Check me out of geo-local-mobile apps

Smart phones and GPS technology enabled a new generation of apps, geo-local-mobile (GLM), most notably FourSquare, Whrrl and Gowalla.  I heard them mentioned by various people, verbally and in my LinkedIn activity stream, and at a certain point I had find out: “What is this check-in thing all about?  How do I too become a mayor?  Give me badges!”  As I found out, these apps are addicting at first.   They gave me a way to tell my friends what and where I am doing, and make a game out of it.  However, all suffer from three fatal flaws:

  1. As with any network-based idea, the value to the user is dependent on the size of the network.  None of these apps achieved the critical mass of having enough of my friends engaged, so the incentive to post for the purpose of keeping in touch is not there.
  2. There is nothing that these apps offer that most people would pay for.
  3. Once the novelty wears off, the user has no reason to use the app.  Game mechanics can only take you so far, and the rewards offered by the apps simply aren’t compelling enough.
To make matter worse, both Yelp and Facebook added seamless check-in capabilities.  Given their vast existing networks and their incredible user engagement, it seems that the GLM apps are destined to fall by the wayside along with the Facebook also-rans.  Although, given todays tech investment climate, the founders might still get nice exits!  
IfYouBuild Checklist
 – Will they come?
Check.  Novelty and “me to” are drivers here.
 – How will they know about it?
Check.  Viral apps and lots of press.  Great combination!
 – How will they get to it?
Check.  FaceBook and LinkedIn streams serve as reminders.
 – What will they say?
Check.  Game mechanics make this fun at first.
 – Will they stay?
Check.  Game mechanics keep the user engaged for a while.
 – Will they pay?
Fail.  No reason to pay, not much reason to even tolerate ads.
 – Will they come back?
Fail.  Not for long.  Network effects aren’t strong enough and apps have no intrinsic value.
 – Will they tell others to come?
Check.  Word of mouth and social app integration are major drivers of user growth.
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2 Responses to Check me out of geo-local-mobile apps

  1. Totally disagree with you Greg!

    The key to engagement is not simply based on your friends’ engagement. The rewards have to be there. If you get 20% off your pizza when you check in to Sabatino’s, I’m damn sure you will check in!

    Adoption is driving brand engagement which is driving adoption. It’s a viscous circle that feeds off itself. Foursquare has grown to 10 million users by leveraging the circle.

    • grublev says:

      I agree completely, the key problem is that FS just hasn’t implemented rewards in a meaningful way, from what I have seen and heard from other users. Maybe that is a problem they can solve at some point, but until then I am “checking out”.

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