My Thoughts on... Russell Beattie's Thoughts on Consumer LBS

Russell Beattie penned a post today detailing why Consumer LBS applications "are a black hole of wasted time, effort, money, and opportunity".  Strong words for sure, but the reasoning sound, enforced by the following bulleted arguments which I've paraphrased:

    • LBS is not magic - suggesting that positioning technology is still kluge
    • Location isn't really that important - suggesting that the perceived added value of location specific to IM, Messaging, and Social Networking doesn't add a tremendous amount of context not already present in these communications tools
    • My gadget's location isn't always relevant - suggesting that a photo tagged with location might appear at a certain point on a map, when the intention was to tag the photo of the object which might be a mile away from the mapped position
    • We're all paranoid - suggesting a majority of surveyed soccer Moms think child finder applications can be hacked by predators
    • Interesting LBS apps are niche apps - suggesting the most promising consumer LBS applications are the long tail variety targeting niches - Bones in Motion, a "running" application, is given as an example

Russell highlights some good general points, and the observations for consumer application worthlessness deserve a bit more detail to reinforce the arguments. First, at a high level... 

To date, the majority of revenue generating LBS applications aren't in the consumer space, but rather in industry vertical markets where the usefulness and ROI has proven itself time and again across industries including [but not limited to]  Education, Field Services, Utilities, Government, Insurance, Retail, etc..  And because there's an ROI in these fields for work order management, field service automation, or customer service, this by default makes LBS applications valuable as money saver, versus a money maker. That said, here are my specific comments on consumer LBS. 

The consumer LBS market has not emerged - period.  Developers fixated on the consumer LBS market have made one fatal mistake over the years - they've all looked for that one chasm-crossing killer application to secure a mass market following, when in fact there isn't a single end-all, be all killer app, but rather lots of killer apps extending into the niches.  A quick sampling of the GIS market will teach you this, and so will Chris Anderson's The Long Tail.  If this fundamental principle is understood, it's quite easy to abandon a consumer holy grail quest and accept the fact that a feature [like Location] should be valued as such - similar to the way we value caller ID.  It was once a premium pay-for service and now we simply expect it to always be there, for free. 

The above said, let me comment on Russell's specific bulleted list as it relates to consumer opportunities:

  • LBS is not magic - I don't expect a solution to emerge that will fix positioning technology problems.  I can however suggest that emerging multi-bearer handsets promise to remove location aiding calculation processes from networks and insert them client-side, thereby introducing QoS fall-back options which should improve user experiences   
  • Location isn't really that important - I would argue that location does offer contextual relevance to communications, but perhaps not in the way of a real-time presence indicator that augments what is already available, but rather introduces affinity and belonging to a local community of interest.  User-created and published community content is what I'm thinking...   
  • My gadget's location isn't always relevant - No argument here. If it's not relevant, don't use it.
  • We're all paranoid - "all" is a bit strong.  Plus, the example given is a tracking service.  I'll submit that no one wants to be invasively tracked, but if given the option to publish or broadcast, will feel a sense of control and empowerment with the service. 
  • Interesting LBS apps are niche apps - I totally agree and subscribe to the long tail theory - a theory that says niches are good and profitable. Let's see more niche apps! Bring em on. By the way, Spencer is a good pal of mine as well and I use his app religiously [not for running, but for snowboarding].