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Why Recommended Places Are the Next Big Thing in Location

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Now that Facebook is doing its best to make location-based services and the idea of a “check-in” mainstream with Facebook Places, the real game in location is shifting elsewhere: such as trying to make sense of all of the location data that users are providing through various services. One obvious goal is to offer users recommendations for places based on their behavior or the activity of their social network, and several startups have their eye on that prize: The Hotlist, a seed-funded startup based in New York, just announced it has integrated the Facebook Places API into its recommendation service, and — another NYC-based startup, founded by Flickr (s yhoo) co-founder Caterina Fake — has just launched a recommended-location service.

The Hotlist started as a service aimed at university students, designed by its founders to aggregate information from a user’s social network and show popular nightspots. It uses the Facebook platform to pull in data from that network’s social graph, and also collects related tweets about a location from Twitter, as well as user reviews from Yelp. The service’s university-focused pedigree definitely shows in certain features, like the one that shows the male-to-female ratio at a given venue. The Hotlist also allows users to share their future plans to attend events or go to specific locations, in much the same way that event-sharing services such as Plancast do. The company raised $800,000 from a number of angel investors earlier this year.

Although it is still relatively new (having launched its beta in March), The Hotlist says it’s logged close to 3 million upcoming events that users (and their social networks) plan to attend at almost a million locations around the world., a recommendation service that Caterina Fake and Chris Dixon launched earlier this year, also has its eye on providing location recommendations, through a feature called Hunch Local that debuted recently. Hunch pulls in a user’s social-graph information when they log in with Facebook or Twitter, but also uses its proprietary algorithm — which is based on a user’s answers to a series of questions about their likes and dislikes in a variety of areas — to arrive at recommendations. So while The Hotlist shows you venues that your social network explicitly likes or has checked-in at, Hunch tries to guess what kinds of locations you might like (other services such as LikeCube are taking a similar approach).

A service like Foursquare can show you how many of your friends have checked in at a specific spot and give you tips about that location, while Yelp and other services (such as Google (s goog) Local) can show you user reviews, but the interesting thing about applications like The Hotlist and Hunch’s local recommendation feature is their ability — or potential ability — to effectively make social decisions easier. With a glance at a customized map on your Hotlist page, you can see the places where your friends either are already or plan to go in the future, and then decide to join them (or not, depending on how social you’re feeling). Hunch’s secret sauce, meanwhile, is its ability to guess what locations you might be interested in, based on what it knows about you.

Facebook has its eye on the recommendation prize as well, obviously. Given enough check-ins and “likes” using the network’s open-graph protocol, Facebook can start to show you what locations are popular with your social network, and then eventually make suggestions about locations you might like as well — the potential advertising opportunities for such a service would be huge — and because the Facebook Places API is open, it can aggregate data from Foursquare and Gowalla as well. That is going to make the game a lot harder for startups like Hunch and The Hotlist, but for now at least the location-recommendation market is fairly wide open.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Dunechaser

10 Responses to “Why Recommended Places Are the Next Big Thing in Location”

  1. From an end user point of view recommended places are very useful for me. If I’m at certain place and any of trusted source recommended something, I would prefer to go check out that place….
    More over I’m doubtful some big hotels or restaurant might try to game this system by fake reviews….

  2. The Holy Grail at the nexus of location/proximity, time, events and offers/deals…

    Excellent post, Mathew. I believe services like these will soon be indispensable, akin to navigation on mobile devices and PNDs. Since events are by definition perishable, these services could solve the age-old, universal problem faced by individuals (“what should I do this (evening/weekend/etc.)?”) as well as businesses (“the event starts in four hours and we have lots of unsold tickets.”) With location tracking and a properly disambiguated database of events by location and time, a location-based service could also “learn” a great deal about individuals’ interests (with their permission, of course; I referred to this as “footstreams” in my location-based innovation report). It’s useful to consider which feature(s) and functionality could/will make one of these solutions truly indispensable. I suspect it’s the ability to match events to users in real-time. Dave Pakman of Venrock offered keen insights a few months ago in his post “The Right-time Web” ( – referring to search, he observed that “[while] social media content is valuable because it comes from people you care about, it is gold when it marries with your intent and interest in a topic at a time of your choosing.” His observation is even more applicable to opportunities at the nexus of location (proximity), time, and perishable events. Imagine a solution that combines collaborative filtering a la Hunch or Amazon (not just from your social network, but others “like you”), the scalability of Google search, location awareness from someone (maybe Skyhook?), with real-time offers from a Groupon-like service tied into local attractions and events – there is enormous value in solving this problem! Interestingly, Groupon has just begun to ask its subscribers to complete a short profile so that it can provide offers tailored to the subscriber’s interests. Much like “Google” has become synonymous with search, the service that best answers “what do you want to do?” will soon become part of our vernacular as well.

    Dr. Phil Hendrix, immr and GigaOm Pro analyst

  3. Yvon Bayonne

    Good article.
    Yet I’m very surprised that startups try to compete against Facebook given its huge avantage: social graph acuracy. I mean they have better knowledge (the data is here) of user behaviour than anyone. Facebook Places API will make it possible to leverage Foursquare and Gowalla’s check-ins data? Come on.

  4. We completely agree that helping users find what to do & where to do it is a huge opportunity in the social location space. Now that check-ins have become mainstream, the real value that people are looking for is around deciding where to go, well before checking in somewhere.

    At Poig, our approach is to make it incredibly easy to share what you want to do (an idea, a want, a thought that comes well before having a formal plan) and then, helping users figure out the where, when and with whom through their social connections.

    The next wave of location innovation is going to be about helping people make real-time social decisions, not just broadcasting what they’re already doing.

  5. Recommended services has value becasue it comes from a trusted source. If friends recommend a place or service it is more then likely that we will check thast place out and that is why the value of such services are great