The Era of Location-as-Platform Has Arrived

The mobile location “check-in” is fast becoming the hot new status message type online. It was only a matter of time until “where you are” became a platform to build added value on top of just like “who you know” has on social networking sites like Facebook.

Canadian newspaper chain Metro announced today that it has launched a deal with location-based social network Foursquare that will deliver location-specific editorial content from the paper’s website to users’ phones when they check-in near a spot Metro has written about before. The potential for services like this is huge. It’s too bad Metro appears to be taking the easy way out and focusing on delivering restaurant reviews, but it’s a start.

The Incredible Potential of Location-Based News

In November we wrote a long piece about some of the kinds of things Twitter’s new Geolocation API makes possible. So far we’ve seen very little development on top of that API, but it’s widely expected that Twitter and Facebook will make location a major part of their offerings just like startups Foursquare and Gowalla have and like Yelp just began to do last week.

Just imagine.

User checks-in, via mobile phone: “I’m checking in at the coffee shop at SE 78th and Stark.”

User’s favorite services, which they signed-up for on their favorite location-based social network, respond…

Local newspaper: “There were 3 stories in the Metro section last week about places within 1 block of your current location, 1 story in Business and 2 stories in Sports. The first time we reported about that coffee shop was in 1985, click here to read that story.”

Local events calendar: “There are 2 musical events, 1 political event and 3 religious events happening within 3 blocks of your location tonight. Click here to see those listings.”

Wikipedia: “There are 3 locations within 3 blocks of you that have Wikipedia entries written about them. Would you like to read about the history of the neighborhood you’re in?”

That’s entirely beyond the initial use-case of location-based social networks: telling you who among your friends is or has been near your current location. There’s also location-based advertising to consider, of course. I like the natural foods industry, I’d happily accept messages from organic and natural foods vendors within a few blocks of places I check-in at.

Let’s See Some Serious News, Too

The prospect of the local newspaper getting on board with a location-based social network is very exciting. It appears that Metro’s initial foray is going to focus on restaurant reviews. In and of itself that’s not so exciting. It’s hard to imagine such a service competing effectively with Yelp or Google’s excellent new Near Me Now.

Put a newspaper’s best and most unique strength, its journalists, into a geo-located, mobile app context and then you’re really talking about something. Does the local paper want to tell mobile users that there was a murder last night, down the street from where they just checked-in? The list of unpleasant things that a newspaper is ostensibly responsible for reporting on is long – isn’t it reasonable to expect newspapers to report on those through new media as well? Or will struggling papers just focus on commercially pleasant topics, like restaurant reviews?

I hope the disruptive possibilities for this kind of platform are fully explored. There’s a whole lot of potential when you look at these services as platforms.

See alsoUsing Your Mobile Phone as a Proximity Sensor, which looks at what will emerge when we add data from sensors to the platform.

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