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Future of Geo-Apps: Google shows us the thing

Written by: Sam Smith

Published on: June 13, 2013

So Google went ahead and completed the mega bucks, albeit mega anticipated, acquisition of social traffic app Waze just 24 hours ago.

And as the dust falls – and we chalk up where a $1.2 billion dollar deal registers on the social-web richter scale – the geo-location app landscape upon which it settles starts to shift again.

mashable screenshot waze

We seem to be deep into the startup, experiment and development era of geo-app formation. While a few relative monoliths (Foursquare et al) remain, those looking to push the boundaries of the traditional ‘social check-in’ either register a fleeting tremor (boom and bust) or occasionally, as in Waze’s case, bring about a tectonic shift (a major acquisition).

Like the San Andreas fault which runs beneath most of these app-based startups on the West Coast, the two plates of rapidly accelerating startups and long established social web mainstays (we’re looking at you Google, Facebook, Twitter) rub along together until something inevitably gives. But why such a seismic acquisition?

First and foremost, Google bought Waze to bolster Maps’ quake defenses. The rapid acceleration of the crowd-sourced nav app is clearly a threat in the mobile-mapping space. But there’s more to this acquisition for Google. So much so that both Apple and Facebook were also said to be circling.

Waze goes beyond maps and geo-apps alike. Its collaborative approach to user mapping using real time GPS data is a real innovation. Plus, 50 million users are not to be sniffed at. And it’s cracking this ‘social’ element of geo-mapping that made Waze such an attractive proposition.

Check out a video on what exactly Waze is:

 

 

Even for Facebook it seems – not the first place you’d think to head for traffic information – which apparently offered $1 billion for the app just last month. And while this jostling between the big boys could be seen as nothing more than billion-dollar brinkmanship, Facebook’s interest is telling.

As it seeks to diversify and monetize, Facebook has increasingly become the UI equivalent of a corner shop noticeboard – crammed with ads, lost (lol)cats and second-hand sofas. The problem remains that, Waze or no Waze, people don’t want to go to Facebook to plan their route home.

They don’t really want to go there to find an amazing local business (Yelp, ScoutMob), get a recommendation (Qype, Koozoo), network with nearby people (Sonar, Here On Biz) or arrange a date (Tinder, Blendr) either. They go there to connect with friends, share a bunch of photos and get their voyeuristic tendencies satisfied – maybe even interact with a brand while they’re at it. 

Meanwhile, the apps above (Tindr, Sonar, Here On Biz), which feed off the social graph ecosystem above the big social networks, and fulfill a specific purpose, are doing some of the most interesting work. And with rapidly growing numbers, they’re also lining themselves up to be the next Instagram (particularly when Facebook looks to build out its Graph Search capabilities).

Of course, their position is vulnerable too. It’s not so long ago a whole bunch of apps fell through the cracks when the walls got built around Twitter’s API in the last big defensive shift. 

But Google’s acquisition of Waze gives us some clues about the next era of geo-apps.  Niche players will continue to rise, most will fall, and some will reform attached to bigger land masses, strengthening their defenses. 

What’s for certain is, the Pangaea will break up, major geo-app continents will form, serving different user needs (travel, photo, experience, storytelling, local knowledge, augmented reality, etc). Ultimately, getting the ‘social’ in ‘geo-social’ right, in a way that actually touches people’s lives, will be the key.  

Maybe geo-apps will crack it totally, and define a whole new social era?