- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
The phrase “location, location, location” is commonly used to refer to the three most important attributes of property when it comes to real estate. However, these days it seems more appropriate to use the phrase to highlight the significance of location-based technology—a growing trend in the online and mobile world. Using geo-location technology, programs such as Gowalla, Foursquare, Loopt, SCVNGR and Facebook Places are utilizing the GPS in your mobile device, IP address, Wi-Fi location and other similar markers to pinpoint your location and that of others. These programs then take the extra step of integrating offers and incentives such as pins and titles to reward frequent “check-ins” at a venue (e.g., restaurant, office, store, home).
The primary question we still ask one another online is “What are you doing?” (thanks to Twitter). Now though, we see the online world turning to ask the question of “Where are you?”
The market for location-based technology is growing and some speculate that Foursquare may be the next Twitter in terms of popularity and success. A recent survey from Pew found that approximately five percent of U.S. Internet users report having used a location-based service such as the ones referenced here. For Foursquare, one of the leaders in this field, it reached its one millionth registered user approximately one year after launching. By comparison, Twitter reported its one millionth user about two years after it launched. As these programs grow in popularity they are quickly changing how we interact with one another on- and offline.
Checking-in for the First Time.
The potential for proliferation of location-based applications is great, but the overall percentage of users is still relatively small. More specifically, it has not yet fully penetrated the nonprofit and business world, which may be an indication of how quickly this technology will be adopted by consumers in the coming years. Here are some interesting examples of how several nonprofit and commercial groups are leveraging these technologies in innovative ways today:
- Our City Forest, which seeks to develop greener and healthier urban environments by working with communities to plant and care for trees within cities, is currently working with Loopt to help its volunteer teams stationed in unfamiliar and spread out locations keep in touch using their mobile phones. In this unique program, Loopt will be used as part of the teams’ tree tagging process, where volunteers post pictures of specific trees and their locations. All the information will be shared among team members so everyone knows the exact location and planting/pruning information of the trees themselves.
- Mashable highlighted The Brooklyn Museum, which has created an online community through Foursquare where users in the network share information, tips and pictures. The “mayor” receives perks such as free entry to the museum. The staff at the museum also participate in the conversation and provide Foursquare tips and photos of its past mayors on a community page.
- Foursquare recently released the “Blimpspotter” badge in support of Conan O’Brien’s new show to air on TBS. The blimp will fly over Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, Tampa and Boston during the month of October. During which time, Foursquare users who spot the blimp can check in and unlock the badge. To help users in search of the sought after badge, the creators have provided a map with the blimp’s route.
These programs are rooted in our love of games, but layer on components to sustain engagement, help us interact with others and perhaps most importantly, entertain.
What about a “Social Citizen” Pin?
As these examples show, the possibilities are endless. There has even been recent buzz, as reported by ReadWriteWeb about a Twitter discussion involving the possible creation of a “Civic” badge on Twitter. Comments from leaders at Foursquare and Gowalla seem to imply that they too think the creation of such a badge may occur in the not too distant future. While civic engagement and location-based applications might not seem like a natural fit at first, it is quickly looking like this may become a winning combination.
Promotion of other causes and issues are already in the works. Foursquare recently announced a partnership with CNN which will give a "healthy eater" badge to anyone who checks-in at one of 10,000 farmers markets. Thinking along those same lines, what about a “Voter” badge after checking into a certified election, a “Philanthropist” badge for those who make a donation via mobile phone and check in at a specified spot(s) or perhaps a “Volunteer” badge for those who give of their time to a registered nonprofit?
Unlocking the “Success” Pin.
This technology provides for great opportunities across all sectors. However, before we all jump in head first we must ask ourselves how and when to best use this technology. For those of us in the nonprofit sector, this is a particularly challenging question as nonprofits are seen to be lagging “behind their commercial counterparts” when it comes to successfully leveraging geo-location tools.
I agree with this statement, but only because I do not think location-based technologies and geo-location tools are necessarily the right answers for many in the nonprofit sector. Aside from potential fears of trying out this technology, there are issues with verification of check-ins (e.g., if you volunteer for a period of time), how to provide rewards and incentives through these applications, finding the right location to use and so on that those in the service sector must address.
Ultimately, challenges for integrating this technology into the nonprofit, and more specifically service sector remain. However, I hope groups will at least consider whether or not it’s a good fit for them and if it is, take that leap. What do you think the future holds for nonprofits when it comes to geo-location and location-based technologies?