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Fact: Most People Have Never Heard of Location-Based Apps

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Amid all the attention that location-based services have been getting — particularly Foursquare, which recently crossed 2 million users and landed a substantial round of venture capital financing — it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that most people have never used them, and in many cases may not even realize that they exist. That’s the main takeaway from a Forrester Research report on the sector, which found that less than 5 percent of U.S. online users have ever used a location-based application on a mobile device. And not only were most respondents not using such services, but almost 85 percent said that they were not familiar with location-based apps at all.

The Forrester report also found that those who use apps such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt are almost overwhelmingly young men: close to 80 percent of those who use such apps are male, and almost 70 percent are between the ages of 19 and 35. Only 5 percent of those over the age of 55 said they had ever used a location-based service, and zero percent over the age of 65. The average user of such an app was substantially younger than the U.S. average, with a higher income and more likely to be college educated.

The point for marketers, Forrester analyst Melissa Parrish said, is that location-based services are still highly niche applications, and they target a group that is overwhelmingly young and male – although the analyst also noted that this group tends to also be made up of “influencers,” or those whom others look to for recommendations on products and services. And Forrester said that the market for location is still fragmented into multiple segments, making it even less attractive as a marketing platform.

Interactive marketers see the potential of a technology that connects people with places and points of sale, but they also see the reality of a fragmented technology (and thus consumer) landscape. The social location world is littered with dozens of apps that connect people and places in unique ways but also segment users into app silos.

In another interesting data point from the survey, Forrester’s research found that even those who said they use location-based services don’t do so on a very active basis — only one percent of users post an update more than once a week. That suggests market leader Foursquare needs to work on the way it creates incentives for users to check in with the service, something Om discussed with co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley in a recent interview. Crowley said that the startup was working on new features that it hoped would increase its appeal. Meanwhile, Facebook is also working on location features, which may include a partnership with Foursquare and other services.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Is Geolocation a Real Business or Just a Feature?

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user schatz

25 Responses to “Fact: Most People Have Never Heard of Location-Based Apps”

  1. I agree with this point: “The point for marketers, Forrester analyst Melissa Parrish said, is that location-based services are still highly niche applications”

    I believe that we are not only going to see these applications continue to be nice, but it will start to work for niche businesses as well. Particular industries are going to start adapting custom location based applications, to draw in their target market. The more relevant the marketing, the more likely these applications will attract paying customers.

  2. I recently published a whitepaper on this topic that pre-dates the Forrester report:

    We’re addressing the scale and fragmentation issues by aggregating the space for marketers and providing cross-platform metrics to measure the relative performance of each service. Our feeling is that the LBS space will become more (not less) fragmented. It will be more like publishing in that you’ll have thousands of local, regional, and niche applications. As opposed to social networking, where you essentially have Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. Foursquare will become huge. But it will be New York Times huge; not Facebook huge IMHO.

    The only meaningful analytics for LBS will be in the aggregate. Just measuring Foursquare is akin to only measuring web traffic from Twitter. There will be hundreds or thousands of apps that effectively send foot traffic to locations, and all of these will need to be accounted for. Hence, our reason for existence.

  3. Location-based Social Networks Are a Small Subset of Location-based Services…

    While Forrester’s research and perspectives are generally very sound, the wording of this particular question is peculiar and certainly doesn’t support the conclusion suggested in the headline. In literally hundreds of interviews we’ve done with consumers, not a single one has used the term “geolocation,” so I’m not surprised that few consumers say they’re familiar with “geolocation apps.” Secondly, while Foursquare, Gowalla and other check-in apps get enormous attention in the technology community, these apps represent only a small slice of the broader category of location-based services (see for an illustration and for a more comprehensive discussion of location-based services). Had the question referenced “mobile apps that provide information or results based on your current location, such as Google Maps, Yelp, etc.” the results would have been very different. Finally, most location-based services are designed for smart phones – these results appear to be drawn from a broad sample of mobile subscribers, including those with smart phones and feature phones. Familiarity and usage are undoubtedly higher among smart phone users. Despite these qualifications, I don’t disagree with Forrester’s conclusion that “The social location world is littered with dozens of apps that connect people and places in unique ways but also segment users into app silos” (as suggested in the illustration at

    Dr. Phil Hendrix, immr and GigaOm Pro analyst

  4. No way, seriously?! I can’t believe that ‘most’ people haven’t heard of them.. The title should be self explanatory enough for people to put the link to things like Google Maps, Twitter, Foursquare etc.

    I could understand if not many people actually use them, but to have not heard of them is a joke.

  5. Alot of people though use the Google Maps program on their phones- handy search feature, navigation to get there, and there’s Google Buzz to check-in, comment and able to upload photos. Most people might not want to bother with these start-ups.

  6. I can remember trying to get businesses to buy their websites.
    “I’d never be so stupid”
    Was the usual reply…. when they just could not see the upside. One of my team at the time in Telecoms bought and still has it, still makes me smile to this day !

    There’s massive upside in location based media, I’m sure we’re all OK with that, especially with those statistics and in the knowledge that we’ll be exploiting those opportunities ahead of the wave.

    • I think you and Todd make a good point, Leigh — and every new service or network has probably suffered from the same early-adopter profile. Some made it past that to broader acceptance, but just as many or more did not :-)

  7. Great article. Metrics are critically important and really the only thing that will tell us if LBS matters or if it doesn’t. So far, people are making a lot of bets but the reality just isn’t quite there today.