Where Do You Check In? The Northwest’s Location-Based Search and Social Networking Mini Cluster

The rising popularity of New York, NY-based Foursquare, which launched in March of 2009 and has quickly become the most popular location-based social networking mobile application in the world, has caused an explosion of development on geolocation applications worldwide. Some of the most well known here in the states include Gowalla, BrightKite, Loopt and Seattle-based Whrrl, which all engage mobile smart phone users by encouraging them to “check in” everywhere they go throughout the day, connect with friends based on the local networks they build, and earn rewards for repeat usage.

Many of these applications, like Foursquare and Whrrl, have incorporated some gaming aspects into the system, pitting friends within the same network against each other in competitions for the title of “mayor” of certain locations, or to earn points that add up to “badges” or memberships to exclusive “societies” based on interaction and loyalty. But unlike searching for the closest coffee shop on Google Maps, it’s the social interaction of the applications that draws users in, according to Leigh Fatzinger, founder of Seattle-based Nology Media, a company that develops and implements social media campaigns for businesses and organizations.

“I’m checking into a location that exists, and I want to know the people around me,” Fatzinger summed up when we spoke last week about the recent onslaught of location-based social networks and what they mean for consumers and businesses. According to Leigh, these new social apps are no fad. Not only do such networks allow people to interact with those around them and experience everyday habits in new ways, he says businesses and organizations have now found a way to re-engage their customers and encourage return patronship by mixing social networking with social commerce.

“We had dinner at the Four Seasons last week—it was actually my anniversary—and I checked in at the restaurant and found out the Four Seasons was offering a 10 percent discount off the entire bill for check-ins and free mini burgers to their mayor,” Fatzinger says.

The fact that big businesses like Four Seasons and Starbucks, which partnered with Foursquare back in March to offer special perks for people who check in at their retail locations, are buying into the power of social network and the check-in platform means there is marketing power behind it, Fatzinger says.

“The server said it had started the day before and I was the first person to use it,” he says. “This would have been unheard of for the Four Seasons a year ago.”

And the potential for marketing campaigns directed precisely at you based on the places you already go to and brands you already interact with on a daily basis, has caught the eye of investors. Foursquare, which surpassed the 2 million registered user mark this weekend (adding new users at a rate of 100,000 per week), recently brought in $20 million in Series B financing led by Andreessen Horowitz. And the increasing interest in location-based social networking applications—among consumers, brands, and marketers—has revolutionized the nature of social media.

Alongside the plethora of applications that allow you to check-in to real locations such as restaurants and coffee shops and communicate with friends within a certain geographic range, new apps are popping up on the marketplace that allow you to check into “virtual places” that include Web sites and mobile applications built around ideas, organizations and books. One example is MISO, which has been termed “a foursquare-like app for homebodies” because it allows users to check in to TV shows and movies and connect with like-minded people with similar entertainment tastes.

“Now imagine where that can go—you can check into a book. When we talk about location-based, we have to think about what the location is. I can be sitting in my living room, but I can check into this book and share ideas with others…it’s a new way to exchange information,” Fatzinger says. “We’re going to be checking into a lot of things as we find commonalities between us…it will always come back to how do services make money and how do marketers tailor.”

Given the variety and myriad of social networks out there, I thought it might be interesting to list the different location-based search and social applications born right here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a small cluster, but it’s growing. If you notice one I’ve missed, feel free to comment below and I’ll add it to the list.

Location-based search and social networks in the Pacific Northwest:

Anttenna (Seattle, WA)

This year-old application is something like a hybrid between Twitter’s microblogging, Craigslist’s classifieds listings, and Foursquare’s location-based interactivity. Using the free iPhone application (apps for other smart phones are currently in the works), people add or search for items in 140-character mobile microlistings based on various categories such as lost and found pets, carpool, volunteer, barter, and events/gathering. Once they find what they’re looking for, the app helps parties connect virtually via instant chat, or in person using GPS geotagging to provide Google map directions.

GeoPage (Seattle, WA)

GeoPage, originally Zoodango, combines mapping and location-based search with Yelp reviews, Zagat ratings, and business data available through a partnership with Citysearch. And incorporating the social element, the mobile application developer also lets users share their own reviews and alternative rating systems that combine to help them find more comprehensive and personalized information about a specific location.

Glympse (Redmond, WA)

Unlike many location-based social networks, Glympse’s claim to fame is the protection of privacy, rather than the revelation of where you are. Instead of having to text message or call a friend to tell them you’re running late, with Glympse you select who you’d like to share your location with, and for how long, allowing them to watch your movements in real time.

Point Inside (Bellevue, WA)

There are plenty of applications available that can show you a map of the outside world—directions to the nearest Starbucks, or your Tuesday lunch meeting—on your mobile phone. The Point Inside app, however, focuses on providing indoor mapping navigation of places like malls or airports so you’re never lost, even indoors.

WhitePages (Seattle, WA)

Like many search engines, people and business search site WhitePages has gone mobile in recent years, providing its full search capabilities as mobile applications. And much like other local mapping applications, it emphasizes direction, maps, and information on nearby people and places. What makes the WhitePages app unique is the inclusion of its search database of some 200 million residences and businesses in the U.S. alone. And although the social aspect is less clear at this stage, WhitePages chief operating officer Kevin Nakao says the search site will be incorporating some optional social tie-ins to its mobile applications and services in the future.

Whrrl (Seattle, WA)

One of the popular contenders to Foursquare, and the pioneer of location-based social networks built around “checking in,” Whrrl creates a game around your daily life. Using Whrrl, a project of Seattle-based Pelago, people “check in” at various locations around town—earning points for interaction, and even more for retuning to the same places over and over again. The more you interact, the more points you earn, eventually allowing you to unlock “societies” and earn rewards from retailers. The system also allows you to connect with friends nearby, record your connections, and share status updates, pictures, and reviews.

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