Geolocation social networking apps heat up

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Location-based applications, particularly geolocation social networking apps, are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approaches to grouping people and encouraging social behavior. Geolocation, to be sure, was never meant to be an end in and of itself. "To me, geolocation is just another vector; it's a way to slice and dice information, filter it and make that information available in a location-relevant manner," writes Om Malik.

So it's not surprising that South by SouthWest, the so-called ground zero for social media, is becoming an important precinct in the increasingly competitive geolocation social networking ecosystem. With so many influencers  gathered, it is no wonder SXSW interactive conference is a hub of buzz, particularly to those in the business of publishing. Gowalla has announced that it is adding CNN's iReport option to its 'Highlights' feature, adding location services to the 740,000-plus CNN iReporter community. And HP will have a presence, demonstrating their self-service publishing platform, MagCloud.

The flurry of interest and activity in geolocation social networking at Austin bears some following considering that in the past Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare have all been propelled by good showings at the festival.

Plenty are SXSW-related  press releases announcing geolocation social networking app services. Google's Latitude in Google Maps for Android now allows businesses in 60 locations in Austin to offer check-in specials under their hierarchy. Not unlike Foursquare's "Mayors," Google's Latitude is offering "Regular," "VIP" or "Guru" status to users, depending on the number of check-ins. PC Mag's Mark Hachman calls it "Google's location class warfare." As check-ins accumulate, there are stronger appeals to brand loyalty. "So, a restaurant or shop can give their Regulars a reason to keep coming back and their Gurus an awesome reward for their loyalty," says the Google Lat Long Blog. "Check-in offers can be as creative as places want for any of the three status levels."

Daily deals, depending upon how generous, can be effective rewards. And regarding rewards, SCVNGR, a geolocation game that can be played on smart and mobile phones, just launched LevelUp. SCVNGR passed a million players last month and should be on publisher's radar. Think: Angry Birds meets Groupon. "LevelUp's goal is simple (if perhaps a tad ambitious): to bring a better local deal (one with a twist of mobile, social, gaming and location) to the world," so says the SCVNGR blog. "We’re trying to crack the science of loyalty for local business," Seth Priebatsch, SCVNGR's founder, told Austin 360. "We believe that (location-based services) and the local deals space are on a head-on collision course."

Boston and Philadelphia are LevelUp's initial pilot launch locations.

Another name you might want to keep in mind is Whrrl, a site with about 350,000 users, with 2,000 to 3,000 added per day. Whrrl, an interesting mobile LBS app that groups people according to ideas and the things users are passionate about. There are many positives to societies based on user interest, societies that give geo-mapped information and updates stemming from those interests, not the least of which is analytics. "If you think about it, the lat-long data itself isn't very valuable," Pelago CEO Jeff Holden told GigaOm. "What you need is place data."

Last but not least, Loopt is debuting their real-time location aware Rewards Alert app, which sends area deals out to participating iPhone and android users. It will be interesting to see in the microcosm that is Austin -- and, of course, beyond -- how well this plays.

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