Location-based social networking – Users really enjoy having services adapted to where they are — however, those are really hard to adjust to most current social habits. This paradox is the reason why Orange’s project ON takes so much time.
The first issue, blatant to the 96% of people who haven’t used FourSquare is that when they get into a bar with you, a friend in the 4% of users, instead of politely asking “How are you?” and listening attentively to his rambling, ie. elementary grooming, you fumble you phone, spend far more time then you realise finding the app, the proper button to check-in, the right name for the place you are in, etc. All that for whom, that is supposedly more important then someone who took the time to schedule an appointment with you, be in time, wait in the cold wind? — “No one really.” Self-centred-ness has to have some limit, and you passed it.
Automated check-in (as: not look at your screen, at all) are an interesting solution, but computers are notoriously bad at figuring why you shouldn’t post for you wife to see that you just checked in ‘Cupid’s Lounge’ (“It’s just opposite the street from a very quite café, where I had a very professional meeting with…”)
Facebook has somewhat similar issues of context, but those were resolved with pythic updates, and a new polite convention of discretion: “This is not for me, let’s pass” when you see a colleague’s family pictures, your cousin talking shop all along a 50-comment long thread, that gay graphist you worked with a year ago crying his new single status. All information that might come handy some time (“By the way, how was holidays with the family?”, “How are you doing at your new job, not too hard learning all those acronyms?”, etc.) That’s actually the main advice to parents: no matter what, do not comment on their threads, but behave as if you read them.
The same is even stronger on twitter. LBSs don’t really have the same option: a location carries little euphemism, no ambiguity when needed, hardly any deniability and demands some repeated interactions… Social filtering isn’t enough: you need algorithmic screen panes. More specifically, location is heavily contextual: while to most, I’m “at work”, to my colleagues, I’d rather say that I am “in room A301, waiting for the meeting to convene.” Similarly “at home” can turn to “in the shed, don’t disturb until diner.” In actuality, programming that is tedious, and open problem still.
That issue is well resolved by Facebook that allows you to tag along your friends: you have to ask them, changing hte selfish gesture into a shared chore, but more importantly a social affirmation; they will be able to see the consequences because they usually have an active account too; the point is less to geolocate rather then to make a social statement of closer, physical relations (a needed input on the apparently still rather flat and ‘virtual’ social graph). Context is then given by the composition of the group (and filtering can easily be achieved with only showing the update to people who know more then one participant).
Meeting other people becomes more acceptable with this added context (no more bothering a colleague on a date). The participant list is actully fuller because you only need one tagger in the group, fostering more then a demultiplying effect, but reaching the threshold for more general participation.
In a nutshell:
Yes, users want a location based social networking, but they want is to be primarily social rather then location based. The best LBS so far is Facebook Events: I use it all the time to make new connection: “Have you answered Yes to this party’s Event (on Facebook)?” is the new “Can we be Friends?”