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The Evolution of Geotagging

Geo-tagging has become ingrained in the DNA of the online — and particularly the mobile — browsing experience. A study from Forrester Research released in December, found that five percent of American adults had used a location-based online service of some kind in the last month.

From photography aficionados filling Flickr pages with latitude-and-longitude marked images, to chat sessions and blog posts linked to GPS data, the Web is increasingly anchored to the surface of the physical world on which we live.

As marketers and advertisers begin to understand the value in mining consumer location, and as consumers realize that geo-tagging data can be combined with impulses beyond dining and shopping, the future of the technology seems to be evolving even further.

The evolution of geo-tagging takes us in several directions. So, let’s look at a handful of recent markers in the ongoing evolution: geo-tagging at the dawn of the 2010s.

Foursquare, Facebook… Now and next

Early adopters, like Foursquare and the Facebook’s Places feature have brought geo-tagging to the masses. Media reports put Foursquare at 15 million users. And in fall 2010, a source at Facebook claimed some 30 million users had already given Places a whirl.

Experts see the two giants poised to expand the reach of advertisers even while they’re implementing functions to make that outreach more precise.

For example:

  • – Consumer-business synchronicity: Kyle Reed at Standing on Giants pictures a world in which this happens: update your Places or your Foursquare location and businesses local to you will automatically send text or e-mail coupons — things you can use to eat and play, right away. That’s in line with what’s already a reality, in many spots: that is, become the “mayor” of a Foursquare location and you get perks at locations such as Starbucks (typically a coffee on the house). The growth in use will come when smaller merchants make similar use of the technology.
  • – Geo-tagging the Future: New apps are trying to push the boundaries even further. Instead of just alerting friends (and marketers) about your current location, upcoming apps like Forecast intend to give users the ability to outline their upcoming agenda. That may give a person’s social life the edge, and it also stands to lend lead time to advertisers who want to ply you for a visit while in the neighborhood.

Geo-fencing: Eliminate the check-in

Advertisers may not need to rely on a check-in at all. With geo-fencing, as a mobile user enters a pre-defined geography, their mobile device tags them as incoming. Merchants’ servers keyed to the corresponding apps could be able to send coupons and prompts to new arrivals in the area. What’s more, this can work in other ways too. Want to know if your teen leaves the movie theatre when they’re supposed to be there for the full two hours? Geo-fencing apps can ping parents whenever a tagged mobile phone leaves an established location.

Check-In caution at the door?

The future of geo-tagging isn’t all roses, according to some critics.

While geo-tagging can help you have a better time downtown or save your life — emergency responders can use it to find a person in trouble, for example — privacy advocates warn that it can have unintended consequences.

The folks at offer this bit of safety advice: geo-tagging can give away your commuting patterns, your recent purchases, the location of your home, and what times you are away. So, visit their site to read up on how to disable what you don’t want the whole wide world to know, when it comes to the World Wide Web.

James O’Brien is a correspondent for The Boston Globe, The Consumer Chronicle, and Boston University’s Research magazine. James blogs via

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