Location based social networking. What does the future hold?

Yesterday Chris Brogan published a post about location based services and in general, came to the same conclusions that we did. We just aren’t far enough along to tell how this will change business and commerce. I think he raised some interesting points, though, and I wanted to share some thoughts on what it will take for location based social networks to hit the mainstream.

Availability

This one is probably obvious, but the availability of the right hardware and software is really important to the long-term success of location based networking. We know that 55% of the U.S. population is now on smartphones, but I wonder how many of those phones actually have the right hardware to pinpoint exact locations.

Availability is also why I question if services like Foursquare will last. Services like this keep the barrier to entry too high. Facebook Places reduces the barrier significantly, but will the social media elite get behind it? So far, the answer to that question is no. Foursquare’s lead and infrastructure are still strong at this point, but I don’t think the territory is settled quite yet.

Commerce Integration

Chris makes this point and I think it is a good one. The ability to receive deals and promotions is one thing, but what about using our mobile devices to actually make point-of-purchase payments? I think this could be a great catalyst for location based services because it changes the functionality of our device. Smartphones will no longer be about communication, but they will be tied to the daily fabric of commerce and exchange. Many people still think of smartphones as phones that connect them to people they know. Integrated commerce would help them see their phone in a new capacity. There phones will become more of a personal arm that connects them to people, commerce, and the world as a whole.

Personal Engagement

Facebook succeeded because it brought the people you already knew together in one place. Social networks, like Twitter, that are largely focused on people that you don’t already know are harder for people to grasp. I think this approach needs to be solved with location based apps. We need to figure out how it relates to the current relationships that we have. Publishing our location to a news feed probably isn’t enough. I think we need to be able to connect people in more random ways, such as suggesting friends that are near by or some sort of sharing regarding what groups of people are doing together. Chris had the idea of temporary groups, which I think could be a very powerful feature that might solve this.

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