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Report: 7 Percent Of Mobile Internet Users Have Checked Out Location-Based Services

The Pew Internet Project published findings from a recent survey about usage of “location-based services” (LBS). According to the Pew data, 7 percent of mobile Internet users are on location-based services and 4 percent of all internet-using adults “use a service such as Foursquare or Gowalla that allows them to share their location with friends and to find others who are nearby.”

These findings appear to track and validate an earlier Forrester Research survey that found 4 percent of online adults had used location-based mobile apps such as Foursquare or Gowalla. Other surveys have found somewhat higher percentages.

The Pew survey was conducted on the phone and took place between August 9 and September 13, 2010  (n=3,001 adults). Of that group 2,065 were general Internet users.

Basically the profile of LBS users is: younger and male predominantly. Here are the top-level findings from Pew:

  • 7% the adults who go online with their mobile phone use a location-based service.
  • 8% of online adults ages 18-29 use location-based services, significantly more than online adults in any other age group.
  • 10% of online Hispanics use these services – significantly more than online whites (3%) or online blacks (5%).
  • 6% of online men use a location-based service such as Foursquare or Gowalla, compared with 3%  of online women.

There’s some ambiguity and possible confusion in the data (between mobile and non-mobile users of LBS), which Pew identifies and attempts to explain:

Though location-based services usually require an internet-connected mobile phone, 2% of non-wireless users (those who do not go online with either a cell phone or a wireless-enabled laptop) also say they have used such a service. This number may include cell phone users who use geosocial services such as Brightkite, which allows users to update their location by SMS. These non-wireless respondents may also include respondents who use location-reporting services such as Google Latitude or Dopplr, which can be used on a desktop computer. Respondents may also have signed up for the services to follow friends’ movements without updating their own location.

Pew also explores and segments its data by usage of social-networks and Twitter. It finds that Twitter and social network users tend to be more engaged with LBS.

SNS and Twitter users

Pew also implies that LBS usage will grow by making an analogy to Twitter. Twitter usage stood at 6 percent of online adults in August of 2008 and has grown to 24 percent as of August this year according to Pew’s internal survey data.

Status-updating services over time

If we translate (and extrapolate) these numbers into real terms, what Pew is saying that there are about 8 million users of these services overall in the US. That’s about right.

LBS sites and apps are often dismissed as not having sufficient “scale” to be worthy of adoption by marketers — it’s already a kind of conference cliche. However, that’s a foolish attitude because of the early stage of development of LBS and the need to experiment and test what works and what doesn’t before some of these services (or aspects of them) become mainstream.

The Facebook Places/Deals announcements from yesterday will likely accelerate the “mainstreaming” of LBS and a year from now, if Pew were to follow up, we might see quite a bit more growth and usage.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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