A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

King of the Location Based Mountain- Foursquare vs. Gowalla, Loopt, Yelp, RallyUp, Plyce…

Since their 2009 launches at the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW), two unique startups-Foursquare, and Gowalla have become the biggest players in the still emerging niche of location based services.  While it remains to be seen whether or not the market will support more than one location based service, judging by the number and growth of users, participation by large corporations (Starbucks ), celebrities (Ashton Kutcher ) small businesses (DC’s own Town Tavern ), politicians (Patrick Kennedy, D-AL) and usability across mobile platforms, Foursquare is the leader of the pack. Other competitors include Loopt , Yelp , the more privacy conscious  Rally Up , Europe’s Plyce and whatever Facebook decides to do.

For a quick primer on Foursquare in 118 seconds- Checkout this excellent video from HowCast:

As for the long term potential and adaptability of Foursquare as a useful tool for public relations campaigns in business or politics, with Morgan Stanley now predicting that mobile internet will be bigger than desktop internet in 5 years, any business, public relations professional or political candidate who fails to utilize location based services may soon find themselves at  a significant competitive disadvantage when it comes to building and maintaining relationships with the tech savvy linchpins among their clients, customers and constituents.

In terms of why Foursquare came to become the leader of the pack, three often overlooked factors have come together in their favor:


I.   Branding Matters. One of the most overlooked factors in Foursquare’s success is the name itself.

Considering the success and popularity of anything associated with the 80s and early 90s- Just about every “Millennial” has at least one story of Foursquare glory on the playground. In this regard, Foursquare’s awarding of badges, (think merit badges from Cub Scouts / Girl Scouts) points and mayor-ships were brilliant ideas. As a Millennial myself, I can attest to the fact that by activating these positive associations of childhood playground fun versus ones current ambitions, and desire for future success and recognition  among their peers , Foursquare starts off with a significant advantage over Gowalla for the simple reason that it is much easier to understand, explain and most importantly remember what Foursquare is.  “Have you tried/ are you on Gowalla?”  Is awkward to type, let alone explain in casual conversation.

II. Cross platform availability. Foursquare is available on Blackberry, Palm, Iphone and Android based devices, Gowalla is not.

As 42.1% of smartphone users have a Blackberry, it is astonishing and possibly fatal that Gowalla has not launched a Blackberry application of their own. Although Gowalla does have a Blackberry optimized mobile site, which does load on my Verizon Blackberry Storm2, the interface is choppy and less user friendly than Foursquare’s Blackberry app. Gowalla’s messages boards are also full of users complaining about compatibility with older Blackberry devices. (To their credit, Gowalla does provide an open forum for complains and responds too many of them.)

III.  On Creativity, Foursquare wins.

Wouldn’t you like to be the first, or maybe second to check in at the North Pole?

How about reading the Financial Times for Free?

Feeling shy or lost on your first day of school?

Enjoy a free cup of coffee?

If the answer to any or all of these questions is ‘yes’, well there is an app for that.

IV.    Loopt, Yelp, Rally Up, Plyce, etc…

In terms of the number of users and overall buzz, Foursquare is in the lead. Of the competition, particularly interesting is Rally Up- which seeks to overcome some of the issues raised by sites such as PleaseRobMe.com by eliminating Twitter integration in favor of connecting you to your ‘real’ friends on Facebook. While Loopt and Yelp are compatible with the Blackberry, Rally Up is not. Plyce has some taken some of the better aspects of Gowalla and added features such as a wall to post pictures and video as well as the ability to chat with your friends inside the app.  While these new services are certainly worth watching, in the meantime adding Foursquare to your social media portfolio is an easy and effective way to promote your business and improve public relations.

Oscar Sunday Gets Social on Facebook

As most of you may know, this Sunday is the 82nd Academy Awards.  While I’m not happy with some of the retro changes (let’s be honest and say that the ten Best Pic nominees could’ve been whittled down to four films, including one that was completely overlooked, The Informant) we’ll see in this weekend’s ceremony, I thought it was worth pointing out some new social media promotion tactics the Academy is trying out this year.

