebook recently introduced its own geolocational offering in the form of Facebook Places. In fact, Facebook has shown a healthy interest in geolocational networks over the past year. After introducing their Facebook Places barely a year ago, the company has now shown renewed interest in integrating geolocational services in their product. Facebook and Gowalla representatives have confirmed the purchase of Gowalla by Facebook earlier this month. Probably bad news if you’re a Gowalla user and enjoy their services as Facebook has a history of devouring startups to get to the heart of them – the developers.
Early reports claimed Facebook had acquired the check-in service outright. However, the Gowalla mobile app will be closed in January when its Austin-based staff will relocate to California. The recent acquisition of the Gowalla team has fuelled rumors that Facebook is perhaps putting them to use on their new Timeline campaign. Facebook seems to be intent upon incorporating geolocation stealthily on other features rather than market it as a distinct service.
Google has recently launched a website called Schemer (very much along the lines of Foursquare). While it is still relatively new, the website lists a number of affiliates such as Rolling Stone, The Food Network and National Geographic. How they fit into the picture is as yet unclear. Given Facebook and Google’s recent interest in the field, one is led to believe that the geolocational playground could easily turn into the next battlefield for the two tech giants.
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About Rudra Sen
An alumnus of the University of Sussex, Rudra is fascinated by history, culture and technology. He’s known to abruptly act like a hipster in the most unlikely of situations. On wwwireframe, he writes about how technology has and is impacting our lives. In his words, “Good stuff.”