With the Facebook geolocation feature apparently imminent, the conversation has started about how this will affect existing “check-in” services such as Gowalla and FourSquare. But this may be one case in which people are focusing on the wrong fight while the real struggle is already being decided elsewhere.
Cool as the “check-in” services may be, I still don’t see them having a huge impact. At least not by themselves. But location-aware services on handsets (and, of course, GPS units) are now ubiquitous and are guiding purchase decisions every day. I became aware of this just yesterday, when I was in Homewood (a suburb of Birmingham, Ala.) and needed to find a product. I punched up a directory service on my Android and noted that it had already filled in the city and state based on the cell tower serving my phone. (Sure, I could override it if I were looking for something in, say, Nashville. But in this case it saved me some time.)
After I filled in the store I was looking for, it brought up several options that were closer — ads purchased by those businesses, much the way Google adwords offer paid links.
Similar opportunities are available for advertising on hundreds of apps — not just directories, but mapping programs, weather providers, and many others. And yes, Gowalla and FourSquare are part of that mix too, but only a part. Together, these are a huge threat to traditional local media such as daily and community newspapers, Yellow Pages directories, community advertising sheets and potentially even billboards.
Take a few steps back. The picture is larger than it looks.