Are location-based services boring?

A very relevant blogpost by Russell Buckley on Mobhappy adresses an important fact in the 'location-based services' world: there is little user-centered application that really worth it. Russell exemplifies this thanks to four services supported by BT:

  • Child and elderly people tracking: founded on two basically wrong assumptions (in the distressing case of an abduction, the kidnapper doesn't know that the phone can be tracked. The first thing they do unfortunately, is dump or switch off the phone + the second assumption is that such services track the child. They don't. They track the phone) + Old people tracking? For the life of me, I can't see why the elderly might consent to be tracked or why others might want to track them
  • Traffic and directions: can be useful, in extremis. But hardly exciting.
  • Find my nearest things like ATM's, supermarkets and Petrol/Gas stations: Find my nearest apps have been around for a while now and frankly, there isn't much a demand for them
  • Employee spying (actually they call it "tracking")

I also like his conclusion about BT's services:

So while it's laudable that BT are deploying LBS, they really need to go back to basics and ask why anyone would want to use any of these services, at least on more than an occasional basis. But coming up with answers to this, probably needs a type of creativity that would not typically be found working in a large corporate like BT.

Why do I blog this? I think that Russell raised here a crux issue: location-based services are way too much technology driven and 'feature oriented' as if engineers had struggled to find potential uses for a new feature that could be embedded on a cell phone. An interesting point here is the relation between the activity people and the spatial dimension. Location-based services allow users to get some context-awareness (i.e. take advantage of spatiality to trigger specific events or give contextual information) and to use space as help people in their task (navigation/wayfinding, matchmaking). But who needs that? ok wayfinging support or serendipituous meeting is intriguing but would it be used? I don't want to play the party pooper here but I am not sure it will work like this.

Anyway that does not mean that LBS are overflawed, useless and bound to disappear. I'd rather think that it can be targeted for:

  • niche-markets for which space is important and, above all, meaningful: firefighters/emergency crew/army (who may need decentralized control obtained thanks to location-awareness of others), dispatchers/logistics (?)...
  • games: a new way to create original challenges and/or interactions
  • interactive art
  • what else?!