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.

Social TV Draws Developers’ Attention

tv Many attempts have been made to blend the electronic “hearth” of most living rooms – the television – with the computer, and Saturday’s release of the iPad may have brought us one step closer to a child-hybrid of these two lifestye home-bases.

With the massive iPad release, developers at every level of the iPhone app hierarchy are vying for ways to capitalize on the new gadget and its market share, with some speculating on how it will change the game for social TV.

MTV networks is working on branded applications that will “capture the social-media chatter around TV and awards shows and apps for video on the go,” according to AdAge.

The apps will also allow users to log on to a forum while watching the same show. MTV is hoping the iPad’s lightweight size and mobility will make it easier to access than a laptop, and allow for more flexibility and visual display than a smart phone.

"People will be more receptive to typing. It’s early, but you’re going to see in the next 12 to 18 months a series of start-ups experimenting in new ways to layer digital on the TV experience," said Somrat Niyosi, CEO at the app developer Bazaar Labs, in his interview with AdAge.

Of course, other attempts at creating a catch-all media center have been in the works for quite awhile. This year, voice and chat giant Skye, which is already edging out the need for LAN line telephones, will launch Skype-enabled televisions, which will allow you to type, talk and video conference right on your TV.

Despite most cable providers and even gaming consoles allowing ways to access the internet (or parts of it), it seems the efforts to ad comprehensive computer and web tools to television is a slow-moving field.

Advances such as the iPad, the TVChatter App for iPhone, and streaming options from major networks and Netflix, indicate the computer world is likely to overthrow its wall-mounted media opponent, unless the two can parent a functional combination that works for all.

The Power of Chat Roulette

Chat Roulette is a fascinating and bizarre new website that enables visitors to randomly chat with strangers around the world via webcam.  The concept for the site is dead simple – you visit the homepage, click Play, and all of sudden you are dumped into a one on one conversation with a random stranger.  If you are horrified by or bored with your chat partner, you simply click Stop and move on to the next person.

Recently, Chat Roulette has hit the big time, with usage skyrocketing and mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post devoting ink to the site, which launched in November.  I’ve used Chat Roulette a few times now myself, mostly as an experiment, and like everyone else I’m equal parts fascinated and horrified.  While Chat Roulette supposedly bans pornography, you will undoubtedly come across some nudity if you use the site long enough.  You’ll also run into some fringe societal elements, and have great conversations with some interesting people you would never come across otherwise.

The power here is in the randomness of it, and in the connections you can make.  Every time you switch to a new chat partner it is like opening a present.  It may be a horrible present, but it’s still fun to open and see what is there.  In a world where sites like Facebook and LinkedIn force us to build networks and define our relationships, there is a real power in a site like Chat Roulette that allows you to experience life outside your sphere.

I also think it is inevitable that the chat roulette concept will be appropriated.  Why not start a Chat Roulette that connects people around common interests instead of being entirely random?  Maybe cat lovers?   Why not build functionality into your website that allows visitors to enter into random chats with other people visiting the same site at the same time?  There seem to be lots of possibilities to me, and it seems like the concept, if not the Chat Roulette site itself, could be one of the Internet’s next big things.

I could be wrong.  Chat Roulette could be a one hit wonder that fades away after the novelty wears off.  But to me it looks like the creators have happened on a very powerful and useful way for people to connect with each other, which is ultimately what the Internet is all about.

Social Action Networks Defined – Doing Your Homework

SAN_Homework When we last talked about Social Action Networks,  we identified the specific characteristics that define a SAN and what how they differ from an online community.  Today we are going to share the steps you should take before you even start planning what you SAN will look like and what it will do.

