It looks like there’s a new player in the game in the world of mobile location-based services, Uberlife. ‘Great, so what?’ is the first thing that might pop into your mind. These types of services have now been around for years and amidst the jungle of existing applications such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, or SCVNGR, why should this one suddenly be worth talking about?
The truth is, the ever-evolving fleet of location-based services have been largely constrained by the simple fact that most only let you share where you currently are, which is of limited value to users. Think about it, once you’ve checked in to a place, there is often no longer any opportunity for others to come and meet you, all that’s left to do is for them to ‘like’ it or add a comment. For being a form of social media, the often obnoxious element of ‘hey, look where I am, and you’re not’ has a decidedly anti-social touch to it.
This is exactly where the London-based startup Uberlife comes into play, by offering a refreshing twist. Whilst their iPhone and Web app is built on a similar real-life, location-based framework as existing services, it’s more than just the basic check-in. The key differentiating factor is that you’re now broadcasting where you intend to be in the future, creating new events on the go and inviting your friends to ‘hang out’ in advance. These ‘hangouts’, which can be a quick beer after work, a spontaneous cinema trip, a last-minute coffee run or simply chilling in the park, can be followed on the network by your friends. They are able to check-in, add comments, and share images of the meet-up to create a nice little memorabilia of the event.
One might argue that there are of course existing mechanisms already in place that facilitate getting together, such as over Twitter and Facebook, but more often than not these go under in the fast paced way of life or are quite simply far too formal. Uberlife recognizes that meeting up with friends these days involves a great degree of pre-organization and frustrating messaging back and forth until a plan eventually comes together. In comparison, the app presents us with a spontaneous, simple and mobile means to bring people together that taps into and integrates seamlessly in today’s ‘on-the-go’ lifestyle.
Critically, this manages to address a fundamental need. After all, what use is a check-in if it can’t be spent and shared with friends? As opposed to sharing where you’ve checked in to, you’re now sharing plans about where you and your friends can check-in together. It aims to bridge the gap between the often remote nature of supposedly ‘social’ media platforms and actual real life socializing.
This clearly is far more relevant and interesting to not only users but also businesses and brands who may be willing to experiment with location-based campaigns and programs focusing on check-in rewards. From a business perspective, wouldn’t it make far more sense to send out offers to those intending to be at a certain place at a certain time, rather than once they’ve announced that they’re there? If businesses are aware of what you are intending to do and where you’ll be, relevant offers and promotions can be generated and implemented far more strategically.
Keeping in mind what Starbucks cleverly did with Foursquare and its Mayor specials, the future check-in could offer exciting opportunities for experimenting with novel ways of communicating with consumers. After all, surely businesses would be much more interested in the prospect of a group of people intending to show up, rather than simply knocking $1 off a Frappuccino to the single person that ends up being the Foursquare Mayor.
The real question remaining of course is whether or not these apps are actually able to generate business value, where one of the biggest hurdles to establishing themselves as valuable tools for businesses in the past, has been encouraging people to actually opt-in to geolocation. What is of foremost importance to avoid being another unclicked icon on the iPhone, is how engaging a service is and what value it provides users with. So far, in lacking a fundamental social element and raising the question of ‘so how do these services actually help you?’, the basic ‘check-in’ has failed deliver what can be seen as genuine ‘value’ or reward for users sharing their locations.
Another app that is looking to inject a more social element into the field is last years’ start-up We&Co, that has aimed to leverage the power of a simple ‘thank-you’. The iPhone app is designed to allow users to thank service professionals, like their favourite barista, hair stylist or bartender at places they visit. The focus is therefore no longer on solely the place through the check-in, but on the people, adding a distinctive human element to the service. Employees can respond to the thank you and encourage you to drop by again, where businesses can choose to offer discounts or freebies as incentives to regular and the most gracious thank-you’ers, creating further ways of connecting meaningfully with their customers.
When a quantifiable metric can be attached to positive encounters between a brand and its customers, this acts as direct reinforcement for employees to provide an even better service and for consumers to continue to proactively share their appreciation. In today’s cynical consumer environment, a positive reinforcement cycle that is built around enjoyable exchanges beyond simply places or prices, allows deeper connections and enduring relationships to be formed between businesses and their customers.
The overarching theme that is therefore becoming clear for the successful evolution of location-based services is the crucial need for them to incorporate a genuinely social component into the mix. It is only once you start looking beyond the limitations of the standard ‘check-in’ that these services could really play an intriguing and influential role in creating compelling and relevant consumer engagements through and with the smart phone. More crucially, it opens up the unique opportunity for technology to enable us to actually be truly social again.