For the first time, the Oscars will broadcast red carpet coverage online, thanks to their partnership with Facebook, and will give users like you a chance to ask your favorite actor a question.  According to their page:

“We know you’re used to seeing stars at the Academy Awards®, but now for the very first time you can get involved! Oscar.com has partnered with Facebook to bring you Oscar.com Live from the Red Carpet, a very special online pre-show that allows you to watch the stars walk the Red Carpet and answer questions from fans like you. Yes, you read that right!

Join hosts Lisa Guerrero and Brett Chukerman as they cover all the action unfolding outside the Kodak Theater. Using your Facebook account, you can send a message to them on the Red Carpet, and they’ll pass along the best questions and comments in real time to the stars that sashay by. But that’s not all! Rico Rodriguez (Manny from the ABC hit comedy Modern Family) will also be on hand to meet and interview fans in attendance, as they experience all the glitz and glamour right from the Red Carpet.”

For viewers who like options and have either Facebook or Twitter log-ins, they can go to APLive and see streaming coverage there as well.   APLive is also making this available on their Facebook page, but users will have to become a fan in order to see the coverage, so it’ll be interesting to see if the 1,373 fans of the page jumps to a significantly higher number over the weekend** (See update).   This streaming event is the first of many for the year-long partnership between APLive and Livestream.

If you really feel like you need more connection to this year’s awards, there are a few iPhone Apps available for download for this (again, let’s be honest) very crowded awards year.   One thing I probably will be checking out this weekend is Adam Shankman’s Twitter feed, one of the two being promoted on Oscar.com.

I don’t want to sound pessimistic or snobby.  There were some great films this year and I’ll take a moment to throw out my top picks for Best Picture:

  1. Up (Pixar just knows how to pull at the heartstrings)
  2. Inglorious Basterds
  3. The Informant (what movie? Netflix it when it comes out later this month)
  4. An Education (probably my pick of the year)
  5. Honorable Mention: Drag Me to Hell (I’m not being cute here. It really is a great film.)

Update:  We all know the winner’s from last night’s ceremony.  Another Update**: AP Live’s Facebook page now has 7,672 fans.

The Who Rocks Facebook with Name That Riff

The Who - Name That Riff Main Pic I’m not a big fan of the majority of available widgets, apps, and games that bombard Facebook.  Most are garbage in my opinion, and do nothing other than clutter your profile or page.

The problem is many of these widgets were built with the old school marketing mentality of “if we build it, they will come.’”

The truth is, Facebook widgets fail for the following reasons: 

  • They provide zero value, and do nothing but act as bulletin boards for a product or brand.
  • There is no level of engagement  that relates to the user.
  • They rely on a flashy gimmicky presence to create a viral whirlwind.
  • The existing culture and loyalty of the brand was never taken into consideration.

So when I came across The Who’s Facebook game, Name That Riff, I was skeptical. Being a big Who fan, my concern was their game would fall into the above reasons of Facebook widget purgatory. That wouldn’t be the case.

Name That Riff works.

The game provides loyal fans an opportunity to show off their knowledge of The Who.  The design is strong and fits in the visual identity the band has built since the 60’s. Most importantly the game is simple and doesn’t take much time.

  • You are given 17 music clips to listen to.
  • You must choose from 3 answers and have 30 seconds per clip.
  • Like the bar quiz games, the quicker you answer, the more points you rack up.
  • You are allowed three chances to improve your score.

The Who - Share on ProfileThis game picks songs from the entire Who archive.  Also songs start at random places to throw you off.  I fancy myself as a knowledgeable Who fan, but I tripped up at some of their selections.  Once done you can publish your score on your profile and in your news feed.  You can also compare your score with your friends on Facebook or globally.

The word of mouth aspect is very clever.

Players are urged to challenge their friends. Doing so opens up bonus rounds that you can play to improve your score. And unlike other apps that rely on you spamming random friends, you’ll want to share it with other Who fans.

The Creative Corporation, who built this game, did their homework, and it shows. They took into account, what fans of The Who love, their music. By providing a simple but entertaining widget that people will want to use and share, they are successful.  It appears that Name That Riff was just released on TheWho.com, so it will be interesting to see how well it does.

