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Location is the new black and Facebook is throwing around its weight

The Internet user as we know him is dying out. He is no longer behind his desktop computer checking his email or on the couch with a notebook in his lap updating his Facebook status. From an immobile creature, he has quickly evolved into a very mobile being, like a prehistoric fish that has grown a pair of legs and has left the ocean.

Instead of legs, though, evolution has equipped him with smart phones and a 3G network that enables him to move freely, while surfing the net. He is no longer the sitting duck that was an easy target for Internet communities, media, advertisers and marketing departments across the globe. The big question resulting from this is: how to catch him while he is moving?

This is actually an easy task, because he is eager to tell you where he is. Location-based software has created some fast growing communities such as Foursquare, Gowalla, and SCVNGR that allow him to show the world exactly where he currently is located. Those communities let you to mark a place, let’s say your favorite café, with a geo tag. Other community members that come to this place can “check in” indicating to their friends where they are currently at and what they are doing.

As the popularity of those mobile location networks is growing, so are the creative juices of the marketing and PR departments in the chase to find out how to use the new knowledge they confronting them. The first test balloons have already been launched. The campaigns that we have been seeing so far are mainly trying to foster customer loyalty. The café mentioned earlier, for instance, can measure their customers’ loyalty by checking the amount of time they have checked into their place via Foursquare. If they check in ten times, they are awarded a free cup of coffee.  

photo.jpgIn the next couple of months, we will see more creative and more elaborate campaigns of this kind as the networks are growing. The question then will be what platform to use for your campaign? Those things tend to sort out themselves: Remember the battles Twitter vs. Jaiku, or Facebook vs. MySpace? Each ended with a clear winner.   

There is yet one problem: Obviously, Facebook with its Places and Google with Latitude want to get in on the action, too, which could change the outcome of the race. Google for instance has already set things in motion by acquiring Dodgeball, one of the pioneers in geosocial networking, in 2005, only to discontinue it four years later. In the meantime one of the founders of Dodgeball went on to found Foursquare, which is now leading the location-based social networking pack.

Facebook’s contribution to the picture is a recently awarded patent titled “Systems and methods for automatically locating web-based social network members are provided”, which many fear could wipe out all the other communities mentioned in this post. This however still remains to be seen.
One thing is for sure. One should keep an eye on location-based social networks as they contain a tremendous communication potential. It is still quite unexplored territory and grants room for experimentation. It is still too early to say who will be the big player in this field in a year or two from now so don’t put your money on just one horse, but keep an eye on all communities out there.   

And by the way, while the battle over location-based networking is in full motion, the first person just recently “checked in” at the International Space Station

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