The case for less obvious use of geolocation in mobile apps

I’m a big fan of the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, currently happening in New York. First, because they are generous enough to live-stream the entire conference, a rarity among tech conferences and second, because of the wide range of tech companies that present and attend. I especially like the Startup Battlefield, where early stage start-ups have six minutes to present  their product and business plans before being quizzed by industry leaders about them for an additional six minutes. The finals are tomorrow and are always interesting. I also like their Founder Stories, interviews with founders of companies that are in their first year or two of operation. They have already launched a product and their experience is incredibly valuable.

This morning I had time to listen to interviews with the founders of two very different apps: Yik Yak, the anonymous social media app and Periscope, live video streaming via Twitter. Both talked about their product, how users were engaging with it and what challenges they encountered along the way. While they are very different apps, both are clearly mobile-first and both talked about a somewhat similar aspect of their product that I’d like to focus on: location-based features.

For Yik Yak, location drives the social interaction: posts are only visible within a 10 mile radius of where they were posted. This makes Yik Yak very popular in colleges, where the community has many common topics of interest and are mostly concentrated on the campus, a small, well-defined geographical area. The focus on location for inclusion and amplification in a conversation differs from other social networks such as Twitter where a user must work hard to forge connections and build a following. For users, upvotes or responses provide quick gratification, something that rarely happens to new users on Twitter and discourages those users from sharing again.

For Periscope, the location driven feature was suggested by the interviewer, Sarah Lane. She asked that Periscopes  be geotagged and to offer viewers a map view, where they could chose live streams according to their location only. The example she gave were the streams from Baltimore last week. They were interesting to view but hard to find as people were not tagging their streams “correctly.”

Instagram "explore" feature makes recommendations based on people I follow. Wouldn't it be great if I saw pictures from restaurants near me and not in Manchester UK?

Instagram “explore” feature makes recommendations based on people I follow. Wouldn’t it be great if I saw pictures from restaurants near me and not in Manchester UK?

The product takeaway for me is that geolocation has many interesting uses and seems to be underused by many so-called mobile-first applications. Was it Twitter (or Google+?) that used to have “happening near you” status updates that offered updates from nearby users? That feature offered a way to be heard and to learn about people who were not necessarily on a user’s follow list but had a higher chance of shared interests because of the geographic proximity.  Even when an app isn’t driven by a geographic location, such as Uber, ZIRC or Yelp, think about whether adding location based features makes sense to users, both creators of content and passive consumers.

Finally, another, different, example for location-based features with a social twist, from an interview with Lyft’s Logan Green. Lyft offers riders the option to create a Lyft profile for for riders looking to start a conversation with their fellow riders or their driver. According to Mr Green, when people get in a car they start a very similar conversation with questions such as what they do, where they work, where they’re from and what they like. Once they find a common interest or shared background, they “light up” and the entire ride becomes much more enjoyable.

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