If you are on Twitter and you follow a reasonable amount of people at some point you will see a tweet that looks something like this: “I’m at Joe’s Burger Barn (888 Fattie Street, Johannesburg). http://4sq.com/…”
Most of the time you mutter a little curse about people cluttering up your Twitter stream with useless foursquare updates and on the odd occasion you realise that you and your buddy are in the same shopping centre and you can hook up for a coffee and a catch up.
From my perspective there seems to be a reasonable amount of foursquare users in SA. Personally I enjoy checking in at places just for the fun of it. I honestly don’t expect to find anyone else there and I rarely send my updates to Facebook or Twitter, where the majority of my social contacts hang out.
I was wondering, however, what would it take for a real location-based service to take off in SA? And is it already too late for foursquare to become that service for the majority of users.
Although there are two main location services around at the moment, on an international level, foursquare and Gowalla. Some people like one or the other but I am squarely in one camp (bad pun intended).
For South African users there is one important thing to take into consideration. At some point in the near future the peeps over at Facebook are going to expand the reach of Facebook Places from its current US reach and take on the whole world.
The question is: How long will it take Facebook to complete its rollout? Will foursquare be big enough to hold off the irresistible Facebook and will South Africans ever embrace location services?
My answer to these questions are as follows. Facebook will take as long as it please to roll these things out. And like all Americans they probably think that Africa is one country so we will get it after the Europeans, Australians, Indians and Brazilians. That said it should be available pretty quickly and we won’t have to be the guinea pigs like those nice folks over in the US of A.
Sadly, despite the fact that I am rather fond of foursquare I don’t think it can stand up to Facebook. Unlike a service like Twitter, which seems to have excelled because it is simple, the issue of location services is one that will become exponentially more valuable when tightly integrated into a Facebook style social network. Unless there is a sudden run on location-based services in ZA over the next six months and everyone signs up for foursquare, Facebook will launch Places and we will all move invariably across, because we are sheep.
The real question is: Will South Africans embrace location-based services? This largely comes down to the push by the networks to get people to use them. Already we have services like The Grid, but in the face of international competition I don’t think this will last. What will make the difference is the adoption of smartphones by SA’s mobile users. The more people use their phones to access Facebook apps and the site itself the greater the amount of people that will start using Places.
That is unless Twitter and foursquare merge, then all bets are off.