How will location-based services play out for publishers?
Location-based services are growing fast — at least from a technology perspective. In reality, only a sliver of the population use them. Like many emerging technologies, location-based services hold promise for publishers, but they still have a long way to go.
The recent launch of Facebook Places made location-based services seem more like the here and now. While some speculated the launch would topple the startup Foursquare, so far it only helped the more niche location-based service get more attention. Just two months after hitting 2 million users, Foursquare has reached the 3 million user milestone, according to Techcrunch.
But we've yet to see widespread adoption. In research last month, Forrester Research found only 1 percent of U.S. online adults are using location-based social networks weekly. Only 4 percent of adults have ever tried using them.
Unsurprisingly, privacy is a big deterrent. Internet security company Webroot surveyed more than 1,500 social network users with “geolocation-ready mobile devices” and found that while more than a third (39 percent) use geolocation, many are concerned about privacy. More than half (55 percent) of those that use geolocation tools are worried about their loss of privacy. Representing some generational differences, mobile device owners age 40 and up are more concerned about the risk than 18-to-39-year-olds.
The culture might have evolved to be much more tell-all, but we don't seem quite ready to tell others where we are all the time.
What publishers should watch
Despite slow adoption rates, media brands should pay attention to location-based services. Localized information is probably the next frontier for information; it's just catching on slowly. As the technology evolves and smartphones become more popular, adoption will increase.
The entrance of Facebook, with its 500 million users, could certainly quicken the pace of adoption. (On the other hand, the breadth of Facebook may be a deterrent to some geolocation users. In a recent New York Times article, one user says she's sticking with Foursquare rather than managing who of her 1,200 Facebook friends can see where she is.)
Publishers should keep an eye on how what is now a fragmented market evolves. Of course, it will be possible for more than one service to gather mainstream appeal, just as Twitter and Facebook have emerged to serve different but popular social media functions.
How publishers can benefit
There are a few ways for publishers to experiment with location tools in editorial operations. Sean Blanda highlights some of the applications, such as using location-based services to report and stay in touch with your audience.
There's no doubt that geolocation has the potential for more targeted advertising. “We're just seeing the beginning of marketers taking advantage of location,” Mike Steib, Google's director of emerging platforms, said at the paidContent Mobile conference in New York.
Also at the conference, Foursquare's founder Dennis Crowley discussed how publishers can use Foursquare to bring to life archival information, such as magazine restaurant reviews. Publications such as New York Magazine are good examples, but at this point it seems to be more about brand-building than monetizing.
Publishers should be ready to spot opportunities to use location-based services for a particular audience. If I ran a local entertainment magazine focused on the young, hip crowd, I'd definitely jump at the opportunity to be on Foursquare, marketing the brand and teaming up with local advertisers. For most other publications, I wouldn't panic about getting on a location services ― at least for now.
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