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CompassThere’s something “meta” about trying to understand geo-location. With more companies out there building applications and services that rely on a user’s location, the one thing that seems to be unclear is whether location is a novelty “feature” or perhaps something that you can utilize as a business. Sure, you have great companies like SimpleGeo and Google exploiting the power of location, but what do others think about it? Someone must know whether or not it’s more than just a “flavor of the week”, right? This was just one of the things discussed at the Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco last Wednesday during the panel (aptly named) “Is geo-loco a business or a feature?” featuring notables like SimpleGeo’s head Matt Galligan, Closely’s Perry Evans, Greylock’s David Thacker, Twitter’s Othman Laraki and Nokia’s Gary Gale.

So is there a business model for geo-location or is offering location perks a feature that networks and other more established services should offer? Some of the people on the dais seem to think that if there’s a gap and a business need that should be filled, then yes, geo-location is a business. For networks like Facebook that might be looking to create a location-based service check-in, then I would have to say that it is tantamount to being a feature. But for Google, geo-location is essentially a business for them because their map service and Google Latitude is solely based around your location.

So if you’re looking to start a business that is centered around geo-location, is there even room for you to be there? Have the big businesses in the field managed to corner the market and erect such huge barriers to entry that no other companies can exist? According to Gale, it really depends – what he means by that is if there are gaps and you can see a way in, then go forward and build that application or service. Look for ways to exploit the needs that aren’t being serviced by the large companies. For a company like SimpleGeo, they looked at the needs in the industry and pivoted away from their original goal. They originally wanted to be the creators of geo-targeted games, but soon saw a need to be a facilitator and distributor of geodata for location-based services. However, compare that to Twitter where they have become an established business and now are extending themselves to displaying more location-based tweets – is this a feature? I’d say yes. Is this also a business? Yes. Features can also be businesses as well.

From what I can see, to blanket all location-based services as being focused more on features is a bit rough. Instead, they should be considered businesses because geo-location can be as broad as social media and then offer features within that business. After all, if we keep with the social media comparison, a lot of services could use location data as a means of finding yourself or your friends. Social media is a means of communicating and having either real-time or near real-time conversations. But within social media, there are other features and businesses that grow out of it including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Who’s to say that with geo-location that large name companies can’t emerge from this concept? You already have Google Maps, Foursquare, Gowalla and even GPS devices.

But I suppose that it can’t be as black and white as most other issues and it rests on the discretion and decision of the entrepreneurs and business owners to determine whether geo-location is worth pursuing extensively as a money-maker or as a feature which helps enhance the user’s experience and generates more money.

So which vote do you cast for? Is geo-location a business or feature?

Image credit: hisks / sxc.hu

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