When the iphone 3G first came out, one of the big promising areas was supposed to be location-aware social networks as evidenced by the release of native applications by Loopt and Whrrl among others. The fact is we’re still waiting for a revolution to happen. Maybe if everybody in the world had iPhones and also went through the trouble to install these apps, there’d be a fighting chance but otherwise you can’t expect much. Maybe if the Facebook iPhone app with their millions of users decided to leverage their presence to facilitate more location aware connection services but then again Facebook is a “social utility” and not a social network so they say.
The iPhone itself is not going to revolutionize location aware social networking. It certainly puts the internet in the pocket and spare batteries in your other pocket but location aware social services have quite a few challenges to overcome.
For any location based social network to succeed it has to be by definition available everywhere be it your desktop, cell phone, iPhone, PDA, etc. It could be browser based but then you need some way of making it aware of your location. The iPhone would be perfect for this if everyone had an iPhone but that’s unlikely to happen, unless you only roll with hardcore mac fans then it might mean something.
Push Notifications without being Pushy
Another difficulty with location awareness is that you and your circle are more or less on the move throughout the day. Location-based services need to get that information to your friends without it being overwhelming or irrelevant. It wouldn’t mean much to know that Jenny is looking to have casual drinks around Times Square when you crossed to New Jersey state line on the way home from work. Pushing information to the right users when they want it is more of a challenge than meets the eye. Making the service too tame means less opportunities for the social networks to have any meaning but too much means alienating your users.
Knowing where someone is at any given moment poses all kinds of security risks unless you’re talking about close friends and/or colleagues where you have roughly the same amount of information on each other. If enough of your activity is logged people will eventually notice patterns whether they try to or not.
At the end of the day, we already have an ad hoc local social network, it’s called your office, your school, your home, and we have the ultimate social application for location aware networking also known as the cell phone. It’ll be hard for location based social networks to gain momentum on providing users real opportunities to reach out to others in the here and offer something that plain cell phones don’t.