Last night Luke Razzell and I spoke to/with the BCS Geospatial SIG on the subject “Location based social networking – a killer app or a blind alley?”.
It was less of a presentation and more of a guided conversation which I think is appropriate since I view social networks as a digital conversation. The audience was an interesting mix with nearly all professing to use a social network and most at least once per day (about 20% were once a week) predictably the audience were all over 20s and quite a few were over 45’s so perhaps the attitudes were somewhat different to the famed generations X&Y let alone my younger kid’s group who will be avid users of technology in 5-10 years.
We reviewed some of the factors driving location enabled social networks in particular the topic of timeliness and granularity/proximity and also some of the challenges around privacy which prompted a couple of net savvy people to say “Ahh, I hadn’t thought of it that way”.
I guided the group through a selection of current applications that covered the “buddy finder”, “social recommendations” and “planning for a business trip” topics using as examples, Brightkite, Loopt, Rummble and Dopplr. At the end of that part of the discussion I asked for a show of hands responding to the question “In the last month has there been an occasion when you would have wanted to use this application?” The overwhelming favourite that appealed to about 60% of the audience was the social recommendations app (that is good for the guys at Rummble), a long way behind in second place was the meeting up on a business trip app (aka Dopplr) and languishing with less than 10% interest was buddy finding (sorry Brightkite). The results may be skewed by the age profile and perhaps a younger audience would have leaned towards buddy finding.
As to how the startups would make a return for the VC’s who have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into this space – no one seems to have a clue.
And the conclusion …… well you should have been there to hear that. I am doing a reprise of the content in a short slot at the Being Location Aware event on March 19th, it looks like fun. Come along and find out whether I thought location based social networks were a goldmine or a dead end.