SCVNGR, a Google Ventures backed mobile location startup, will become one of the first few trusted partners to be allowed to write updates to Facebook through the Places API today. The company says it has already brought its game and challenge-based service to more than 600 companies, museums, universities, conferences and other organizations, including Princeton, MIT, The Smithsonian National Zoo, the City of Philadelphia and the U.S. Navy. It plans a major new push with free promotion of local businesses in major cities throughout the US starting next month.
"It was only a matter of time before Facebook owned social networking plus location, through something like the check-in," 21 year old founder Seth Priebatsch said by phone Thursday. "That's why we've been focused on being the game layer. Will they give better ranking [in the Newsfeed exposure algorithm] to interesting, premium content in location? We expect to get a nice lift for our challenge stories. Foursquare and Gowalla are now basically just reproductions of Facebook's own functionality."
SCVNGR, which launched as a consumer product just this Spring, has built an extensive series of game mechanics into its software. Technology business blog TechCrunch posted this week a series of 47 gaming concepts the company has articulated and aimed to incorporate.
17. Epic Meaning
Definition: players will be highly motivated if they believe they are working to achieve something great, something awe-inspiring, something bigger than themselves.
Example: From Jane McGonical's Ted Talk [link] where she discusses Warcraft's ongoing story line and "epic meaning" that involves each individual has motivated players to participate outside the game and create the second largest wiki in the world to help them achieve their individual quests and collectively their epic meanings.
Priebatsch believes that these dynamics will lead to more interesting content being pushed from SCVNGR to Facebook than competitors offer with mere "I was here" check-ins. The Facebook Places API will allow any trusted party to push multi-media payloads to user's walls, but Priebatsch says his company can go beyond pictures. When outside publishers push content that gets a higher level of reader engagement, they are rewarded with increased visibility in peoples' Newsfeeds for future published content.
"The key differentiator and why SCVNGR will grow like never before in the age of Facebook places, where Foursquare and Gowalla will not, is that we've taken those 50 game dynamics [he says he didn't give TechCrunch the very best ones for the list of 47 it published] and we've baked them into the SCVNGR game platform, to allow people to customize the game, in some cases from their phone. The game is being built, rebuilt and made into a custom experience by and for users. That's what will let SCVNGR be the game layer on top of Facebook. We expect 10% of the users of SCVNGR to be actively participating in building the game.
"We have a nontrivial number of users who are Foursquare and Gowalla converts who got tired of just simple check-ins. And unlike some of our competitors, anyone who wants their business to work with SCVNGR is able to right away."
SCVNGR may look quiet in your area, but Priebatsch says the company will be launching with free promotional rewards at the first 50 businesses it contacts in a new major city every week, starting in September. The company's sales people are starting by talking to government tourism organizations in cities around the US, "many" of which Priebatsch says are already paying customers, and asking them which local businesses would be a good fit. Calling those businesses on the phone and starting the conversation out with mention of the startup's financial backing from Google goes a long way, he says.
Photo by Kevin Krejci