What do you get if you add 3 billion mobile phones, the internet and the ability to pinpoint those users within a few metres? Answer: geosystems like Groupon, Foursquare, Google Places and Facebook Places.
While the headlines have been focussing on whether Google+ can take on Facebook as a social network, the real question may well prove to be which system is best at harnessing the power of geography.
In geosystems, an internet user’s IP address can be tied to satellite GPS data, like longitudes and latitudes, which are mapped by software to geographies around the world down to the city and street level.
This is especially the case of mobile devices, such as phones and tablet PC’s.
The Ministry of Defence is sufficiently agitated about the success of geosystems that it has issued a Youtube video advising service personnel to be careful about Tweeting, or checking in to Foursquare because that discloses their location and that of, for example, their naval vessel or military unit.
Groupon has attracted much media attention because of its phenomenal worldwide growth and the failed attempt at takeover by Google. Much of this attention has focussed on its cheap deal concept of “group coupons”.
But the real interest in Groupon rests on its orientation to geography, rather than platform, audience, or technology.
Using Groupon, I can get cheap or free tickets for my local theatre – just as long as I get together a party of six to earn them.
But the really important point is location. It’s my local theatre in Bath, or Brighton or Birmingham that’s doing the deal and I have to input my location to receive offers in the first place.
Groupon claims to have 83 million subscribers, but that figure includes everyone who has signed up, regardless of whether they have participated in any of the deals on offer.
Google clearly has a head start in geosystems both because it has harnessed satellite technology to its Maps feature and also because it has recently given a makeover to its Places function, making it a kind of geographically-based competitor to Facebook Company Pages
After its failure to buy Groupon in January, Google responded by announcing its own service - Google Offers - and the system went live in the United States on 1 June. On the face of it Groupon has a massive head start in terms of audience take-up but as ever, Google has its natural built-in user base of search engine users to call upon.
More significantly, Google has got the jump on everyone when it comes to geomarketing, because of its priority in geomapping.
The other big success story in geosystems is Foursquare. Check in with your mobile and get a deal on coffee or pizza or free Pepsi at your local supermarket
Foursquare has 10 million users signed up with their mobile numbers and says it gets around 3 million check-ins each day.
While Google has taken on Groupon, Facebook has gone up against Foursquare by partnering with MacDonalds. Check into you Facebook page when you go for a Big Mac and fries and you get money off. But once again, the key is geography – you only get your freebies in the local branch you check in at.
The Google+ mobile app is nicely integrated with Google’s Android mobile operating system. Facebook’s mobile app looks good but is of limited utility and is bound to fall further and further behind as Google adds featues.
Add to this the fact that half a million Adroid mobiles are being activated each day, and you have a clear advantage to Google in the geosystems war.