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.