About a year ago I penned a post over at robertkeahey.com about location-based services (LBS). In that post I posed several questions about the then current state of these services, questioning if and when they would be ready for “prime time”. A lot has happened in the last year. Not only have Foursquare and Gowalla exceeded my expectations, but whrrl and BooYAH  (MyTown) have made significant progress in capturing market and mindshare. Granted, the latter two have a long way to go to catch Foursquare and Gowalla, but progress for them nonetheless.

In my previous post I talked about combining LBS with “near field” communications technology to create a richer user experience. Granted, this is still a ways off. But the basic model for LBS has exploded. The good people over at socialfresh.com recently published an interesting analysis of some creative ways the leaders in the LBS have used their services to attract, build and retain their communities. In every example the key is a promotion-based activity – in other words, I get a reward for playing the game. Nothing wrong with that as we are all motivated by reward systems, whether they be monetary in nature or simply recognition based. We all like to be the “top dog” (or mayor or whatever…).

Stepping back for a moment, let’s take another look at the extension of LBS into “context-enriched services“. As you can see from the examples over at socialfresh, there is the potential to create a “rich” experience for the user community. But there is still a ways to go to make the experience “time and space” aware. Most of the examples provided rewards based on historical check-ins. We envision the next wave of LBS to include more “telemetry” data to improve the real time experience. For example, let’s say I’m riding the BART train to San Francisco and I check in at a train station at 11:33 AM. Why can’t Foursquare, in conjunction with Golden Corral, alert me that there’s a lunch special at the next stop – good for today only if I show them my BART ticket stub? Far fetched? Not really. All the “piece parts” are there, they just need to be integrated. Therein lies the challenge. Systems integration is still not the industry’s strong point…

SummaLogic’s take…

So who can pull this off? Well, that takes us to the next point. The 800 pound gorilla is starting to emerge from the location jungle, and it appears ready to claim its territory. Last week at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said they are “pretty close” to providing a location-based service. Obviously with Facebook’s recent deployment of the OpenGraph API and protocols, they are well positioned to build the integration engine needed to marry together LBS and context-enriched services.

We are working on this, knowing where a person is and being able to personalize what’s around them. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

The $64K question is whether they will do this in conjunction with the other players, or to their exclusion. So far Facebook has been fairly tight-lipped on their approach. But one would assume that while Facebook is positioning itself as the gateway to the social experience, they would build an ecosystem that leverages the communities that are already in place. However, Facebook also has a veracious appetite for knowing everything and anything about the users that make up the social graph – and they want to control that data since it has tremendous value. So unless whrrl, Gowalla, Foursquare and BooYAH! are willing to play on Facebook’s terms, they may be left on the outside looking in. And that can make you cold and hungry…