Location-based services may not be as popular as some start-ups would have you believe, according to a recent study by Forrester Research. Despite Foursquare hitting 3 million users, the media surrounding Facebook's and Twitter's attaching locations, Gowalla, Loopt and Shopkick, only about 4 percent of people have used it and only 1 percent regularly let others publicly know where they are, Advertising Age reported.
The report was originally released in July but was resurrected Sunday by the New York Times, which stated that approximately $115 million has been poured into location start-ups since last year despite few people using them.
Those using location applications seem to be younger people who are OK posting personal information online. "The magic age is people born after 1981," Sam Altman, chief executive of Loopt told the Times. "That's the cut-off for us where we see a big change in privacy settings and user acceptance."
The study says geolocation users tend to be young men, with 80 percent of the users being male and 70 percent being between the ages of 19 and 35. (However, they do tend to be influential in their peer group, or at least that's what they told the study.)
The news doesn't bode well for anyone who hopes to attract more interest by broadcasting their location, although it may be a relief for some that they are not alone in wanting some privacy. But is it adding value to have employees tweeting their personal locations to customers and vendors, or has it all just been hype?
Security: For those born before 1981, stating where you are all the time may seem more like giving would-be muggers a head's up than telling acquaintances where you are. There are some valid security concerns, such as stating when you are leaving the office or your home unoccupied and for how long. This can be helped by tweaking privacy settings, or better yet, only checking in after you have already made it home or are back from your office's two-week winter break.
Privacy: Privacy isn't as much of a concern for a business as it is for an individual, but with geolocation, employees may have to restrict their check-ins or location views to pared-down lists of vendors, customers or friends, otherwise they can be hit up by that aggressive salesman they may have been skirting for the last three months. For small business owners who market themselves and worry about stalkers, take direction from celeb Kim Kardashian, who only tweets about events she's attended as she's leaving them.
Discounts: Although still aimed mostly at the consumer, geolocation apps like Shopkick and Gowalla can give users valuable discounts on merchandise not available in other forms of media, from Best Buy to Wal-Mart.
Updates: Another big question about geolocation is, "Who cares?" And when inundated by status updates about people washing their dog, baking a pie or buying a barbecue, one can assume not every bit of information is created equal. Choose updates wisely, especially ones that will highlight your business or services and be interesting to readers. The pothole on Polk Street may be interesting to a few people, but more would be interested in hearing that drinks are half-price at a nearby bar, especially if you're there to spring for the first one.
While there's nothing to fear about location-based services, provided it's done wisely, business owners may be right in assuming it will not make or break a company. With 96 percent of people ignoring it, posting one's location doesn't seem close to the mainstream yet.