Proximity-based social networks, such as Foursquare, the now-retired Google Latitude and Facebook Places, were a promising vision back in 2009. But it's now 2013 and things have changed. As mentioned, Google and Facebook, retired their own takes on the theme, although both retained the check-in features within Google+ and as a tagging option in Facebook's status updates.
So what has happened? Citing check-in fatigue and the obsolescence of the manual check-in because of ability to automatically obtain location data through a user's device, Natasha Lomas recently implored people to stop trying to make proximity-based social networking happen.
According to Lomas
Most people need to communicate at regular intervals — which is the driving force behind the rise and rise of mobile messaging apps. Far fewer people feel a similar imperative to regularly broadcast their location. Or tether their communications to a particular location. That’s got ‘niche use-case’ written all over it.Lomas astutely notes, that just because the check-in services are declining, it does not mean location-based services are also on the decline, as increasing amounts of location-based data is being collected automatically through mobile computing.
... Of course there’s still a hardcore of check-in junkies who use Foursquare, but there’s still a hardcore of Google fans who use Google+ (oh, and, Robert Scoble), just as there’s a core group of people who continue visiting the local library. The wider point here is that you don’t need to require users to manually check-in when you can grab their location data automatically, based on where a user’s cell phone or tablet is accessing your service. For those (pesky) users who block location spiders, there are still embedded options and frequent nagging to share where they are. But for the average ‘click yes to anything’ app user the emphasis has shifted to an assumption that location will be taken at the point of sign up.
The proximity-based social network is rendered a niche product in the few circumstances where proximity rather than communication is the over-riding factor. Lomas cites Grindr, and, shpock - a local retail app, as examples of feasible proximity-based network products. She mentions Nokia's new Job Lens app, which in a combination of augmented reality and job hunting allows the user to find jobs relative to their location; and Apple's apps "Near Me" app implemented in iOS 7, as less useful products.
The rise of the mobile messaging apps and the decline of the proximity-based social network, suggests that for friendship it is communication not location that is the influential component. As Lomas notes,
The long and short of it is the most interesting kind of proximity is the digital proximity that allows people to keep in touch virtually without having to be co-located most of the time. Location is a feature of friendship, communication is the focus.
The people at Cisco, however think that despite it's tendency for niche products, proximity-based social networks can do a lot of good. According to Melissa Jun Rowley, the emerging proximity-based social networking market is expected to reach $1.9 billion in revenues by 2016. In her article on proximity-based social change, Jun Rowley, suggests that the opportunities for proximity services to spark social change are just beginning to unfold. Two examples are used to illustrate these potentials.
3M's Domestic Violence Proximity Notification System: Uses GPS, RF and cellular communication. Security layers are created around the victims, and proximity notification layers around the aggressors. The system tracks aggressors sends alerts to victims and law enforcers.
POS REP: A social network which facilitates reconnection and reintegration of military veterans. Founder, Anthony Allman, claims it was developed to respond to issues faced by veterans after the suicide of Purple Heart recipient and veteran advocate Clay Hunt. The service connects veterans to peers and services in their communities.
Jun Rowley sees these examples as evidence that proximity-based social networking can be used for social good and considers whether it could become a trend, claiming that:
As devices or "things" start to communicate with one another and develop their own intelligence more, what they'll be able to accomplish through proximity and beyond is going to change daily human behavior, as well as our notions about benefitting humanity through technology.