What I Want From Location Based Apps? Facebook.

It’s been awhile since I did any writing or thinking about what I want out of location based app, but back when I worked on Whrrl as their community manager, this was on my mind all the time.  After I left the company, I kept using the product for awhile until someone asked me if I would still use it if I hadn’t been involved in its creation.  So I decided to take a break from it, and see if I actually needed Whrrl in my life… and to find out what about it would draw me back in.  Recently I downloaded Whrrl onto my iPhone (now version 2.2 I think) to try out some of the new features and here’s why:

  • It organizes my pictures in a particular place/time (story) into a single album in Facebook
  • It allows me to quickly share to Facebook and Twitter in realtime, and Whrrl stories tend to generate a lot of comments compared to my other content

There are also a lot of features I don’t care about, like how big my audience is or what my friends are doing.  Yeah, I said it – I don’t use Whrrl to find out what my friends are doing — just to publish what I’m doing.  That’s actually pretty weird, entirely the reverse of how consumer products are normally used (people would rather be voyeurs than contributors, except for a small % of users).

Whrrl is like many other apps in the space which fundamentally do the same things, although they’re packaged up into storytelling (Whrrl), friend-finding (Loopt), local blogging (Brightkite), games (Foursquare), and the list goes on and on.  Each ones tries to claim they’re different, but to me its about picking one of these and fully investing in it because I don’t want the experience of showing up at one location, and checking into 4 different apps.  Truly, if there was an app that would check me into all the other services I’d use that one — but all of these guys are trying to hang on tight to location information and most don’t offer open APIs that would allow for collaborative checkins.  The problem is that all the value goes to the service where you actually provide the checkin, the portal service.  Really this just seems like something Facebook will eventualy offer… and then all these guys could be eliminated.

Why?

Because Whrrl, Loopt, Brightkite, and Foursquare are products (and in some case just an amalgamation of features) — not companies.  They would make great Facebook apps for adding value to LBS checking on the Facebook iPhone app… and my guess is that the feature is coming soon.  Each of them would love to cash in on the rich “foot-streaming” data that checkins provide, creating complex recommendations algorithms for telling me what i should do, say, buy, etc. in a certain context.  But to do that you need a huge base of users and data, and if you’re not openly integrable into a larger platform then the chances of getting that big on a single unique feature (the ability to check in at a location, and then do a bunch of things you can already do on Facebook).

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  • Arianna

    I hadn’t really thought about a possible location based Facebook integration until reading your post. I could see a lot of potential and value in that. I don’t think you are alone in the way in which you use Whrrl to publish what you are doing – but don’t read what your friends are doing. There are some days I’m busy and don’t use Twitter to see what everyone else is doing, but to publish my thoughts as I’m working on something so I can go back later and have a log of my thoughts…which is probably a really weird thing to do 😉

    It will be interesting to see what location based integration and features Facebook will add in near future.

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