Incidentally, if I happen to win the customized American Standard Stratocaster, I’ll let you know!

Tech Geek Myth Busted: Top Ten Ways Technology Boosts Your Social Life

Image by Flickr user Extra Ketchup In 2006, a popular study by experts at Duke University and the University of Arizona concluded new technologies have been making loners of us since 1985. Earlier this month, this theory was challenged and perhaps debunked. New technologies actually increase our social interactions, not our isolation, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found.

Pew’s deep research came up with a variety of causes and conclusions to support their hypothesis, but in my opinion, here are their most interesting finds:

10. There’s been no significant jump in the number of truly isolated Americans. While the study did support the idea the number of many Americans’ social connections may have gotten smaller and less diverse in the last 30 years, there are two important caveats: First, new technologies actually combat, rather than cause, this trend. Second, roughly the same number – six percent – of the American public is completely isolated from others in 1985 and now.

9. Web users are more likely to seek counsel outside their own family. “Whereas only 45% of Americans discuss important matters with someone who is not a family member, internet users are 55% more likely to have a non-kin discussion partners,” the study reports.

8. Many 18-22-year-olds use social networking to keep in contact with nearly all of their key contacts. Pew found 30 percent of those 18-22 — the age group most likely to use social networks — use those networks to keep in touch with 90 percent or more of their “key influentials.”

7. Internet users like clubs. If you own a cell phone, use the internet at work or blog, you’re more likely to join a voluntary group, on or offline. These can include neighborhood associations, sports leagues, youth groups and social clubs.

6. Technology users have more “core” friends in their discussion networks. “On average, the size of core discussion networks is 12 percent larger amongst cell phone users, 9 percent larger for those who share photos online, and 9 percent bigger for those who use instant messaging,” Pew reported.

5. Web users leave their rooms. Contrary to the iconic image of a lone blogger on a couch sans sunlight in a basement apartment, it turns out internet users are 42 percent more likely to visit a public park or plaza and 45 percent more likely to frequent coffee shops than non-users.

4. Cell phone and web users make better neighbors. Whether or not you own a cell phone or use the internet makes no difference in the amount of time you spend face-to-face with your neighbors, however, 10 percent of internet users supplement their face time with personal emails. When online neighborhood discussion groups are considered, 60 percent of users “know ‘all or most’ of their neighbors,” compared to the average 40 percent.

3. Technology users seek conversation outside their marriage. If you use the internet at all, you’re 38 percent less likely to rely exclusively on a spouse as a discussion confidant, the study found. Use instant messaging? You’re 36 percent less likely than other internet users and 59 percent less likely than non-internet users.

2. Sharing those family vacation photos online might make you more politically open minded. “Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party,” the study showed. 

1. Bloggers have more racially diverse friends. Pew found those who use the internet frequently and especially those who maintain a blog are “much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race.”

Federal Government and Social Media

It is day two of the O’Reilly Gov 2.0 Summit, and I had an interesting conversation at lunch with a person who works in a well known US federal agency.  I’m not going to share this person’s name or agency since I don’t want this person to get unwanted attention.

This person follows the the following maxim when it comes to new experiments: “It is sometimes easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”  This is in reference to how this person set up a Facebook page for their particular department.  Further, he/she also follows retweets about how members of the public react to interacting with the agency.  If they find someone who has a question, the agency provides an answer via twitter.

I was surprised that this person seems to enjoy a degree of freedom that I did not expect one could have in the bureaucratic federal government.  This person mentioned that while he/she and his/her boss are “uncomfortable” for a week or two after starting something like a department Facebook page without permission, they have been vindicated.  Of course, that’s if what they do succeeds; they would be in trouble if something they do fails.

I applaud this person’s initiative and willingness to trail blaze.  Of course, I understand that there is judgment required when trying new strategies out.  It is one thing to send someone to a useful webpage via twitter than it is to divulge sensitive information over a non-government network.  Further, I understand the comfort and protection of waiting to get permission before experimenting, but nonetheless I wish this person success.  Hopefully, he/she will help inspire federal agencies to use social media more to serve the public better.