Is location awareness software a boom or bust?

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It was just a few years ago that I was asked to be the “Social Media Czar” for an agency. As embarrassing as the title was, I accepted and got to work teaching the staff how to use it on behalf of clients. The staff was excited, management was rubbing their hands together in anticipation of new revenue, and then one day it happened: Location aware software for social media came on the scene.

I remember the day clearly; I described a new social software to my biggest fan at the agency. “The software would be able to locate your body as you walk through town carrying your mobile phone,” I explained excitedly. The poor fellow recoiled in horror and blurted out “I don’t want you to know where I am!” It was a visceral reaction that I don’t think even he understood. But it brings up a good point these years later: Location aware software is creepy.

Why are we protective of our personal location

I think that your physical location is the final frontier of privacy. Once people know exactly where your body is (or the body that’s holding your phone, anyway) everyone loses a critical aspect of personal privacy; the ability to hide. Location aware software brings up concerns about personal safety, losing the ability to choose which friends become part of an evening, and the ability to be lost for a while if needed.

Imagine being out to dinner for your anniversary, when “out of the blue” the people in your network start barging in on your dinner because they saw you on their social map and stopped in to say hello. Depending on your friends, this could be good or not good.

Is location aware software good for business?

Yes. When people are at work they are ready for interaction and customer questions because they are in their business persona. So I see a great application of this software for retail, particularly restaurants.

Restaurants and retailers interface with customers in a way that’s “part inventory” and “part salesperson.” All loyal customers have their favorite barista, waitress, chef or personal sales assistant in addition to their favorite food or inventory. With location aware software, customers can check the store to see if their favorite staffers are on the clock before leaving the house. Allowing this quick confirmation builds anticipation and generates positive feelings toward the store before customers even leave their homes.

I also see applications for location aware software at trade shows, where attendees can see clusters of people from their network forming in informational sessions, which could encourage the attendee to go to that session. It could also make attending the show more efficient if attendees could find the people they need to meet with on a real-time map instead of wandering aimlessly around the show floor, hoping to run into people they know.

Will people adopt the technology?

Maybe. It’s been a slow adoption curve so far, and one with a lot of attrition. It seems like people test the software and then either get freaked out by it or tired of it. Maybe we’re just waiting for a solid implementation that is useful, comfortable, and unobtrusive. I don’t see it going away, and I am eager to see the first true killer app in this area.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at marci@mdvinteractive.com.