So an interesting thing happened in the world of location-based apps–they moved from quirky curiosity of the early adopter to main stream almost over night. With the launch of Places, Facebook took a major step into the location awareness space and may have changed the playing field for the spunky upstarts in the game.
In this space, I have written about the upsides and downsides of some of the early apps in the location market like Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt and Brightkite. So the subject matter is not new to anyone who is even a semi-regular reader.
But what is new is a product that while now is only baseline (just check in–no gaming features) has scalable user base. No matter how you cut across the stats, while the upstarts are seeing hot growth the user base is still less than 5 million. Twitter founder Biz Stone announced recently on Twitter that his service has more than 105 million registered users. Facebook? How about 500 million users, half of whom log in each day.
150 million of those daily users access Facebook via mobile applications–and according to Facebook those users are twice as active as online only users.
Say only half that base uses Places, that’s still 75 million users a day–a number that Gowalla and FourSquare have proven will grow. It’s where the audience is.
Yes, Places is missing the concept of the mayor (FourSquare) or the items (Gowalla). But it has the reach of your full network. Again, based on Facebook numbers each user has an average of 130 friends.
While not a truly scientific case study, here are some interesting things I’ve noted using FourSquare, Gowalla and Places over the last few days:
- Friday night I took my kids to a local chain restaurant. I checked in on all three services within 10 minutes. FourSquare had one other person listed in the place–neither of us was the mayor. Gowalla had my last check in (two months ago) as the most previous-and no new items. Places had 25 people checked in to the place when we got there.
- Saturday we went to the mall to get some back to school stuff. FourSquare had seven people checked into the mall and 5-9 people checked into various stores we were in and out of. Gowalla had up to six concurrent users in any of the places-including the mall at any given time. Places had more than 50 in the mall, and one of the stores had 125 people checked into it.
- Yesterday on a rainy Monday I took the girls to go see a movie at noon. I was the only check in to the theater on FourSquare and Gowalla. Places had 10 people checked in when we got there, and by the time we left another 15 people had checked in.
As I have pointed out this does cause a problem–since I only follow and friend on location services people I know, while my Facebook (and Twitter for that matter) are littered with business contacts, people I just don’t know and people I really don’t want to share my location with–this will require some effort on my part to make Facebook Places work for me.
I suspect about the time Facebook introduces the gaming features and other elements that will make the service scale, I will be ready to tackle how to close of who knows where I am. In the meantime, while it’s not quite game over, it’s a dramatically new playing field for location services–there’s a new leader on the board.