So grab a note pad, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to work:

  • Think up of a name – This may seem an obvious choice, but take some time to consider the options. Do you want your SAN to have the same name as your main website? Do you want it to stand out on it’s own?
  • Grab a few domain names – You might have the best name for your SAN only to find out that domain name has been taken.
  • Write up a mission statement – Probably one of the most important elements to your SAN. This should be quick, concise, and sum up what your mission and SAN is about in one or  two sentences.
  • Start drafting your SAN guidelines – What about the rules? How will you deal with abusive members? What will you allow and not allow on your community?
  • Research – The first step in any social media endeavor is listening, and this holds true with SANs. Take the time to see what people are already talking about. Where are they talking? What are they sharing? What portals are they using? Are they more active on Facebook than anywhere else?
  • Engage with active communities – The social web is vast and it should come as no surprise that people are already going to be talking about the very subjects you plan to include in your SAN.  That’s fine. Become part and build relationships with these communities. Taking the time to do this will help when it comes to inviting people to join your SAN.
  • Start outlining what your Moderator’s responsibilities will be – if you think you can launch a SAN without some sort of moderation, you’re fooling yourself. It will be imperative to write out the Moderator’s responsibilities and their needs. These can always change, but don’t launch your SAN without doing this vital leg work.
  • What promotional plans do you have in the pipeline? – It will be bad to launch you SAN and then start thinking promotion. Do you already have a newsletter? If not start one now, and update readers on the status of your SAN. You might want to consider having just a splash page announcing your SAN with a projected date. Maybe even offer email newsletter sign up to anyone who wants to be invited to a private beta launch.

Come at your Social Action Network from a member’s perspective.

If you were a potential member of your SAN, what would you want to have on it? What content would you like to see? More importantly what would you need to keep you coming back?

It’s great if you SAN has over 500,000 members but if only one third of them are returning, then that isn’t really successful. You need to provide them the opportunity to express their opinions, and be part of the building process. 

Remember, the ultimate goal is to transform your member’s passions into obtainable action.

If you are not in a hurry to launch, then by all means, take your time. If you are up against a deadline , I would suggest do as much homework as you can before launch. It could make all the difference between a SAN that is successful, and one that fails.

In the next post we’ll talk about what solutions are available you can use to actually build your Social Action Network. Stay tuned.

Book Review: The New Rules of Marketing & PR

TNROM&PR David Meerman Scott was one of the first names I came across when I started this whole social media adventure.

At the time I was writing white papers and press releases for the launch of a new web site. This was something I had never done before, and I found the whole experience rather boring. If I was bored, then what I was writing had to be even worse.

There had to be a better way of doing this.

So, doing a quick search on marketing and PR I came across something called The Gobbledygook Manifesto. Immediately the light bulb went on, and  I connected with what David was trying say  – that things had changed.

“The web has transformed the rules, and you must transform your marketing to make the most of the Web-enabled market place of ideas.”

Recently, I received a copy of David’s revised edition of, The New Rules of Marketing & PR. I don’t read a lot of books on marketing, but this is a must have.

David’s book does a great job describing the old school marketing mentality, and why it was forced to change.  He stresses that companies, organizations, and people need to become creators of content. More importantly, that the content must have value to  the audience who now have significant influence on the success of a marketing campaign.

Having read many of David’s publications, I was pleased to discover new information in this revised edition. The big value is the case studies. David provides real life examples that cover just about any facet of business and niche. Including:

  • Why Zemoga gives flip cams to all their employees and customers.
  • The importance of a company blog, and why companies need to interact within the blogging community.
  • How CollectSPACE leveraged the importance of participating in community forums. (Notice I said participating, not promoting)
  • Why Wikis shouldn’t be overlooked.
  • What Conrete5 learned by providing their software for free.
  • How Mignon Fogarty’s podcasts helped sell her book.
  • Why groundbreaking, industry standard, and cutting-edge are words you should avoid in your press release.
  • That Search Engine Optimization isn’t just about keywords.
  • How the National Community Church has embraced the social web to reach thousands of people.
  • The new rules for finding a job.

“You can trigger a World Wide Rave, too – just create something valuable that people want to share, and make it easy for them to do so.”

A big thank you to David Meerman Scott for sending me a copy of his book, and for including the story on how I found my job here with The Bivings Group.

The New Rules of Marketing & PR provides a solid foundation for people who are having difficulty getting their heads around the social web. From CEOs to the entrepreneurs, anyone reading this book will come away with something they didn’t know before. It’s a great read and I highly recommend snagging a copy.