Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Are Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Loopt, and other geo-location ‘check-ins’ accurate enough?

The geo-location ‘check-in’ LBS technology has recently grown more popular thanks to the introduction of services such as Brightkite, Gowalla, FourSquare and other applications that utilize GPS. These geo-location ‘check-in’ platforms are proving to the marketing and business world that geo-location services can be used to help drive foot traffic to brands, which is very healthy for businesses. It’s becoming a complete goldmine for marketers. One of the major benefits for businesses is that they are able to target their advertising based on check-ins. So, if you check in at a Starbucks, their advertising messages would pop up on your mobile. In addition, these LBS apps collect data about customer’s daily routines. It can track their taste in food, fashion and music; very valuable analytics. It is a marketer’s dream.

As it stands, however, geo-location check-ins will succeed in marketing in the long run only with more precise location positioning technology and a cleaner venue POI/pin database, because businesses will realize they need to reward users who actually check-in physically to a venue differently from those that check-in virtually without actually being there inside the venue.

Many critics say that Gowalla and Foursquare users “cheat” with their check-ins and rip off the rewards when in fact, for the most part, they never were actually inside the venue.

Every time someone checks-in, their GPS coordinates are recorded. The problem with that is GPS has limitations; GPS accuracy is not good enough, especially indoors where the GPS reception is poor or none at all. A venue like a mall is one of the biggest problems for location check-ins for the reasons described: a large, indoor, multi-level shopping mall is going to be a horrible place to get a true GPS satellite signal. Users inside the mall will be relying on cellular or wi-fi triangulation for positioning -- which means the Foursquare system would have no clue as to how accurate the users' location are. Even wi-fi geo-location positioning technology provides 15-30 meter accuracy, which in many cases will not validate the user’s actual physical location (i.e., inside or outside of a store.)

The solution? There are next-generation mobile positioning technologies that can pinpoint the user to a business’s entrance door. Contact us to learn more.

The other problem with location-check-ins is the venue POI databases are horribly inaccurate in many places, which we will discuss in our next blog.