The future of location-based services

Five years ago, my co-author, Mike Schneider, and I published one of the first books ever written on the topic of location-based marketing.

At the time, all the buzz focused on active check-in apps like Foursquare, Gowalla, Whrrl and SCVNGR. Today, only Foursquare still exists (although SCVNGR has morphed into location-based payments service LevelUp), and it has become much more like Yelp and much less an active check-in service.

A lot has changed over the last five years. Location-based services (LBS) have mainly become a feature, and LBS is more a passive sport than an active one. For the most part, all of the major social networks have adopted location-based features in a meaningful way. And yet we are still only scratching the surface of what’s possible.

I recently took the time to talk to Schneider about a new role he recently took at a company that is employing crowdsourced location data and is helping consumers use that information to save money. In addition, we discussed who else is doing location-based services well, who isn’t and where the industry is headed.

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What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: You recently took a new role at a company called GasBuddy. Can you tell us a little bit about your role and the company?

Schneider: GasBuddy is one of the earliest users of crowdsourcing. Founders Jason Toews and Dustin Coupal recognized that gas prices are volatile and that people love to talk about them. They built a series of websites designed to help consumers help each other find the best price on gas.

The GasBuddy app has been downloaded more than 52 million times, and consumers literally help one another save billions per year. My role is to be the chief evangelist for the user experience, to guide the brand to great heights while fostering growth.

Q: Talk a little bit more about how companies are leveraging the marriage of location data and exposing that data via APIs.

Schneider: Most of the useful location data I’m seeing is being exposed through digital management platforms (DMPs) and demand-side platforms (DSPs). Oracle Marketing Cloud, for instance, is aggregating location data and adding it to other contextual data to improve targeting. Factual is doing something similar.

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If you want to talk about harnessing the power of your data in an app, it’s still pretty hard to do with an API (application program interface). There are a few companies out there that provide software developer kits (SDKs) with geo-fencing and contextual personas that let you trigger events or capture user behavior to do things beyond the ad: Skyhook (which invented hybrid positioning), Location Kit, ArcGIS and Wireless Registry.

There’s also proximity, which is a form of location that defines an even more precise area. Most people think about beacons from companies like Footmarks, Gimbal and Roximity.

Data listing companies like Yext are in the beacons game, too. Yext could unlock the promise of beacons — having context attached to a beacon.

Q: As my fellow author for “Location-Based Marketing for Dummies,” you spend a lot of time thinking about the space. What else are you seeing around you?

Schneider: The Internet of Things is getting serious. There are a bunch of companies trying to make beacons useful for consumers.

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Tile is one that helps you find your keys or phone. Pixie is another one that lets you put beacons on things and then makes your phone into a virtual reality viewfinder.

Consumer technology is getting smarter, and the connected home promise is getting stronger because now, not only can you talk to the dryer and the refrigerator through your phone, you can manage your sprinkler system, your thermostat, the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and your in-home security cameras.

Everything is managed through the phone, even your holiday lights. It’s not all done through one dashboard, however, so the one-stop command center is a ways off.

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