This article was published on March 23, 2010

Why The SXSW Location Wars Meant Nothing

Why The SXSW Location Wars Meant Nothing
Martin SFP Bryant
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Martin SFP Bryant


Martin SFP Bryant is the founder of UK startup newsletter PreSeed Now and technology and media consultancy Big Revolution. He was previously Martin SFP Bryant is the founder of UK startup newsletter PreSeed Now and technology and media consultancy Big Revolution. He was previously Editor-in-Chief at TNW.

Much was made during this year’s SXSWi event about the ‘Location Wars’ between Foursquare, Gowalla and others. Did they really matter though?

Getting the geek crowd to use your service is one thing, but getting a wider audience involved is a whole different feat altogether.

Let’s face it, a huge bunch of geeks checking in to locations in one town over the space of a week is bound to lead to an increase in traffic for location services (see Foursquare: The Raw Facts), but until there’s mainstream take-up of a particular location service we won’t have a ‘winner’.

So, before we get carried away about how ‘hot’ location sharing is, let’s do a comparison with another event. During SXSW I was thousands of miles away in Cannes, France providing new media coverage of an altogether different convention – MIPIM.

A long road ahead

MIPIM is essentially the SXSW for property developers and people from cities keen to see investment from them. I thought I might see some use of location services among the many thousands of attendees, but the truth is, they’ve only just embraced Twitter.

Yes, Twitter was everywhere at MIPIM – the property developers, architects and politicians were feverishly tweeting away but location sharing activity was virtually nil. There were roughly five Foursquare users in attendance; Gowalla users were similarly scarce, while the entire town of Cannes had no location tagged Google Buzz posts until I added one myself.

This is closer to where we’re really at with location sharing. The ‘winner’ of the Location Wars at SXSW was unclear but Foursquare and Gowalla both saw healthy increases in use. Move away from geek circles, though, and you discover a world still ignorant of, and probably quite scared of, location sharing services.

Don’t just look to the geeks

Geeks don’t necessarily lead the way for others to follow. It wasn’t until celebrities took to Twitter that we saw it explode into the mainstream. I believe location sharing will grow at a more grassroots level than that; which major celebrity will want to check in to their current location? However, it will also most likely be a subtle crawl into the mainstream as opposed to a sudden rush. We’ll see Facebook add location features soon, and the general public will slowly get to see the benefits of letting people know where you are.

Location will increasingly be a feature, not a primary function, of the apps we use. When that happens we’ll look back at the Location Wars and wonder why we ever thought they were important. They were just a skirmish miles away from the front line. When the war is won we may not even notice.

[Image credit: Dean Terry]

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