Monday, 9 June 2008

Do humans really need location based services?

UPDATE: the conversation not only goes on on this blog (in the comments) but also on Small Surfaces and Pasta&Vinegar.

Bernhard from the customer experience labs posed an interesting question: do humans really need location based services? (read his post here)

He cites the New York Times where John Schwartz reports on two (due to privacy issues highly discussed) studies which suggest we're boring: we don't move too far from our habitual, highly frequented locations.

Bernhard then correctly points out that local search doesn't really make sense if you mostly move on beaten paths and that by rather focusing on the understanding of the user than on technical possibilities we might be able to build a "location-based killer app".

Mobile Search Location Based Services

My reply to this was:

Interesting post indeed. And the title is intriguing as it suggests that there might be someone else (machines, m2m, the web of things) who will make use of LBS more than we will do (location-based APIs?).

I agree on your thoughts that not everyone is going to use "Search nearby" - at least not all the time and for the reasons you and the two studies rightly pointed out.

But then the majority of people, though infrequently, does move to other locations than their most frequented ones and in this case (think of a holiday or a short trip) they surely will be using search.

IMO it's not only about movement patterns, but what people need, can do and actually use (see previous post). Google did some interesting profiling of mobile users: Repetitive Now, Bored Now and Urgent Now (read more about this here and here).
I believe there might be a category or two missing, more to that in another post though.

In your daily life you might know where things are and don't need to search for them - but I see many other little problems to be solved and needs to be fulfilled:

- know where your friends and contacts are (location aware social networking)

- get updates on news, events, concerts, get-togethers, etc. in your part of the city/your block (location-based news)

- share your thoughts on places (location tagging, geo bookmarking)

- discover new places

- ...

This is at least what I would be using LBS for. User base of 1 understood, 500 million to go.

Photo by


Julian said...

Without having read the original article, I ask myself whether the fact that people keep in the same area most of their time is important at all for LBS: They are 100% percent sure to get bored sooner or later and start to explore the borders of their quartier or whatever. And then it is the first thing they will use. Even more: There is certainly no need to search for a different pizzeria every day, but I do want to get alerts on good bookshops for example, no matter where I am. Always, in every street. There you go, I did not perform a search but still will be happy to have "switched on" my LBS of choice.

Ben said...

Good point, Julian!

Even though people keep to well-known areas, they still want to be surprised, see new things and get more deeply connected to their environment and the people living in their vicinity, people with whom they share their neighbourhood.

And then, I believe, getting into the details matters more than knowing where this fabulous pizzeria is located (having lived there for a bit you know that anyway, don't you?).

Those details might still be related to consumer behaviour (IMO this will the main driver of LBS, companies are flocking to those new possibilities)

... but more importantly I hope that we will see more and more services that enable new ways for people to connect to other people and to their environment (grassroots campaigns forming, ad-hoc "clean-up X Street" and neighborhood fundraising activities, detailed infos on contamination levels, or simply finding someone who is interested in discussing the world is flat theory).

For me, LBS are the interface between humans and the information layer we are currently building on top of our world's traditional topography.

What this layer will contain and how we use it - or if it's just another (this time virtual) ad-layer to our world or indeed something bigger is up to all of us: to the organisations providing the technological foundations and to us, the users, to carry the idea of participation and 2.0 back to our local communities, where it all started.

Gnaw said...

Do we need LBS so badly?

Here I can possibly present one opinion from the consumer/end-user perspective. Before I really go to the details. I may review one simple concept and one theory here, which are "Home Range Concept" and "Traffic Pattern Theory".

Home Range Concept. It is a concept that can be traced back to a publication in 1943 by W. H. Burt, who constructed maps delineating the spatial extent or outside boundary of an animal's movement during the course of its everyday activities.

Traffic Pattern Theory. A people’s daily activity pattern is pretty regular, which comprises of several major events, such as school, work, home, shopping.

What happened here is if you are looking at the traffic pattern of a person, saying a full-time employed, 45 years, car, 3-person-household, one child, the regular activity route is so LIMITED. So does it mean ....


ben said...

Thanks for the comment and the concepts, gnaw!

And no - we don't need really need lbs badly. many things are "nice to haves", and so are lbs, and there certainly are more pressing problems (don't even get me started on this ... I'm working for a NGO).

... obviously, you've seen David Malouf's comment on small surfaces, where he says that "The sheer density of urban experiences has more options in smaller distances and the concept of going “blocks” could lead you into “unfamiliar” areas requiring these services.", confirming your point of a very limited space a person usually moves in.

Similar to Martin Polley, who asks on Pasta&Vinegar if "LBS will encourage people to stray from the areas that they know", I believe that LBS might actually stimulate "going another block", because you might be interested in seeing the building that was described with so much detail in the location bookmark that you received via your neighbourhood's GeoRSS Feed.

Thanks for your input here and for the links (the presentation to ICC is amazing:|5simplified|6%20R2.pdf) said...

Gimme gimme gimme more LBS. Now!

If the thesis of the study essentially shows that we are, to put it coarsely, lazy and unimaginative in our habits, I see that as a reason FOR more LBS and not against them. At least, that's the conclusion I reach using the logic of my own laziness. I go to the same bar all the time because I'm used to it and I'm comfortable drinking by myself there; at least I'll know the bartender. But if something like Brightkite -- or hopefully, someday, something much smarter like the Helio buddy beacon -- were to tell me, 'Hey, someone you know is at that new pub you keep meaning to try,' I'd get up and go. Same thing with just randomly exploring new parts of town rather than staying in the neighborhood: I could see myself deciding to just get in the car, plug in "barbecue" and drive till I smelled the best pig. I *don't* push the edges of my geographic envelope because I don't know what to expect. If LBS would tease us with the various gems around us, I think we'd open up our travel patterns.

Cornelius said...

location = more relevancy. it doesn't matter if we are boring and are not leaving the home range. lbs are the services we expect as default. lbs enable a much tighter integration of mobile devices and services in our everyday life.

my 2cents

sachendra said...

Yes, people go to the same places again and again, but what makes local search important is dynamic data. I may know the local restaurant but I want to know what specials they're offering today. I know the local movie theater but I want to know the listings for today. I know the local shopping mall but I want to know what discounts they have on right now.

Covered this in detail on my blog

Ben said...

this is what I replied on sachendra's blog:

Sachendra, thanks for your comment on my blog.

You made a good point that dynamic data (or as I would put it: relevance in the here and now) is what will make local search especially interesting.

But IMO it’s not only about local search - all LBS should take advantage of this relevance (e.g. location-based social networks showing me contacts that are close and available now).