Why do people use location based apps?

Foursquare, the most popular location based app, hit the 1million user mark this week, in half the time it took Twitter. Other location apps are also rapidly gaining in popularity, particularly Gowalla and Brightkite. Why do people use these apps? An initial glance would glean no obvious benefit from telling people where you are. In fact, it may even be a risk to actively share your location, as shown by sites such as Please Rob Me. However, if you’ve used Foursquare, you may find after a few ‘check ins’ you’re hooked. Here’s why…

It’s fun

Foursquare uses gaming techniques to make going out fun.  Rewarding you with badges, items (on Gowalla) and Mayorships the more frequently you go out.  Mayorships are awarded to users who have visited a location more than anyone else and there’s a built in element of competitiveness about this. Foursquare deliberately do not tell you how many times you need to go to a place to gain the Mayorship for this reason.

It’s sociable

You can see where your friends go and vice versa. If they turn up in a bar nearby, you can meet up. Or on your train home. Or at events. You may not want to broadcast that information to the world but you may want to let your limited group of friends on Foursquare know. It’s the makings of a random night out.

It’s useful

When visiting a new place, location based apps help you find where the locals go and what they do, based on your current location. The nature of the community means they are generally well balanced reviews rather than unhelpful grumbling, with hints and tips that you don’t find anywhere else.  Yelp’s app is particularly useful for reviews but Foursquare is also full of handy tips. A lesser known location based app in the UK is ‘Foodspotting’ where users upload a picture of their meal when they eat out and tag it to their location with a review which could be very useful when deciding what to order on a menu.

Real world benefits

Companies and brands have started participating, offering free drinks and food for Mayors on Foursquare or by using it as a low cost loyalty system rewarding repeat purchasers.  Incentives such as this keep people ‘checking in’ everywhere they go.


A new charitable location based app in the US called Causeworld rewards users with ‘karma’ points for visiting certain locations. Users can donate the ‘karmas’ to charities who exchange them for cash.

How are businesses taking part?

As mentioned, independent businesses are taking advantage of Foursquare and other location based apps to make their regulars feel special, giving special offers and rewards for frequency of visits. It’s a way for local companies to reward their regulars in a simple, easily managed way. Used cleverly, it can have a big impact on a small business. For example, a burger bar in Milwaukee offered the opportunity to get a ‘Swarm’ badge on Foursquare by creating a flash mob. The badge is awarded to users who check in at a location where over 50 other users are checked into at the same time.  150 people turned up (out of 400 Foursquare users in the area), doubling his takings for the day.

It’ll be interesting to see this idea and others being picked up by more businesses.


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