Are location based technologies as exciting as we think they are?


Just came across this very interesting blog post – the Myth of Location from Mitch Joel in which he notes the fact that the uptake of location specific tools has not been anything like as dramatic as phenomena such as facebook and twitter and broadly speaking he puts this down to a consumer backlash against the invasion of privacy that such tools could represent (That is a simplistic summary of a very good post, so please do read the full text.

Like Mitch, I have been evangelising about the future of communications and what it could be like when you know exactly where your consumers are at all times. Like pretty much everyone in advertising, I have been excited about the idea of the ultimate in targeting, where you can speak to someone exactly when your message is relevant to them.

I also think that it is interesting that these mobile tools haven’t taken off in a mass market way yet, but I don’t agree with the Diagnosis that it is to do with consumer’s desire for privacy. I think when Mitch makes this analysis he is imposing the values of his generation upon a target group that have never really understood the meaning of the term privacy. The generation that takes up location based services and makes them huge is the generation that has lived their entire formative years with their lives on full display on Facebook. They don’t care about privacy, all they care about is generating twitter fodder. It feels very strange for our generation to observe it, but we have to accept that they are different from us.

I actually think that the lack of uptake in this technology is down to more simple prosaic effects.
1) For these services to get significant mass market uptake, you need to have a critical mass of penetration of the technology. Now whilst everyone in advertising probably has a GPS enabled iPhone or Blackberry, it is interesting to note that one of the most popular phones amongst the tween generation – the Blackberry Curve 8520 – does not have GPS capability.

2) I believe that we are just seeing the “sequel effect” in action. If you look at all the major technology phenomena that have mass market acceptance today, they all represent the 3rd, 4th or 5th generation of that particular technology.

Look at the iPod. mp3 players had been around for a few years and even MP3 “jukeboxes” as the first iPods were referred to. The iPod itself didn’t even take off until the PC compatible iPod mini came along (the 4th iteration of the iPod) and was made accessible to a much wider proportion of the population. This was 4 years after the launch of the iPod 1G and 8 years after the first mp3 player was released. The sequel effect then kicked into action as consumers who had just joined were waiting for the next iteration so as to be at the front of the adoption curve next time round

Look at Social networks. The first social network was created in 1997 – called SixDegrees. Anyone heard of it? Then there was Friendster and Myspace in 2002 and 2003 and even Facebook went public back in September 2005. When Twitter came along all it was doing was identifying an existing social tool – profile updates – and created profile updates 2.0. By the time Twitter came out young consumers (and more importantly the media) were waiting for the next big news story in social media so that they could get in there first.

I believe that applications such as Four Square merely represent the early generations of this technology and that once there is saturation of the base technology required and we have a had a few different waves of application along the way, the mass-media will start to pay attention, consumers will realise that something big is happening and before you know it we will all be trying to play catch up.

The challenge is to catch the right wave.

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