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If you’re not familiar with it, geolocation is a relatively new phenomenon (especially in social media) which allows users to tag their blog posts, Facebook updates, Tweets, etc. to a specific, real world location a la Google maps. Some social media gurus believe geolocation is the future of social media and will be a trend to watch in 2010. While geolocation has its uses, I feel as though there are many issues that come with it. In a recent post on Arik Hanson‘s blog, Len Kendall talks about geolocation’s potential in the business world.

Len sees geolocation as a great source of marketing for big and small businesses alike. Small businesses can use mobile apps like Foursquare to promote repeat visitors. Big companies can encourage users to talk about their products and services on Twitter and Yelp by tagging their tweets with a location. The more geolocation is used, the more businesses can find out about their customers. Len talks about Neflix’s extensive data on their consumers’ interests (tied to location) and how location-based data can pinpoint target markets for a given product. But while Len is a creative brainstormer, there are some problems that these services could potentially run into.

On his site, Christian Grantham addresses the problem that Foursquare and Gowalla might cause for its users – especially if their accounts are tied to Twitter or Facebook. Both mobile apps have the option of posting geolocation directly on either social media platform with no meaningful message for followers. Why should I care that John S. is getting a latte from Starbucks?

Twitter users are especially at greater risk of hurting their online reputation because their followers are less likely to be real life “friends.” The more you post meaningless, irrelevant tweets, the more you’re going to lose followers, credibility and attention. It might not be a direct problem for businesses, since they would be less likely to use mobile apps for geolocation services on their own. Grantham proposes that users only post their location when there is relevant information to glean (an event, review, new product, etc.). However, if what he says becomes the norm, then these services might phase out. Another issue, which Max Gladwell brings up, is privacy.

The problem with the mobile geolocation apps is their inherent lack of privacy for users. Although it’s up to the user to “check-in” at certain places or broadcast their location to friends, not doing those things basically defeats the purpose of the app. Facebook recently received much criticism about their new privacy policy, which has taken away some control from its users and pushed for publicly sharing information. Though every geolocation service may not follow in Facebook’s footsteps, it’s hard to know in which direction social media sites and services are planning to take their users. But, Gladwell believes the value of location-based data is greater than the downsides of potentially decreased privacy.

Gladwell discusses the ability to stream video, read reviews, wikipedia articles and tweets all based on location. It’s interesting to imagine how a convergence of these services might change the way people make decisions for business, food or entertainment. Still, he notes that like other forms of social media, without critical mass behind it, the new social phenomenon could possibly never take off.

Personally, I think apps like Foursquare are an interesting, fun take on mobile geolocation. I tried using Foursquare for a couple days, but ended up frustrated at having to check-in at every place I went, especially when I was with friends. Though improbable, I might enjoy Foursqaure more if it had an automatic check-in system, so I wouldn’t have to fiddle around with my phone every time I went to a new restaurant.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the those apps in particular are going to be the future of geolocation services in conjunction with social media. Like Grantham said, if most Foursquare users are tweeting irrelevant location tweets, it will only hurt those users and ultimately cause the apps to fail. On the other hand, I see the potential for geolocation services, for businesses especially, to better target audiences and to build more creative and close connections with customers.

So what are your thoughts? Will geolocation services become commonplace for social media and mobile apps this year? Do you see any other pros or cons for geolocation?

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