Hyperlocal social networking: iPhone 3G may be the trigger

Hyperlocal social networking: iPhone 3G may be the trigger

Summary: If Facebook, MySpace and Twitter do it right, there may not be much room in the hyperlocal mobile social networking market for niche players such as Whrrl and Loopt.


Apple announced this morning that it sold more than 1 million iPhone 3Gs over the weekend. Mashable reported today that there have been upwards of 10 million downloads of these applications since the App Store opened on Thursday.

This is great news for Apple, its fans and gadget geeks. However, in sinking my teeth into how using iPhone 3G as a platform could deeply impact social networking, I scheduled a little phone brainstorm with Adam Ostrow, editor in chief of Mashable.

Ostrow and I discussed how the new applications and iPhone 3G features could create even more sophisticated hyperlocal mobile social networking. And, my take on it is if the big social networking players (i.e. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter) do it right, there may not be much room for some of the niche location-based players.

Think about it. Two of the big iPhone application announcements centered on location-based social networking sites Loopt and Whrrl. Both allow users to determine the locations of their friends and both provide microblogging and hyperlocal reviews, all using a GPS-powered application.

Great! But there's a catch -- both applications also require that you and your friends download and install the Whrrl or Loopt applications on your mobile phones. This means joining yet another social network. Considering that there are multimillions of users are already frequenting Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, couldn't that imply that the major hyperlocal opportunity here lies with the incumbents? I think it does.

Ostrow says that the newly released MySpace and Facebook applications are much more sophisticated than the mobile-optimized Web sites. These applications integrate with any iPhone's camera, allowing for direct upload of pictures to user profiles. Facebook also integrates its chat into the new iPhone application.

So it's more than reasonable to state that a hyperlocal social networking boon could be on the horizon if Facebook, MySpace, or even Twitter, find a way to tie their services or their third-party applications into the GPS functionality of the iPhone 3G.

Here's why:

  • Most people and their friends already use these services. There's no new software to download, no evangelizing new tools to friends. It's a natural and automatic extension of, for one example, Facebook Mobile's status update.
  • The built-in status or feed options lend themselves well to automatic location sharing, whether it is an intersection or a restaurant, shop, salon, etc.
  • These status updates could easily connect to user-written reviews or even feed conversations about specific locations. (Note: Loopt already integrates with Yelp, but one still needs to install Loopt to benefit.)
  • These status updates could also be customized to either update all friends or to update only friends who are within a certain radius.
  • Finally, all but Twitter currently have integrated social ads. According to Ostrow, partnering with a hyperlocal advertising service such as AppLoop would create an improved mobile monetization model for the social networks, as well.

"I would think that's the direction they would want to go into. It's a niche as a service but could be very big as a feature of existing social networks," Ostrow said.

Some might say that since other phones, such as the BlackBerry, have had 3G features for some time and both Loopt and Whrrl have existing applications for these, this hyperlocal social networking explosion would've already happened. Again, the numbers don't lie. In March, M:Metrics (now comScore.com) [Update 7/14/2008 1:05 p.m.: Article incorrectly stated that M:Metrics was part of Compete.com] reported that the iPhone is the most popular device for accessing news and information on the mobile Web. From the report:

Usage of social networking is also popular among iPhone users: 49.7 percent accessed a social networking site in January, nearly twelve times the market average. Twenty percent of iPhone owners accessed Facebook, one of the first Web properties to customize its content for the iPhone, versus 1.5 percent of the total mobile market.

"The iPhone demographic is definitely better suited to these types of features," Ostrow said. "The more progressive Apple fans tend to be a lot of the heavy social networkers and they are probably more likely to use this stuff."

The reality of this could be a bit daunting to the firms who have invested significant dollars into the niche location-based social networking players, though it could also represent opportunity. It's possible that we'll see Facebook, MySpace, Twitter -- and maybe even FriendFeed -- step into this game and acquire the likes of Loopt and Whrrl and create a bit of much-needed social networking consolidation.

Topics: Hardware, Apps, Collaboration, iPhone, Mobility, Networking, Social Enterprise

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  • nice article

    Nice information and article. Thank you. I agree. Apple does target a lot of teenagers and young adults with all these Networking Apps. )
    • Guilt money

      It's smart to target young generation since their parents are willing to spend money buying the toy their kids like to make up for not being able to spend enough time on them. It's known for a long time this group consumes a lot and generates tons of money yet only Apple is actively targeting them while the other companies are blind to such gold mine until Apple leaves them way behind.
  • RE: Hyperlocal social networking: iPhone 3G may be the trigger

    M:Metrics is now part of "comScore", not Compete.com.
    • Ack!

      Thank you!! I always mix those up. Will fix.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: Hyperlocal social networking: iPhone 3G may be the trigger

    I wonder if Google is planning on using it's Friend Connect service (read <a href="http://blackandwhiteprogram.com/report/emerging-trends-in-social-networking-the-integration-of-social-networks-2">this article about social networks and how google's responding)</a>. It's certainly a ripe opportunity.
  • A billion users at MySpace, Facebook, Twitter????

