There has been so much coverage in the Media regarding Location Based Services (LBS) and how they are the way of the future. While I tend to agree with the vast majority of what’s being said out there at the moment — I thought I think its more useful to examine how people behave generally and how mapping their movements will change their lives (or not).

There has been so much coverage in the Media regarding Location Based Services (LBS) and how they are the way of the future. While I tend to agree with the vast majority of what’s being said out there at the moment — I thought I think its more useful to examine how people behave generally and how mapping their movements will change their lives (or not).

The main negative arguments that have been presented in all my readings about location based services is predominately focused around some research which was conducted in the UK by Dr William Webb from telecoms regulator OfCom. He discovered that of the 100,000 people tracked in his research — almost all of them had similar, if not identical, movement patterns day in, day out. This basically means that people don’t really change all that much — we move to work, using the same route that we use every day. We stay at work the majority of the day and then we go home. We don’t really explore other avenues of getting to and from work because it nonsensical to assume that we haven’t already mapped out the best way to get there already — so any sort of mobile location based service is not going to change our already proven best method. Additionally, lets say that it did find out a better route, we would then use that route everyday and not change from this newly discovered one again for some time. What’s interesting is that the research found that children and teenagers are much the same — they go to school using the same route every day and they spend the vast majority of their day at school. They then go home using the same route they took to school, and while they might deviate a little here and there to pick up food or go to a friend’s house — the overwhelming majority of their movement is within a 5KM to 10KM radius of their home and school (which is also how insurance models are priced).

So what does all this mean? Well, what seems to be the biggest trend in all this research is human consistency. People realistically don’t deviate from their typical everyday lives all that much. If you wrote down where you travelled day in and day out — you would discover that realistically you don’t really move more than a 10KM radius from your work or your home. When you are at work you might travel around a little or you remain stationary in the one place all day — when you are at home you go to the shops around your house, and commute to restaurants and use services within this limited area. Sure there will always be exceptions to this rule — so it’s not a blanket generalization, but what it is — is what the vast majority of people do. This also rings true for any interactions you have with your friends and colleagues. Most of the friends that you have, you have grown up with or you work with — and really you already know where they are located. Sure thing, you don’t know where they are located all the time but this then begs the question — do you really want to know? I have read arguments for and against this point and obviously the biggest factor in all of this has to do with privacy — perhaps something that deserves an entirely separate post in itself later.

So lets dig a little deeper — with the birth of ‘super’ smart phones (aka iPhone 3G) where you can be “always on” and your friends can interact with your every second of the day — how much will people really rely on location based services. I think it’s a moot point — I for one go to work each day and discover that only during the limited 1 hour I have for lunch would I look to see where my friends are located around my work. If they were within a close area of me, I would definitively give them a call or a message to hook up for lunch (of note is that I may already know they work close to me and so I don’t need to know this). Sure thing on a Friday night or around the weekend I would definitively use location based services more to find out what my friends are doing — but only if I could be bothered hooking up with them. If I didn’t want to go out — it’s pretty obvious that I should be able to “turn myself off” — which I think most location developers are on top of (or should be otherwise their service is going to have real privacy issues).

So where does that leave us? Well realistically the point that comes out in all these articles and all of research around location based services is that people don’t really change all that much. They go to the same places day in and day out, and the intrinsic similarity in their movement patterns suggests that they don’t like change. Most people develop an affinity for the same coffee shop, super market, clothes stores and so on. If you find something that you like at one location, you won’t often change to another location but rather revisit that same location over and over again. So realistically, location based services are pretty useless when it comes to trying to get you to change — because the vast majority of research has found that people resent change. Have a think about this — if you love your local coffee shop just around the corner and within walking distance of your home, and then someone came and told you “No, no you have to try this cafe, it’s the best coffee in the world but it’s not a walk down the street, you have to drive” — what would you do? 95% of people couldn’t be bothered to try the new coffee shop until they were in that area and it was convenient to them. I love the coffee down at my local cafe, and there is no way I would drive to another cafe just to get coffee which is better but requires me to get in my car, dodge traffic, park, get out of the car, wait for the coffee, get back in my car, dodge traffic and return home. The stress alone of that exercise is enough to make it not worthwhile. It has to be truly value adding for you to want to go through this, and like most things in life — if it’s not going to be an ‘amazing experience’, rather just a ‘good one’ — then you will not find yourself doing it. I can see some of you at the moment going “if the coffee was really unbelievable I would do it” — and maybe your thoughts really do have some merit to them, but I think in the vast majority of cases people rely on the age old adage “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

So in conclusion however, and I say this as a big however — I think where location based services will come out on top is by letting you know what you friends and colleagues are doing at any given time. Sure thing, the argument that people don’t move far from their location is a valid one (and clearly proven) — but this doesn’t mean to say that location based services are entirely useless. A 10KM radius is still a huge area, and many people will want to know what their family, friends and colleagues are doing. Being able to have the choice of discovering new places and new friends with location based services is an offering that has previously never been accessible to the masses before — so perhaps people’s movements and consistency patterns may change. While it’s undoubtedly true that the majority of people are resistant to change — location based services will assist in allowing people to communicate with the people they want too, and ignore the ones they don’t want to deal with. It’s all about choice — if location based services can provide people with more choice than they already have in their lives — then it opens up a whole range of avenues that have never previously existed. Something I think, which is ultimately very very exciting.