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This article was published on December 19, 2009

Is location sharing just a game?

Is location sharing just a game?
Martin Bryant
Story by

Martin Bryant


Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

It seems incentives important to keep people coming back but what happenes when people get bored?
Incentives in location: Foursquare leaderboard, mayor deals, Gowalla: items and prizes, Waze, prizes, Rummble, local heroes
So, are people sharing their location  for the social gain, the exhibitionism, or the gaming Long-term use of these services depends on a solid product and people wanting to use them.

loaction-gamingAll the hottest location-sharing services use some sort of gaming element to get users hooked, but will we ever be 100% comfortable with people knowing where we are?

As the number of services that let us share our locations increases, it’s apparent that most of the more popular one use a gimmick that encourages us to let everyone know where we currently are.

Just look at Foursquare’s leaderboard and mayor deals, Gowalla’s collectable items and Waze’s ‘Road Goodies’. Most of the big names in geolocation are using games to get us used to sharing.

It’s understandable that these gimmicks are required – very few people are comfortable with publicly sharing where they currently are. Give someone the chance to become ‘Mayor’ of their local corner shop and they’re more likely to open up to the idea to broadcasting their location.

The trouble with the current crop of location-based games is that they’re quite unsophisticated. Collecting items around a real world map or becoming the ‘mayor’ of somewhere just because you go there a lot are hollow victories. Sooner or later people will get bored of Foursquare, Gowalla and their ilk. What happens then?

Certainly there will be another generation of more advanced location-sharing games in time, but will people ever get used to just sharing their location without the sweetener of gaming glory?

Pure location-sharing services like Brightkite and Google Latitude have yet to gain traction and very few people have as-yet started using Twitter’s geolocation service regularly to tag their tweets with their location. At the time of writing, of the past two hours of tweets from the 1300 early adopters and geeks that I follow, none of them are location tagged. Many of these people are using geolocation-enabled apps like Tweetie 2 or Twidroid – they’re just not using the feature.

While the technology is there to let people know where we are at all times, will we ever actually want to do that unless it’s part of a game? It would be a pretty significant change in human definitions of privacy to be confortable with people knowing where we are at all times. What could kickstart a change in that direction?

A post over at TechCrunch recently suggested that Facebook will change everything.When Facebook finally gets around to adding location-sharing features it will open up the possibilities to a much more mainstream audience than start-ups like Foursquare and Gowalla can currently touch.

The question is this: even if location sharing is easy to do with Facebook, will users ever get over the lingering fear that they’ll be stalked and killed or that their house will be burgled while they’re out? They’re both reasonable fears and I believe we’ll get over them in time, but don’t expect your Great Aunt Maude to be sharing her location online this time next year… unless she wants to become mayor of the old folks’ home.

[Image modified from an original by The Fayj]

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