Google Check-ins

Some recent announcements from Google have put companies such as Foursquare, Yelp and Gowalla on alert, while others including Facebook and Groupon are also watching very closely.

Google has been systematically maneuvering different pieces of its mobile, local and social strategies, and the way those pieces are lining up poses a significant threat to a number of Web businesses. One of the biggest and most
recent moves has been the addition of checkin capabilities to Latitude, the social and sharing feature of Google’s location-based service Places.
This seemingly simple feature may have an enormous effect
Check-ins have long been an immensely popular feature for location-based services (LBS) because users can share their locations with friends via mobile apps when they arrive at local businesses and establishments.
Companies like Foursquare, Gowalla and SCVNGR have built their check-in services around social rewards such as badges and stamps. Users check in to Facebook Places, Shopkick and Loopt to receive deals from participating businesses, and check-ins through apps from Yelp and others offer a platform for users to rate, recommend and review local restaurants and stores.
So despite being a latecomer to the checkins arena, Google can significantly alter the LBS space in a virtual heartbeat. According to a December 2010 Microsoft-sponsored study entitled Location Based Services Usages and
Perceptions Survey, Google Places is the most widely used LBS ahead of Facebook Places — and that was before the addition of checkins.
Also, Google’s new check-ins feature is unique in that it gives users the added options of setting notifications and checking out from a location.
In addition to the Web’s predominant search engine and the massive user base that goes with it, Google has something else that the other LBS do not — the rapidly growing Android mobile platform. Though an iPhone app for check-ins is said to be forthcoming, Google Places already has apps for the iPhone and Android devices that integrate with its other location-related services such as Google Maps and Navigation.
And Google also has its new HotPot local ratings and recommendations engine, for which it announced a global expansion shortly after the addition of check-ins. So, users can share their locations with friends, rate and review local businesses, all via Google’s services and across all mobile platforms. The only thing missing is a local deals component, right?
Wrong. That’s our guess, at least.
Shortly after its $6 billion acquisition attempt was spurned by Groupon, word spread that Google was preparing to launch its own entry into the daily deals space — Google Offers. The company addressed the rumors by saying that it was exploring several new ways of connecting local businesses with mobile customers, and that a daily deals model was, in fact, one of them. But there were others.
Which brings us to Offer Ads, another mobile initiative of Google’s in which advertisers send coupons to users through email or SMS to drive customers into their physical store locations. The combined synergy of all of these individual Google products is downright frightening, especially if your business relies on mobile apps
— particularly for Android — to provide competing services.

Assuming for the moment that Facebook and Groupon can withstand the competition, what about Foursquare and Yelp? Gowalla and SCVNGR? Shopkick and Loopt? Or the dozens of other lesser-known services?
For businesses that use Google Places to build awareness for their products and services, the convergence of these services creates the perfect storm of mobile, local and social marketing. Between check-ins, coupons, ratings and reviews, merchants have everything they need right on the Google homepage — not to mention Google Analytics
to gauge the individual performances of each service.
All that’s going to be hard to beat

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