    Nice article, but one point is way off. There are about 100 million total users at these sites, one order of magnitude less. Many articles and conjecture about how many really exist, e.g., some say 100 million at MySpace, but Google Search leads to blogs that dispute data. In any case, your point still stands re. the incumbents even with "only 100 million users." Thanks for the information.
    • And...

      ...you've just witnessed why I write about social media rather than math or science. ;-) Sorry, that was hasty. I've updated it to say "multi-millions of users." Appreciate the correction.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: Hyperlocal social networking: iPhone 3G may be the trigger

    I think celebrity social networks will gain much from this sophisticated mobile landscape. With many celebrities now having social networks of their own, it will be easier for them to have daily mobile postings of how they run their lives as stated in this blog: 10 Most Gratuitous Celebrity Social Networks(http://www.internetevolution.com/document.asp?doc_id=158211&F_src=flftwo)
  • location based services will be more about services

    there's no effing way I'd let a MySpace or Facebook app on my iphone. We're going to see a steady migration away from these two giants as people try to avoid the endless torrents of pokes. Expect FriendFeed to pick up the slack.

    Location wise, I wouldn't want even my friends to know where I am 24/7, I'm far too busy to be pestered with invites. If I want to meet someone for a coffe I'll call them/mail/IM them, whatever. Location will be more about services and routing, like: "what's a good restaurant within 5minutes from here".
    • Yep

      I've often said that poking will be the death of Facebook.

      There would have to be some permissions, of course. And a way to turn it on and off. But there's clearly an existing market for this considering the existence of Loopt and Whrrl to begin with. I don't think anyone yet is taking advantage of the full market opportunity, but in the end its the users (i.e. you) who decide if this will be realistic or not. I suppose we need to see how Loopt and Whrrl do.
      Jennifer Leggio
    • Opt-In

      These types of potential privacy issues should always be
      opt-in, rather than in being the default, so I don't
      understand why you seem so hostile to this sort of

      Just because you wouldn't use it doesn't mean others
      won't. It is clear that Where 2.0 is coming, and the smart
      companies are the ones getting in on the ground floor.

      Whether you like it or not, there is a market for this type
      of thing, and you are welcome to not participate. And I
      have to disagree with your prognosis of Facebook
      (regarding the pokes). They seem to be doing fine.
      • Re: Opt-In

        I'm not hostile, I'm developing location based services. My point is that most people will actually want a service, not a new way to say "ZOMG! I'm @Disneywrld! LOlz!". Facebook and MySpace haven't even said anything about location as far as I'm aware.

        As I said:
        Location will be more about services and routing, like: "what's a good restaurant within 5minutes from here".

        There's no reason why this can't be social, but I'm certain that this won't be happening on the MySpaz/Facebook platforms. Oh, and I stand by my assertion that these two are on the way out, location will be a big factor in their demise.
  • RE: Hyperlocal social networking: iPhone 3G may be the trigger

    I think I'd be a bit concerned about location sharing with any social networking site. Teenagers are often adding "friends" whom they don't realy know at all. Would you really want Mr. X knowing your very location at any given time? It's only going to be a matter of time before this turns into a serious security problem and children end up missing because some internet stalker posing as a "friend" tracked them down.
    • Agreed

      There are definitely security concerns to consider. I think that's why BrightKite hasn't sustained its popularity. Do I really want some potential internet stalker to know that I am at the Starbucks at El Camino and Lawrence in Santa Clara RIGHT NOW? (I am not, just an example). There would have to be some layer of security and permissions ingrained in such a service -- and actually that's a good question for me to go to Loopt and Whrrl with since they are already doing this. Do you have to be 18 to use these services? What kind of security measures do you take, etc.? If you have more questions, throw them at me, I'll be glad to try to get the info.
      Jennifer Leggio
    • Security and Privacy Issues

      Of course there will be security and privacy issues, just as
      with any social networking site. They will resolve this
      issue through a combination of permissions and manual
      updating, I'd think.

      I don't believe these services are claiming to tell your
      'friends' where you are 24/7, but rather you can update
      your location manually, and it will remain unchanged until
      you do. Also, they may allow only certain friends to see
      your location, and new friends are not on this list by

      There are always ways to make seemingly insecure things
      secure, it just takes a little forethought.
  • RE: Hyperlocal social networking: iPhone 3G may be the trigger

    Does anyone have the brains to question the stats quoted in this and other articles.
  • Next year's iPhone $99 and $199 for

    comparable models and more features.

    Like P.T. barnum said...

    Imagine spend overnite in line then another 4 or 5 hours waiting to buy it. Then another 3 or 4 hours to initialize it to allow at&t to charge $100+ a month just to be early adopter.

    You want to adopt, goto to the SPCA, you'll get more for your money and be happier next month.