Two years ago, when someone in mobile mentioned the word “location” the only thing that really came to mind was the GPS – remember that little device that talked to satelites and told you where you were and how to get where you wanted to go? It was all the rage in 2008.
Fast forward to 2011 and we are talking about a whole new world of location – fueled by the early leaders and early adopters around location-based check-in software (see my thoughts on that industry here) – but the underlying idea behind the technology is the same. The only real difference is that the GPS manufacturers used relatively static maps that provided a thin layer of areas of interest such as restaurants, gas stations, coffee shops and hotels while the check-in technologies have added a more social, real-time layer on top of geographic coordinates.
Today there are dozens if not hundreds of companies that are trying to make a go of it in the location space – with a good majority trying to build a company in the check-in world of Foursquare and Facebook. Location, as the GPS manufacturers have already noticed, is quickly and steadily heading towards commoditization which, if you are trying to build a business around it, is not good.
Is this industry doomed?
Given the meteoric rise and equivalent decline of the GPS business you would think location data is doomed but it isn’t – in fact it is far from it. The smart companies are building experiences on top of those coordinates. Today we see it in the form of coupons (Foursquare), virtual goods (GoWalla), games (SCVNGR) or even the perfect message (Placecast) but what will tomorrow bring and where are the opportunities?
A brand new world is opening up as a result of location becoming dial tone. Companies like Unsocial who are building a platform to add context around location (my interview here) are leading the innovation charge by experimenting with location to serve a specific set of requirements – such as finding people at trade shows or meeting like-minded individuals in other social situations.
The quicker location data becomes common and accessible, the faster the value can be layered on top.