GPS + APIs = The Future of Mobile Social Activity

People ask me every day, “What’s the hottest thing going on in emerging platforms right now?”

While I’d love to talk about time travel theory and DeLoreans, I can’t stop talking about location, location, location. In fact, I’ve been buzzing with location ideas for years. And ever since I left the Where 2.0 conference last May, location is on the top of my list with all our clients.

I want to touch on the subject again because of two recent developments in the space. These developments are by no means revolutionary. Both, however, help illustrate how we predict location-based offerings and services are on a collision course with social media. Mash-ups will definitely open up some exciting opportunities for marketers and consumers alike.

Location-based services begin with where you are. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with location services is knowing where you are. When you’re at home, you know your Zip Code. If you’re in downtown Seattle, you may not know what intersection you’re at. But if you have a GPS-capable device (or some sort of assisted GPS system that provides the network with your approximate location based on your connection to the wireless service tower), the device knows your location and can help you participate in location-based services.

Mobile phones with GPS capabilities are out there. You can get a bunch of them from Sprint, Verizon, and even Helio. Yet the devices offered aren’t necessarily in mainstream hands. One device with a reasonable installed base is the BlackBerry 8800 offered by AT&T. (It appeals to business users because it lacks a camera, often banned in corporate environments.) Considering the success of the BlackBerry product, there’s now a decent base of GPS-capable customers ready for location-based services.

Last week, BlackBerry released a development guide for its GPS system and BlackBerry Maps application. With these instructions, independent developers can now gain access to a user’s location, then provide services that take into account where that user is. Standard functionality includes a map and directions for where you want to go. That’s an obvious one. But it also means software developers (and even brands) can develop useful software applications to help BlackBerry users find specific services. Need an ATM? Just click. Want a restaurant? Read the next paragraph.

Another great development was the release of’s API (define). APIs allow one program to speak with another. In Yelp’s case, developers can now leverage some of the popular consumer-generated media contained on Yelp and provide restaurant reviews based on the user’s current location.

While this type of application is a no-brainer (and it’s probably already been developed by the time you read this), it serves as an example of what it means for social media’s future. We’ve all used map data only to be disappointed to find a restaurant is no longer in business. People want fresh information, and they want it from reliable sources.

Location is the ultimate context. With GPS services, it only gets more exciting. People tend to find other people and their interests more appealing when they share an experience. In social media, wouldn’t it be more appealing to share your friends’ experiences of their favorite restaurants, photos, Twitter Tweets, and the like when you’ve been in similar locations or circumstances?

GPS devices won’t stop with the BlackBerry. Other devices, both mainstream and sophisticated, will leverage the shrinking costs of GPS technology and incorporate its capability. At the same time, social Web sites, Web services, blogs, and more will continue to provide outbound syndication capabilities, making customized and branded location-based services and applications a popular new form of mobile marketing.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.