Flickr CC: Erix!

The SXSW conference, or the location wars, is around the corner, making the latest news on location based services feel like following developing news on an earthquake, with casualties yet unknown – It’s overwhelming. Twitter just switched on location, too, naturally making yesterday’s newsfeed all about Facebook to launch location as well. Sigh.

In other words, it’s a gold rush, except nobody really knows what the gold looks like. Media keeps feeding the fire with explosives, thus reminding me of another sharp piece by Paul Carr on how the Crunchies are won, i.e. being voted by the people “we wouldn’t trust to review a dive bar on Yelp”.

To avoid chasing after the gold blindfolded, here’s two great pieces of advice for your location based service.

1. Don’t Make Me A Target

Always create value first to your users. I quote Chris Messina, who in his thorough post explains it perfectly.

  • “First be the friend to and advocate of the individual (their customer), and second, to the advertiser or brand.”
  • “… in order to keep their (Facebook) users, they must ultimately continue to make their environment a safer and more trustworthy space.”
  • “Instead, opportunity emerges from being available, on-demand, and ubiquitous. Attention aggregators and identity providers can then broker relationships on behalf of their customers, and both parties will, ideally, end up with a better experience, and stronger, enduring relationships.”
  • “In as much as we let them broker our attention, they (advertiser or brand) work for us — and not the other way around.”

2. Give Me An Incentive

As a user, make me want to share my location by adding true value –  and never make sharing location as an opt-out by default. When I as a customer find sharing my location useful and rewarding, you as a service provider have found a shiny object. An unfortunate example of this is the mobile version of Google Buzz: Before I can activate the mobile version, I must agree on to allow Google to use my location. I can’t even accept new followers without first accepting use of my location (I can turn it off later). Why is this not a good idea? Because Buzz isn’t a service that requires location to function. I can chat and share stuff without sharing any location information. Now, the location information may very well enhance the experience, as well as add value to the content shared, but instead of practically forcing me, Buzz first needs to demonstrate the benefits of a location in the service, thus wanting me to turn it on.

Why Foursquare Got My Vote At The Crunchies

Foursquare lets me decide how I prefer to use the service – as a game, as information source, or as social networking tool. It doesn’t force any functions on me: I get to share my location on My Terms: It’s not public by default, I can hide my check-ins, I can compete on Mayorships (which I love!), and collect batches without having any friends, if I’d so wish. Instead, by adding value the service itself keeps providing me incentives why I would want to share more information. Simply, it lets me choose. I’m in charge. It hasn’t broken my trust once. That, my friends, is golden.

One might argue from a marketing point of view that a service that can be used in various different ways is harder to communicate, and thereby harder to sell and monetize. It sure is trickier to be everything for everybody, but instead I see it as an opportunity. All customers and users are individuals, as are their needs and level of transparency different when it comes to location and privacy.

I do hope that Dennis and the team Foursquare continue to keep their calm, letting me sit on the driver’s seat.

(Sidenote: I have a long list of unaccepted Foursquare requests from you guys, thanks! I will deal with all the invitations in due time as soon as I’ve figured out how I wish to share my location.)

Would you have any wet dreams about creating location based services, particularly within gaming, I highly recommend to start by spending an hour of your time watching Dennis Crowley, co-founder Foursquare, to talk about the gaming elements in location based services at Mobile Monday Amsterdam, and Stuart Brown’s TED talk on “Why play is not just about fun, it’s vital”.

Start with Dennis (don’t miss the Q&A afterwards!) and follow up with Stuart. Stuart talks about collective play, how we people are designed to play through our lifetime, and by doing so likely to gain a better and more empowered life. If you don’t see the dots connecting, please do repeat.

Find out more About Me and fellow Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe. Connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or just drop me a line! Subscribe to my Feed, Startup Advice, and Swedish Startups Twitter list. And remember, “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen” – Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital

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