Web 2.0 Summit: Location Is the Next ‘Layer’

A panel at today’s Web 2.0 Summit tackled the hot topic of location-based services. Composed fully of speakers and companies we’ll have at ILM:10, the panel discussed how location will be a component of most online and mobile products … not just the core of a few.

“The most powerful signal we have is location,” said host John Battelle, opening the session. “Knowing where a person is and having tools to declare where [you] are has hundreds if not thousands of new business models.”

One theme was that location is everywhere (if that’s not a technically redundant statement). Moderator Brady Forrest from O’Reilly Media characterized location as being in the “Friendster stage”: Years ago, you poked around with it but now there is a complete social layer on the Web.

“Wherever you go, you can take that social layer with you,” he said. “Now with location, we’re just figuring out what it can do as it’s enabled by Apple and the smartphone providers in the market.”

Traffic Jamming

Generating foot traffic is one of the directions for location espoused by Shopkick CEO Cyriac Roeding. Shopkick is clearly built around this idea, and it’s long been a pain point for retailers. But we still haven’t used mobile and location to adequately solve this problem.

“If foot traffic is the biggest objective for retailers, why aren’t we rewarding consumers for foot traffic?” he said. “Google built a business on driving Web traffic; we want to drive foot traffic and give people an awards program for walking in the door.”

Shopkick has already begun to do this with retailers like Best Buy, Macy’s and Target (see our writeup yesterday). The next step is being able to build in brand engagement such as holding an NFC-capable mobile device up to a DVD package to launch a movie trailer.

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman agreed, adding the notion of incentivizing in-store activity. This goes beyond the brand engagement of a movie trailer to close the loop on product conversions. This can be a powerful draw for lots of advertisers.

“Something you did has led to customers in the door,” says Stoppelman. “You can then incent them for certain behavior or promote certain merchandise. This isn’t the promise of spending money to get customers; It’s proving that you got customers.”

The Earth Is the Limit

Beyond driving customers in the door, SimpleGEO CEO Matt Galligan brought up the interesting point that location can be used post sale, in order to analyze important variables. Things tied to location can help analyze trends that affect sales for businesses like Starbucks.

“It may be weather or tweet activity about a barista that smelled bad that day,” he said. “Looking at the world as a whole and having a coordinate attached to a data point can change everything.”

Regardless of where location data are applied, they are clearly becoming vital elements in all walks of mobile content and ad delivery.  It’s also clear, as we mentioned in the wake of the Facebook Places launch, that unique location content will be a differentiator for lots of new companies.

“Facebook added social as a layer across the Web,” echoed Galligan. “Location will be a layer across everything. Now it’s all about what our imagination is limited to … what can we create that it related to location? So many things can be done.”

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Watch the full session video playback here.

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